Only once I left the United States did I realized that I had grown up in a culture that values xenophobia. Perhaps that sounds harsh, but there is a subtle undercurrent in our country that teaches us that the U.S. has everything you could possibly want in life. We’re large, we have a range of cultures, foods, and landscapes — why even leave?
It’s true in many ways. We have an amazingly diverse culture, I’ll give us that. And there is just no denying the huge range of natural beauty; the national parks are stunning, and I grew up on Florida’s coastal beaches and soaking in the beauty. The U.S. has a lot to offer citizens and people travel from all over the world to experience the lights of NYC, the beaches of Malibu, and the deserts of Death Valley.
But there’s a great big world out there for us too. Many Americans tend toward being self-contained as a nation — it can even be hard to find outside influences since we internally produce the vast majority of our mainstream media, entertainment, and food. But I believe that the U.S. would be a better place if we, as a nation, traveled more.
Less than 40 percent of Americans are passported. That is astoundingly low for a Western country. Even more, although Study Abroad programs in college are on the rise, those figures are low too. Many European nations have far more external cultural influences and have travel as a part of their national narrative. Though the proximity and ease of traveling around the E.U. certainly plays a role in that, there’s more too it. They have taught their children from an early age that there is a value in learning other cultures and languages.
Let’s take a close look at what a passport buys you, then how you can get your first passport if you haven’t yet.
Why I Love Travel
- Travel promotes understanding and destroys prejudice.
- Travel humbles you. We are a wealthy country and have freedoms and opportunities others afforded to us by merely being born US citizens.
- Travel fosters learning and fuels curiosity…about us, the world, humanity.
- Travel shows you that you can live with a lot less…and happily too.
- Travel generates awareness and that generates change. Once you see, then you’re empowered to act.
Travel has taught me that the United States doesn’t have it all figured out. Other nations have better health care systems, cleaner food, more racial harmony. We’re still newbies in these areas and as we travel more as a nation, our citizens are able to see these perspectives and consider what elements might make our nation stronger.
For all our differences, it’s our similarities often stand out the most. The name on the front of our passports doesn’t even come into play in the daily human experiences; we all have babies, experience death, share meals with our family and laughs with our friends. People are people. Travel has taught me to keep perspective. Travel beat into me that classic line of simple advice: don’t the small stuff. Even more, it taught me to be grateful for what I have. Some people have more than me, many others have less. Money doesn’t equal happiness. It’s clichéd, but true. I won’t idealize the poor by saying they are happy, but instead note that those who have chosen a path of less focus on consumerism have always struck me as happier, and it took many years on the road to discover that.
Why You Should Apply for Your Passport
Owning a passport is more than a lark, it’s an American right and a right that painfully few Americans are exercising. Even if you don’t have international travels planned, owning a passport opens up the possibility of travel. Throughout my childhood I dreamed of what it would be like to travel the world. Even before I had the means, my passport represented that dream. It reminded me that I had the extreme privilege of owning a powerful passport — now all I needed was the time and money.
And I don’t say that lightly either. I know that travel can be expensive, but I also know that if it’s a priority in your life than there is a good chance that you can save for it. Owning your passport is the first, very important step toward leaving the country and experiencing another culture.
How to Apply for a Passport
Applying for your first passport is a big step, congrats on making that decision! It’s not too tricky, but there are a few things you’ll need in place before you can apply.
1. Start your application early.
The average processing time for a passport is six weeks. You can expedite that process down to three weeks for a fee, or for an astronomical fee (and a big hassle), you can receive your passport in eight days. Trust me, you don’t want your first trip to start with the stress of hoping your passport arrives in time — apply several months before your planned trip.
2. You’ll need to prove your identity.
- Proof of Citizenship. You can use a previously issued passport for this. Or, if you don’t have one, you will need: a certified, government-issued birth certificate; a consular report of birth abroad; a naturalization certificate; or a certificate of citizenship.
- Proof of Identity. This includes a passport; naturalization certificate; driver’s license; military ID card; or other current government-issued ID.
If you are applying for a minor, there are other forms you may need to submit. A minor child must have the consent of both parents to receive a passport. And if one parent is absent or deceased, there are other forms you will need to print and submit to prove that you have the right to receive a passport for that minor child.
If you don’t have both of those types of ID, then the government has listed other, secondary ways you can prove your identity. And always check this government page to ensure you have all the most updated forms and proofs of identity.
Make a photocopy of both of your forms of identification, you will need to mail these alongside your application.
3. Obtain a good passport photo.
Your local CVS or drug store will take a passport photo for you. There are very specific requirements about lighting, sizing, and facial expressions. Also, this will be your photo for 10 years — you will likely want to ensure you look nice for your passport photo appointment. This photo must be a single 2×2-inch photo with a white background, you need a neutral expression on your face, and your face must take up the majority of the photo frame.
4. Fill in your forms.
You will need to submit the U.S. State Department’s Form DS-11. You can either print out a blank copy and fill it in, or the government has a passport registration form. You can fill in all of your details online and then print the form. All of this information must be legible and precisely accurate or they cannot and will not accept your application at your appointment.
5. Make an appointment to submit your forms.
You can only apply for a U.S. passport in-person, so you will need to either make an appointment at your local post office, or go to your county offices. This government page has a handy tool that helps you find where you can apply. Make sure you bring your checkbook so that you can pay for the application process.
6. Watch the mail.
Your passport will arrive within about 4-6 weeks depending on how busy they are. The months leading up to summer are often much busier at the passport offices. Also note that your personal documents, like your birth certificate, will arrive in a separate envelope from your new passport.
It sounds like a lot of work, but once it arrives, there is immense pleasure in knowing that you can book a ticket to anywhere in the world.
Safe and happy travels,