I received this text from one of my best friends yesterday: “I just got my passport photo. It is heiiiiiinous. I don’t look good without a smile.”

Photo of American passport

This message made my day. A. because my friend is hilar, and so is imagining her attempt to look good without smiling, especially as it couldn’t possibly be worse than mine. And B. because somebody getting their first passport is absolutely something to be celebrated.

My passport photo
I told you that the heinousness of my passport photo would be hard to beat. Also, you should really appreciate the fact that I'm sharing this beautiful pic with you.

I don’t remember getting my first passport. As a youngster, I was extremely fortunate to travel with my parents and use my passport for trips to France, the UK, and then… Italy.

That trip probably, definitely, changed my life.

Italy was the first country I fell in love with, and is somewhere that will always be special to me.

It could’ve been the fact that I was 13 years old and that Italian boys, despite my overwhelming fear of them, had no problems expressing how they felt about me. This was light years ahead of the males in my town, who were still trundling about in Umbros and bowl cuts and mumbling through friends of friends that they might “like like” me.

Or it could’ve been the food, whose amazingness I do not have the linguistic capacity to describe.

Eating pizza in Italy
Enjoying Italian pizza, much later in life.

Or the history, which, because I was taking Latin at the time (I’m a nerd), came alive to me in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Or the bucketfuls of sunshine and fields full of dancing sunflowers.

(Or the fact that I was able to drink wine and Limoncetta and, for the first time, feel the gauzy hug of an alcoholic buzz. Let’s pretend it was the history, though.)

Whatever it was, it was special. When Italy advanced in the World Cup, I sat outside watching the cars drive by, mysterious words being yelled from the windows, horns honking and flags waving. That’s a moment I’ll remember forever.

Ocean view in Jeju, South Korea

I felt a rush of vitality, a surge of adrenaline that I’d previously felt… never.

And just like that, I was hooked on traveling.

I came back with a fresh appreciation for my home (don’t ever have to worry about pickpockets there), a Fiorucci t-shirt (which Jennifer Love Hewitt then ruined by wearing in Can’t Hardly Wait, making me unique no longer), and a brand new perspective on the world.

I was enlightened, stoned with the prospect of an unimaginable amount of different things to learn and experience. New boys to flirt with, new languages to try, new landscapes to explore, new foods to savor.

Dancing at a Peruvian wedding
Traveling is dancing at a Peruvian wedding! That's me in the sick denim ball cap.

I would love for every single person to have that experience.

Sure, you don’t need to leave the US to have the same feelings, and travel abroad is not for everyone. I do think, however, that everyone should have the opportunity if they so desire it.

That’s not the case for many. Currently, fewer than 40% of Americans have passports. This is an exponential jump from the 3% that held them in 1989, but much of this is due to the fact that passports are now required for Mexico or Canada.

And this percentage is still sad when compared with citizens of Canada (60%) and the UK (75%).

Of course, America’s way cooler than Canada. So that’s obvs why Canadians need passports. As for Europeans, travel amongst those countries takes less time than going from New York to Chicago.

That doesn’t mean that more Americans shouldn’t have passports.

Jumping Birthright kids in Tel Aviv

I freaking love my passport. Flipping through its pages, I relive all my adventures. Collecting stamps is fun for even the most-seasoned of travelers — don’t be too cool to admit it.

One time, I wanted a stamp so badly that I ran after an Austrian border guy on a train, saying “Wait, you forgot to stamp me.” He turned around and said, “Oooh, ja, I did. I’ll stamp you,” in a way that didn’t imply my passport, if you know what I mean. Oops. 

My passport is the most important book I own, and will ever own.

It’s given me incredible stories, friends from all over, and a new perspective on and appreciation for the world.

Travel can change lives — I know. (Check back soon for a post on this topic.)

Walking with host family in Tanzania
Spending six weeks in East Africa at age 19 set me on the path I'm on today. Don't judge my outfit. Or my hair. They're cool in Tanzania.

More people, especially young people, need to be given the opportunity to get their mind blown by travel.

One organization is helping to do just that.

The Passport Party Project, founded by blogger Tracey Friley, of OneBrownGirl.com, is in the process of giving 100 girls their very first passports.

A passport isn’t a ticket to another country, but it’s a start. It allows the holder to travel as soon as they get the opportunity — for school, for work, for fun. More importantly, it opens the holder’s eyes to the possibility of travel. The next time she watches a travel show on TV, the idea of traveling will no longer seem like such a remote possibility.

Maybe she’ll be inspired to apply for a grant or scholarship or school trip, knowing that the first step is already taken.

How do you feel about your passport? Got any stories to share?

Fellow bloggers, interested in getting involved? Contact Tracey at PassportPartyProject at gmail.com. You could contribute a blog post about the organization, or even attend a Passport Party!