Dear Natalie: Getting my Passport

Ask Natalie Banner Dear Natalie: Who else does this?

By Natalie McCarthy

 

Dear Natalie,

You seriously don’t have a passport?

Signed,

Incredulous travelers everywhere

________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Dear travelers,

Okay, so I don’t right now, but I will.

I did have a passport once before, over twenty years ago. I took part in a Spanish language immersion trip through my high school. We traveled throughout Mexico, and before we left, the faculty made it clear: We were expected to have a passport. This was in an era when passports were not legally required to travel throughout the North American countries; my school was just uptight. As I had never been off the continent, I had no reason to already own a passport – a lack that seems, in hindsight, awfully foolish. Anyway, I learned about this passport requirement not long before the trip, and my father had to pay several hundred dollars and a kidney to rush-process my application.

 

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I was 17 years old. In the years that followed, I moved approximately 15,923 times across nearly the entirety of the United States. My passport was lost before it expired, and I simply never replaced it. Sure, I wanted to, but I never really got around to it. Late last year, though, my mother made a simple request: For her next birthday, she wanted the family to go on an Alaskan cruise. It would either leave or return through Vancouver, B.C., Canada. By July 2018, I would need a passport. Twenty-one years after receiving my first passport, I found myself on a dreary Friday afternoon, waiting in line at a local post office with my birth certificate and photo identification.

 

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I did not expect the application – full of very straight-forward questions – to be at all meaningful to me.

Mother’s name before marriage, father’s name, birthdates, birthplaces.

How many applicants, I wondered, have parents who never got to travel? I thought of my own parents, born in a working-class area of a blue-collar city, and how they certainly did not apply for a passport until later in their lives. Foreign travel is not in the immediate scope of a young couple, finding their way in the world, working to support a newborn (who would one day require hundreds of dollars and one of their kidneys to go study Spanish in Mexico).

I thought of how easily I made this application appointment, how the $150 or so it would cost would not hurt my pocketbook or throw off my monthly budget – not even a smidge. How many applicants, I thought, have parents who scrimped and saved to make things better for their children? I have a post-graduate degree, I am financially secure, and I have the opportunity to see places far beyond my front door. I owe that to my parents; their hard work got me into the good school district as a teen and offered me a solid university education. How many applicants have not yet had the chance to stand in this line?

The application asked me if I had ever been married.

What does this have to do with anything? I wondered, feeling a small seed of resentment in my belly. I never changed my last name; what does a former marriage have to do with proving my identity or citizenship? And as that small seed settled a bit, I thought of the happy, hopeful couples filling out their passport applications together, planning their European honeymoon, their first anniversary trip to Japan, their romantic getaway to Bali, Turks and Caicos, Belize.

 

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Life is unpredictable and difficult. Life is often disappointing and sometimes sad. I wrote my ex-husband’s name, birthdate, and birthplace on the application. The resentment faded. I remembered that my moments of blinding joy get me through the times I slowly roll downhill, and the hope for brighter moments pushes me back up out of dimly lit valleys. All of us are like that. That’s life.

The postal worker took me into the postmaster’s office, where a white backdrop was hanging from the wall. She positioned me in front of it and helped me smooth my hair. “I keep saying we need a wind machine,” she joked. “We could do glamor shots.” I laughed, then quickly resumed what I felt was an appropriately official, somber expression.

“Girl,” she said, “if you don’t smile, I’mma put your picture up on the wall near the counter up front. You see that when you came in? That’s my ‘most wanted’ wall for people who don’t smile in their passport photos.”

I smiled, close-mouthed, exactly the way I did for my high school passport photo. The postal worker squealed with delight. “It turned out beautiful,” she said. “You’re gonna love it.”

 

Ask Natalie Passport

 

I don’t exactly love it, but I love where it will take me. I had to chuckle. Girl, I said to myself, it makes sense that a document that’ll take you places would make you reflect on where you’ve already been.

With Love,

Natalie

 

 

 

P.S. – Tell us about your first passport.  Share via email at AskNatalieColumn @ gmail.com

Contributors are identified by their first name, but you can request anonymity if you’d prefer.

