Yesterday I made an appearance at a spacious office building to present an application form for a tourist visa to India. Standing there juggling phone, wallet, passport, application, visitor pass, and vain hope of appearing organised, I felt the sudden thrill I have come to associate with travel. Normally when I travel I receive a stamp in my passport on arrival, deposit my passport into my handbag, and move on to the not-so-exciting baggage claim area.
This time it is different. This time I have to hand over my passport well in advance of arriving at the actual destination … and, in order to get to that destination, I need a visa. To get this, I had to leave my passport behind. In a week, my passport will be returned to me and I will have a shiny page displaying the fact that I may enter India – which I will be doing in December. Until next week, however, my passport holder is empty and I feel … well, a little lost.
It’s not like I plan on using my passport this week. In fact, months pass and it sits in my drawer without being touched.
So why did I stare at the woman as she held out her hand for my passport? Why did I grip it tightly before releasing it into her care? Why do I feel lost knowing my passport is not where it should be?
“It’s alright,” she smiled, “you’ll get it back next week.”
“Yes … Yes, of course,” I tried to laugh.
“Unless you need it this week?”
“Oh … no … No, I’m not going anywhere this week.”
“You can pick it up next Tuesday.”
“Next Tuesday,” I repeat, but my eyes are fixed on my passport that now sits at her elbow while she shuffles through my application papers.
“See you then,” she smiles politely.
“Oh. That’s it?” She nods. I slowly depart, trying not to look back.
I stood in the elevator and fiddled with the cover on my phone. As a frequent traveller I have been bombarded with warnings to never leave my passport unattended. Lock it in the safe, sleep with it under your pillow if you can’t do that, never keep it in an external bag that might get stolen or slashed, keep it close to you at all times … Leaving my passport behind – albeit with a reputable organisation for a tourist visa – went against every glaring warning I had ever received.
But that wasn’t the problem, either.
You see, my passport is my favourite book. This is a grand statement for a bookworm to make. When asked what my favourite book is I inevitably reply with a title and author (actually, with several). Previously I have made claim that my favourite book is a blank notebook in which I can write and scribble and articulate ideas. It wasn’t until I was standing in the lobby, my visitor pass returned and my passport somewhere upstairs being processed along with my application, that I realised just how important this tiny little book is to me.
I received my first passport when I was 15* and printed inside was a shiny blue visa permitting me to study for two months at a high school in Milan, Italy. I was so proud of that little book, and truly delighted by the full-page visa that announced to any who would see it that I had been to Italy.
Later, it was stamped in and out of Malaysia. After that, it expired and I had to apply for a new passport – an adult one, no less. I have had it since I was 23.
“Do I get a stamp?” I asked my friend as we waited in line at the Johor Bahru checkpoint.
“I don’t think so,” she replied.
“Oh,” I sighed, flicking through the pages of my passport.
“Ha!” she chortled, “You want a stamp but you already have so many!” I could only laugh and then it was my turn to approach the counter.
Thunk. The official stamped my passport and waved me through. I beamed, tucking my passport into my bag, and strode into Malaysia for the first time since that other long ago trip, documented in a passport that’s now filed in a dusty box in an attic.
I love my passport. I love presenting it as I arrive at a new country, greedily watching the official flick through the pages before deciding where to place the stamp. I love presenting it when I arrive home to Australia, knowing it announces that I’ve been everywhere and now I’m finally home.
My passport gets me into places. My passport gives me freedom to travel, to explore, to learn and to discover – how could I not love this little book of stamped paper?
My passport tells me where I have been and maybe, in a way, helps me have some sense as to where I might be going. Next week it will have a visa announcing to any who see it that I am going to India. After that? I don’t know.
But I’ll get there eventually.
* Actually, I had one as a child and we had a family holiday to Fiji, though I was too young to remember anything about it now.