A Lifelong Traveler Looks Back at her Passports

“I am a lifelong traveler, have visited every continent except Antarctica, and have not been without a valid passport since I was sixteen.” This quote, lifted from my Instagram bio, represents what I believed to be true until I began to write this post. . . . which says something about personal memory and the veracity of memoir.  But more on that another time.

I love my collection of passports – each represents a different stage in my life and a different group of travel memories.

I got my first passport two months before my seventeenth birthday.  My parents decided in early spring that the coming summer would be the perfect time for a family trip to Europe.  This necessitated a rush to secure passports for myself and my seven-year-old sister (my parents both had well worn passports already).  First a photo.

A typical teenager, I saw any photo shoot as an opportunity to make a personal statement.  I imagine I perspired under the camera lights in the hand-knit, ski sweater I chose for the occasion.   I loved that sweater because it had been made for me by my boyfriend’s mom.  In spite of the fact that the sweater was far too warm for a southern California May afternoon, I wore it a statement of loyalty to my guy.

Issued on June 10, 1960, my first passport took me all over Europe, from Spain to Yugoslavia, from France to Germany. After that summer, I was hooked on travel.

I started my adult life with my second passport.  I had just graduated from college and was on my way to graduate school in Mexico City.  In those years (this was 1966) a passport was needed to travel in Mexico below a certain latitude.   This passport has a stamp from the Mexican Consulate in San Diego and several entry and exit stamps. Though it isn’t as exciting as some of my others, this document reminds me of the joy of traveling and discovering without my parents.  Besides, it’s fun to see the photo of twenty-three-year-old me. It seems so long ago that I was that young?

On August 20, 1971, six days after my wedding, I was issued a new passport (my third) in my married name.  Two weeks later, Tom (my new husband) and I began our long international road trip.  This is the trip of my memoir, Wherever the Road Leads.   Passport number three holds so many visa stamps that two long, fold-out accordion pages were added to accommodate the red, green, blue and purple symbols of border crossings.  This document carried me on a two-year honeymoon and a later romantic trip to Asia.  In August of 1976, two months after my daughter was born, passport #3 expired.

I was surprised to see that my fourth passport wasn’t issued until the winter of 1981.   Four and a half years without a valid passport!  So contrary to my own understanding of myself as a traveler. But, those were my “Mommy” years.  For half a decade I was content with family camping trips around the west coast.

In 1981, with a chance to fly to Singapore to meet Tom and with my mother eager to care for Erin, I began my international traveling life again.  Besides Singapore, my fourth passport has stamps for Hong Kong in both ‘81 and ‘82 and for a family trip to New Zealand in January of ‘85 with nine-year-old Erin and 18-month old Ethan in tow.

Much to my chagrin, I have discovered another lapse in my continuous line of passports – another three “Mommy years,” this time during Ethan’s childhood.

Passport #5 was issued in 1989.  It took me to Denmark for my nephew’s wedding and to England to visit my aunt Edith. This is also the passport that was in my money-belt during the six weeks one summer when I led a group of teenage Girl Scouts on a five country European adventure we called “Europatrol ’98.”

Passport #6 was the magic carpet for more trips to England and a few wonderful “Elderhostel” tours —India with my sister, China and Australia with Tom. Passport number six also accompanied me to Chile and an assortment of countries in the newly established European Union. Passports of exploration, numbers six and seven represent my new, empty nest life. Travel was again a priority.   Best of all, passport #7 carries a visa stamp from a 2017 Vietnamese adventure I shared with my adult daughter, now a world traveler herself.

This past summer, just before leaving for a road trip, I noticed that my current travel documents were set to expire on my July birthday.  Desperate not to break the continuous string of passports I still believed in, I had my picture taken at the AAA office in Boulder, Colorado. That afternoon, I mailed in my documents, fee, and application.   This compulsion to always possess a valid passport resulted in a striking record of this time in my life.  Passport #8 is graced with the photo of an “older” woman with a startled expression and vivid turquoise hair, the result of a “fun colored-hair” phase I went through last year.

Due to health and safety restrictions on travel during the current pandemic, I have not yet used the turquoise-hair passport.  It will be interesting to see what happens the first time I present this colorful document at TSA.

If you have a collection of passports like mine, how significant are they for you? Is there one that means the most and why?



4 responses to “A Lifelong Traveler Looks Back at her Passports”

  1. So interesting!
    I did “mommy-years” first, then got 1st passport in 1970.
    I too love looking at them, and wouldn’t be without one.
    Cant wait to read your adventure book!

  2. Farie Momayez

    Wow! What a beauty. I enjoyed looking at all your pictures. Passport number 5’s picture looks exactly like Erin! Thank you for sharing. I can’t wait to buy your new book. let me know when that’s out.

  3. Karen Dennis

    Great idea. I do have my passports except one that they kept, but I have them in various “safe” places all over the house. Now is the time to look and get them together.

    1. Katie Slattery

      Hi Karen, This is a great time to rummage through old travel memorabilia, everything from documents to tchotchkes. Enjoy!

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