 

Resident Columnist and Reviewer at | Website

“Ask Natalie” host, Natalie McCarthy was born and raised in the urban American rust belts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Cleveland, Ohio, in a not-particularly-outdoorsy family. She discovered the outdoors in her early 30s and now seeks out new ways to adventure.

Natalie earned her master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work. She works as a licensed supervisory clinical social worker specializing in the treatment of co-occurring substance use, general mental health, and trauma-related disorders. While her professional practice is where Natalie spends most of her time helping people with their problems, she was an online advice columnist in the past.

In the early 2000s, she was the go-to answer girl on a now-defunct website called New Girl Order. Her column there led her to research a diversity of topics, from May-December romances to why on Earth plucking our eyebrows makes us sneeze.

67 thoughts on “Dear Natalie: Getting my Passport

  • May 14, 2018 at 4:26 am
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    I understand the charm of exploring one’s home country first, before we unleash ourselves on rest of the world. I loved the reflections you had while applying for the passport. Wish you meaningful travels, now across the globe!

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  • May 10, 2018 at 10:05 pm
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    Love the passport photo! I have had some doozies.

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  • May 10, 2018 at 12:01 am
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    I don’t exactly love it, but I love where it will take me. Great quote!! Your post was so easily enthralling, thanks for sharing even from the start of getting your passport with the whole process and your memories.

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  • May 9, 2018 at 1:12 am
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    I think everyone should have a passport! I cringed when I realized my boyfriend didn’t lol. I picked up an application and gave him a $150 money order to take care of that.

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:08 am
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      Hahaha way to take charge, Monique!

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  • May 8, 2018 at 9:09 pm
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    Great read. I got my passport three years back and got my first stamp for Thailand Trip. I still remember the joy of having my passport for the very first time since it was my wings to the outer world. I knew that this document can enable me to fly higher and far. But my parents still don’t have passport. They haven’t been to anywhere so far. Loved it so much.

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:09 am
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      I LOVE that view of a passport: wings to the world! ♥️

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  • May 8, 2018 at 1:31 pm
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    Sounds like quite an interesting process you had to go through to get your passport. I guess people have to be so careful these days. It always makes me laugh that you’re not allowed to smile in UK passport photos – means everyone always looks so grumpy!

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:12 am
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      No kidding, y’all can’t smile?!? That is so strange for me to hear — because the American stereotype of folks in the UK is they’re extremely kind and polite, and/or zanily hilarious (a la Monty Python). Totally flies in the face of your somber passport photos!

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  • May 8, 2018 at 6:21 am
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    Wow this is really very much of an eye opener for me as I thought that a passport was a mandatory form of documentation for everyone. I guess in places with open borders, it’s easy to get around without one – not here in our island nation of Singapore though!

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:13 am
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      I wish it were required — and not so expensive!

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  • May 8, 2018 at 3:04 am
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    Wow I had no idea about any of these things. I should apply for a passport someday, but never have!

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:13 am
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      Britney, it’s pricey but worth it. I am so excited to book more travel!

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  • May 8, 2018 at 12:30 am
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    I’ve never had the need for a passport. As I have only stayed stateside. I didn’t know that they asked so many questions though.

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:15 am
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      Until I filled out my application, I didn’t either! It was surprising. I didn’t expect them to require info on your parents (I assume to further prove citizenship) and any spouses or ex-spouses (I assume to rule out dual citizenship) — but otherwise pretty much what I expected.

      Reply
  • May 7, 2018 at 8:12 pm
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    Congratulations on your passport, think of all the fun you will have exploring so many different places. Wanderlust is addictive so I am sure you will soon have many tales to tell us of all the places you travel.

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:15 am
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      I cannot wait! And thank you ?

      Reply
  • May 7, 2018 at 5:43 pm
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    I would love to be able to get my passport done, my husband and I have not been able to take our honeymoon since we were married 3 years ago, as we are in a bit of a financial bind. I have never had a passport before.

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:16 am
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      Here’s hoping you will get to travel soon. I hear you, the price is a little ridiculous.

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  • May 7, 2018 at 2:52 pm
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    Oh what an adventure it seems just to get the passport these days. Love how you shared your background story here. Traveling beyond your own borders is definitely something we all fall in love with and I know you will have many wonderful times ahead.

