- Posted March 2, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
8 Reasons No One Really Needs A Passport
"And then what?" he tweeted to me in a DM. "And then they'll have one of the essential tools necessary to travel the world," I tweeted back - backspacing a few times to make sure I was tweeting less than the 140 character Twitter maximum and feeling a tinge of self-doubt. "Oh okay. That rocks," he DMed back. Yeah. I thought. Passports DO rock. Well, don’t they?
The Passport Party Project is a global awareness initiative that will gift a total of 100 underserved girls with their very first passports over an 18-month period that will end in April 2013. Sponsored by Expedia (you can read how that happened by Googling “Never in a Million Years TBEX”), it's a relatively simple concept and one that I created because I started to notice - through my own small Teen Travel Abroad Program - how many underserved and under-represented (not to be confused with at-risk) teen girls did not actually own the coveted blue book. The US Department of State reports that there were 113,431,943 valid passports in circulation in 2012 (up 3.65 million since 2011), and in August 2012, the US Census reported that the US population was at 314,159,265 (which - just for fun - happens to be pi x 100 million). I guess it’s fair to estimate that 1 in 3 Americans actually owns a US passport. Of course, I can’t help but wonder how many of those Americans come from underserved communities.
A few years ago, I gathered a small group of girls in my community and we spent the day together talking about travel, bowling, having lunch and then playing made-up "travel games" at the beach. When the day was done, I gave each one of those girls the money to get their first passport with instructions to their parents on how to follow through with the process. It felt good. And for some reason, it felt like the right thing to do. Well, it was, wasn’t it? [Insert another tinge of self-doubt here.]
When I came up with the idea of The Passport Party Project, it never dawned on me (1) that my travel writing peers (or Expedia!) would even notice; (2) that it would become a global awareness initiative that a good number of people now know about; and (3) that the project would be open to so much criticism, skepticism, and, yes, even some Haterade. Like the guy above who I thought was trying to minimize my work by suggesting that a passport just wasn't enough. (Was I being too sensitive?) Or some of the comments on Facebook threads and on blog posts where some people said I "must have a hidden agenda," and that I “couldn't be trusted.” Really? I was never a Girl Scout or anything, but “couldn’t be trusted”?!?!?! That’s just Wrong.
The most recent skeptic was actually a well-traveled school teacher who told a colleague that she didn't understand why a teenager would even need a passport at such an early age at a time when The Passport Party Project and its collaborators (you can trust them too) were recruiting girls for the upcoming Passport Day in the USA on March 9; a day when an appointment isn’t necessary to get or renew your passport. A teacher, people. Of children. (Please don't let me find out she teaches Geography. That would just be nuts.) For the record, I think a child should get a passport on the same day he or she gets a birth certificate. I also think teachers who travel should know how valuable it is. I’m right, right?
In case I haven't been clear, I am a passport advocate in spite of how difficult it is for some parents to believe that I don’t want anything from them when I’m begging them to let me give their children their first FREE passport. I believe in international travel for children; both with parents leading the charge and without parents anywhere in sight. I believe that if we (parents, teachers, travelers, advocates, etc.) foster and encourage travel in children that have expressed an interest in seeing the world, that they might just find more meaning to language classes, geography classes, history classes and, yes, even math classes (because figuring out an exchange rate quickly - and without a calculator - might be the difference between walking away with a sought after item from the medina in Marrakesh…or not). This is what I believe. *Foot stomp* Tell me I’m wrong. Wait. Never mind. I’ve heard enough of that.
So after close to 16 months of hammering home the “get your passport” message to whoever would listen, I’m wondering if the naysayers have a point. Maybe they do. Here are 8 reasons I've come up with that point out why no one really needs a passport, because - gasp - I’m starting to wonder if giving away free passports to children is a good idea after all.
1. Let's start with the obvious: Without a passport, international travel isn't even an option. America is the greatest country in the world. Why would anyone want to leave American soil to travel the world, meet new people, try new things, or learn new languages?
2. Believe it or not - your children DO think about international travel; so squashing their hopes and dreams is how we roll, right? Oh yeah. When I go around the room at Passport Parties and ask girls where in the world they would like to go, 80% of them can name an international destination within 5 seconds flat.
3. Because the international travel scholarships and grant opportunities available for teens to travel the world are a waste of time to try to take advantage of. No parent or child should research travel opportunities that feed their travel dreams and/or use fundraising sites like GoFundMe to make those travel dreams come true.
4. Because it’s just a blue booklet with blank pages and a bad photo and not a plane ticket.
5. Because getting that first passport stamp isn’t anything at all like a rite of passage. Please. Even looking back through passport stamps and dredging up travel memories is for losers.
6. Because international travel NEVER changes a person's perspective about how they fit into the world; or teaches tolerance to those who are open to it; or encourages children to - as Gandhi put it - be the change.
7. Because all of the travel writers and sites (including National Geographic Traveler, San Francisco Chronicle, Travellll.com, American Airlines’ BlackAtlas.com, etc.) that have supported and/or made mention of The Passport Party Project and know the value of a passport don’t really know what they’re talking about after all.
8. Because travel dreams never really do come true.
I guess I should just give up and forget this whole “passport thing” and then dump the idea of trying to find a way for all 100 girls from The Passport Party Project to get their first passport stamps. But guess what? I’m not. Instead, I’m going to keep throwing global awareness parties. I’m going to keep collaborating with non-profits and travel writers and travel brands to spread the word about the benefits of international travel. I’m going to extinguish all of those silly tinges of self-doubt that try to grab ahold of the edges of my mind and the pages of my passport and carry the heck on. And then I’m going to book a trip and get my next passport stamp.
What about you? Do you or your children own a passport? If so, when and why did you first get one? And if not, why not? (And hey, don’t worry about hurting my feelings or my passport’s feelings. We’re just not that sensitive anymore.)