From the 1900s, do you remember seeing these large suitcases covered with stickers from all the different countries and cities that people carried abroad on their travels? I found this image of one on the Internet, but I don’t know if people still do this. Obviously, in our age of concern about safety while travelling overseas, carrying one of these would definitely mark you as a tourist, potentially setting you up to be targeted by some sort of a criminal or even worse, terrorist. But an alternative to this highly visible approach is to collect Visa stamps in your passport.
In case you have never gotten a US passport, here is a little background information. US passports actually predate our country with their first issuance going back to the Revolutionary War in 1775. They were originally modeled after those issued by France and remained that style until 1900. Over the years since, the passport has taken various forms and are currently, a machine readable small blue booklet. Today, a US passport obtained by an adult is good for 10 years. And whenever you renew your passport, your old one is returned to you with holes punched in it to indicate it is no longer valid.
What got me thinking about this is recently I applied for and received my fourth passport.
My first passport was issued to me in 1993 and I obtained it in order to fly to Amsterdam to teach, my very first ever trip outside the US. In that version, the photo that you had taken was physically attached inside the passport. Amazing how young I looked almost 30 years ago with almost no grey hair.
As I flipped through the pages, I tried to find that very first stamp issued at Schipol, the airport in Amsterdam. But I could not find it. My only guess is seeing my “virgin” passport when I handed it over, the border guard just did not want to dirty it up. I did find the one from Schipol the following year when I returned to Amsterdam for the second time.
After that, my trips overseas did not start back up until 1998 when I began to teach my professional level course on Analytical Methods Validation. That year, I traveled to Europe five times visiting Finland, Switzerland, Denmark, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam. I only found an entry stamp into Denmark when I traveled to Copenhagen but then I realized on the other trips, I had always flown into Amsterdam first so that was my port of entry into the European Union countries.
The following year, 1999, I did find my stamp into Israel when I went there to teach and then a trip into Canada for work in 2001 that I had completely forgotten about rounding out a total of 20 international entry stamps in that first passport.
At this point, I realized that with most of my travel to the European Union via Amsterdam, my passport would never resemble that old suitcase, but I decided to forge ahead in my review of old passports. But when I went to look for my second passport, I could not find it. It would have been the one I used between 2002 and 2012.
Looking back over the places I taught during that period, I realized that all the stamps would have been from Amsterdam. Even the times I taught in Dublin, Ireland, I always flew through Amsterdam so even those trips would have received a Schipol stamp. So, even though I couldn’t find it, I would not have seen any different stamps.
My third passport photo showed the current style with my photo having been scanned and digitally printed into the book. This was also when we were told not to smile. I thought it was one of the worst photos ever taken of me. Thankfully, I did not have to show it off very often.
In this passport, other than the multitude of Amsterdam stamps, the only stamps of note were from my first trip to Mexico in 2018 and the prettiest one from when I went to Turkey, also to teach.
This passport carried an expiration date of November 2022, and I would not have sought to replace it this past summer had it not been for one event.
My wife and I wanted to take a trip to Montreal in September. Since we had not travelled internationally since the beginning of the pandemic, I could not even remember when my passport would expire. When I got it out, I saw that it would still be good for that trip. But then I thought it might be worthwhile to check to see if there were any restrictions. Sure enough, there was.
The website I checked indicated that like many foreign countries, entry into Canada would be denied if there was less than 6 months remaining on the expiration. Checking the state department website, I learned that there was a tremendous backlog for getting passports renewed. It indicated the process was taking four months, but if you wanted to pay extra to get it expedited, you could it in three months. This was a far cry from when I got my second passport and I needed to expedite it due to unexpected business travel. In that case, I got it back in four days.
That fact effectively canceled our Canadian trip, and so we began to explore other trips within the US. I went ahead and submitted the renewal at the end of July anyway thinking I would not see it until sometime in November. You could have been blown me away with a feather when I was surprised to get my new passport back in just four weeks. Maybe by not expediting it, the old process was somehow faster.
When I opened it up, the new expiration date gave me a moment of pause; August 2032. That seemed like such a long time off. By then many of my grandchildren would be teenagers, some of them even driving. Considering neither of my parents lived past the age of 75, I only hoped I would still be around then.
This new photo was even worse than the old one since now, in addition to not smiling, you are required to remove your prescription eye glasses.
It is hard to believe that I have now been travelling internationally for almost 30 years. But then I began to wonder what my first stamp in this new passport might be. If you read my previous post on teaching, you already know I will no longer be teaching in Amsterdam so the first stamp may well be from some other country my wife and I have never been to. Only time will tell!