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:16 am
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      Thank you, Holly. It was an interesting and unexpectedly fun outing!

      Reply
  • May 7, 2018 at 2:18 pm
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    I especially loved the smiling part 🙂 Where I’m from they actually tell us not to smile passports although I always feel pretentious and fake if I’m just staring seriously into the camera :)And the part with your ex, the way you mentioned it…loved it, great writing!

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:19 am
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      Thank you kindly, Corina. I felt strange even smiling a little. I imagined the officer in Canada comparing my photo to the real me: Sleep deprived, maybe a little worn out from dealing with crowds at the ports, probably with messy hair and sleep in the corners of my eyes… I’m glad I didn’t get that glamour shot after all. ?

      Reply
  • May 7, 2018 at 1:46 pm
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    I still don’t have a passport, but hopefully in the next couple of years I will need one! My parents also never left the country until they were in their 50s. My cousins live in Norfolk so I’ll be visiting them soon and finally exploring outside of the US!

    Reply
    • May 9, 2018 at 2:19 am
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      First of all, great name! ?
      Secondly, Best wishes on some exciting travel!

      Reply
  • May 7, 2018 at 12:00 pm
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    What a great story! I wish my local postal workers were as sweet as the one you encountered. 🙂 I received my passport 3 years ago out of college when my family and I went on a cruise for my parents 25th anniversary. Fun times!

    Reply
    • May 9, 2018 at 2:20 am
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      Oh that’s fun! Yes, I lucked out with a fun postal worker. Bonus for living in a rural area, I suppose… they aren’t worn down from impatient crowds!

      Reply
  • May 7, 2018 at 6:10 am
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    Ohh what a fun read! I have never thought of not having a passport, I thought thats something you get automatically when you are born! But ofcourse thinking about it now, I remember vaguely when my brother and I had to make a passport when we were kids before moving from Thailand to Sweden. I was around 5 and I couldn’t write my own name so I was copying what my father wrote down for me. I still have that passport and when I see at my signature made back then I think I did a quite good job. Ever since, I had had many many passports with loads of stamps.

    Reply
    • May 9, 2018 at 2:21 am
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      I am jealous! New goal: load up my passport with as many stamps as Dada!

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  • May 7, 2018 at 5:02 am
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    What a great story! I was born in Finland so my first passport was from there. I still have it somewhere. I remember at “old days” me and my brother were in my mom’s passport until we got older and got own. That is not allowed anymore. So much has changed. With my new passpost in hand I did my very first trip to abroad, to Turkey, and I knew at that moment that I loved traveling.

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:23 am
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      The travel bug bit you, it sounds like. Wow, it seems so strange to hear that children used to be included on a parent’s passport, but it actually makes a lot of sense (especially considering the comment above about a child needing to trace her father’s signature of her own name!).

      Reply
  • May 7, 2018 at 2:24 am
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    My first passport was for my honeymoon. I was upset I wouldn’t be able to travel with my married name since I had to have the passport done before our wedding. I never did get another one as I haven’t been out of the country since.

    Reply
    • May 9, 2018 at 2:23 am
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      It makes me smile that the hypothetical couple I mentioned could’ve been you and your husband!

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 11:05 pm
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    I actually find that so many Americans don’t have passports. Probably because there’s so much to explore. In Canada, it seems like parents do two things when they have babies- get a health care and a passport for the baby LOL! The process is a chore for sure, but once you have it you can explore so much more right?!

    Reply
    • May 9, 2018 at 2:24 am
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      Yes! You are so right about that. Also, your comment reminds me of why I think Canada is just so cool… *sigh*

      Now that I have my passport, I vow to explore Canada more.

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 9:51 pm
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    I think I must have been 2 when I got my first passport. Our family travelled to England and Ireland when I was tiny. My kids got their first passport last year and their pics are hilarious mug shots.

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    • May 9, 2018 at 2:25 am
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      ? kiddie mug shots… please save these when the passports expire!

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 8:17 pm
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    I LOVE your story, it’s so amazing how you have traveled so much without a passport. 🙂 If you would want to do that outside the US, you would definitely need one sooner. 🙂 But I do agree on the part of the marriage status, not sure how relevant that can be in this situation.

