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Passport Porn!

By Dave Fox
Singapore

There’s been talk among travel bloggers recently about whether keeping score on the number of countries you’ve visited is a cool activity or egotistical drivel. Your country tally isn’t necessarily a fair indicator of how much you’ve traveled. Someone who spends a year exploring China extensively, for example, I’m going to assume has more travel savvy than someone who blitzes through ten European countries in a week.

That said, I’ll confess I keep a running tally of how many countries I’ve visited. Most people who live a travel-centric lifestyle do. It’s fun to track such personal landmarks. Nevertheless, it’s with a little worry that I’m being an egotistical jerk that I blather shamelessly about my latest travel landmark:

Last weekend, I exhausted my passport.

It was issued in 2003. In 2009, I had extra pages added because there was no more room for stamps. Last weekend, on a quick trip to Vietnam, I filled the last of the extra pages.

I used to love getting stamps in my passport but recently it’s become a hassle. I live in Singapore, an island nation so small that if you’re feeling energetic, you can walk across the entire country in a day. It takes an hour from my apartment to Malaysia via subway and public bus. (There’s a causeway across the water.) You can’t go very far without getting a stamp in your passport, and every stamp brings me closer to having to pay to add pages again.

Yeah, I know. First World problem.

At least Malaysia uses a small stamp. Indonesia, a short boat ride from Singapore, takes an entire page each time you enter the country. So does Vietnam, a place I go a lot … and then on top of the full-page visa sticker, they plonk down two more stamps on an adjacent page.

I recently edited a travel chapter in a book about expat living. The chapter’s previous author wrote you should prioritize visiting countries whose visas occupy entire passport pages – because your friends back home will think you’re more awesome. Okay, yes, I should choose my travel destinations based on who has the biggest stickers so my friends will revere me more. Got it.

In any event, with seven months of validity remaining on my current passport, I decided it was time to get a new one rather than squeezing more pages in, so I went down to the US Embassy last week.

The best part of the process was getting my photo. The American Embassy in Singapore has a booth where, for ten Singapore dollars (around eight US), you can create a US-government-approved mug shot. I stepped inside the booth, closed the curtain, inserted my money in the slot, and a recorded voice, in the official US-government-approved photo booth at the United States Embassy in Singapore, said to me, “Welcome. Please use the blue buttons to choose […dramatic pause…] ID photos or fun photos.”

I must confess I hesitated for a moment before making my selection, but at ten bucks a shot, I wasn’t going to risk the “fun photos” option.

I have a new passport now. It’s looking a bit too shiny, like a new pair of tennis shoes you haven’t had time to scuff up yet. So tonight, I’m breaking it in. I’m off to the Netherlands in a couple of hours to attend a good friend’s wedding, and then I’ll be heading up to Norway to visit family and work on some articles.

It feels ironic that the first stamp in my new passport will be a European Union stamp. Before moving to Singapore last year, I guided tours in Europe for 16 years and was based in Seattle. Virtually all of my stamps were European. Lately, I’ve been accruing lots of Asian stamps, yet now, the EU gets to take my new passport’s stamp virginity.

But back to this issue of counting countries. Yes, it’s fun, and yes, it’s ego-driven, as is what I’m about to do here. If you are not interested in looking at my wretchedly self-absorbed travel porn, stop reading this immediately and go practice your ukulele or something.

Below, you’ll find my last nine-and-a-half years of passport stamps. I hesitated to put all of them up here because, yeah, I’m kind of showing off. But I hope you’ll let them motivate you to seek out new stamps of your own. And when you do, remember this:

It’s not the stamps that matter.

It’s the stories.

[Do you have a favorite passport stamp? E-mail me a photo or a scan of it along with a few words about why it’s your favorite, and you might see it in a follow-up blog entry.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published on Tuesday, September 4, 2012

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