    Reply
    • May 9, 2018 at 2:26 am
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      It did feel awfully weird. I suppose it has something to do with ruling out the possibility of dual citizenship or having permanent resident status in another country… I totally didnt expect the emotional reaction I had.

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 6:51 pm
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    I love the way you wrote this. I have a somewhat complicated relationship with my passport as it is in my married name and I’ve been divorced 3 years. I have no immediate plans to travel internationally but when I’ve had to use it for identification I hate having to explain the circumstances.

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    • May 6, 2018 at 10:37 pm
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      Naomi, I can only imagine what that’s like. Given my reaction to listing my ex’s info on my application, I believe I probably wouldn’t handle explanations very gracefully!

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  • May 6, 2018 at 6:08 pm
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    I am 43 and I have never had a passport. My eldest son has one due to he had the amazing opportunity to study in Rome for a semester.

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    • May 6, 2018 at 10:38 pm
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      Daisy, we are in the same age range, so I get it! Amazing how quickly decades pass and if we don’t immediately need something, it’s easy to not drop a bunch of money on getting it “just in case.” How cool that your son got to travel for school!

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 5:51 pm
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    Thank you for sharing your passport story when you were seventeen years old, your latest one,. and how much you love to travel

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    • May 6, 2018 at 10:39 pm
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      Thank you for following along, Pat!

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 5:48 pm
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    I hope you enjoy the Alaskan cruise with your family. And I am sure once you receive the passport, you will be tempted to do many more out-of-country trips. Btw I got my first passport only in my early thirties 🙂

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    • May 6, 2018 at 10:39 pm
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      Deeptha, I suspect you’re right — I fully expect to get bitten by the travel bug.

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 1:15 pm
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    Here we are not allowed to smile on id or passport, cause the face need to be neutral. It’s hard to be pretty in pictures like that 🙂

    Reply
    • May 6, 2018 at 10:40 pm
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      Yes, that makes sense to me! A neutral, identification-purposes expression makes total sense. Ugh, why do they need me to look friendly in a passport?!? ?

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 11:07 am
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    Wow, its amazing that you did not have your passport for such a long period of time. But then, you’re right, so many of us have parents who never travelled, or grand parents who never ever had a passport. Many people get their passports only in their old age and believe it or not, I have a friend back home in India who is 37 years old and has NEVER had a passport! It doesn’t amaze me when people of my parents age haven’t had passports for long, but for someone who is hardly half a decade older than me, has never ever had a passport in their life, that amazes me!

    Reply
    • May 6, 2018 at 10:42 pm
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      It is pretty astonishing, especially with how small the world is nowadays. We can hop on a plane and land anywhere!

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 10:27 am
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    The passports are so expensive, but I love them! Even more when you have stamps haha. There is no better feeling than have it in your hands 🙂

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    • May 6, 2018 at 10:42 pm
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      I can’t wait!! (And seriously, why are they so expensive?!?)

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 10:14 am
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    I got my first passport when I was in high school. I joined a school trip to Thailand and all we had to do was submit the necessary documents to our class adviser. 🙂

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    • May 6, 2018 at 10:43 pm
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      Oooh, that must have been a lot of fun. What a great experience, especially for a high school student.

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 9:24 am
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    “A document that’ll take you places would make you reflect on where you’ve already been.”

    Omg, I love this part… Maybe there’s a reason that passport picture never turns out as good. I always look either pale or just wrong in passport picture. But anyway, I feel you. My dad has never had a passport in his entire life, never been on a plane, to begin with. My mom only had a passport once to get to Mecca for her pilgrimage.

    I had my first passport 8 years ago, when I got a scholarship to Turkey. But then my desire to see more parts of the world is quite big, so I’ve renewed it. The one that I’m holding now is my second one. 🙂

    Reply
    • May 6, 2018 at 10:44 pm
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      I can absolutely relate to your parents — it just wasn’t in their immediate needs. Even your mom didn’t get one until it was required for her pilgrimage. I can see how it doesn’t take priority… well, it doesn’t take priority until it does! ? Wishing you many years of exciting travel!

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 8:00 am
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    I loved this heartfelt article. Yes, parents sacrifice so much so that their children can have a better future. We realize this only once we grow up. I am glad you applied again for the passport. The lady who clicked your picture was witty and friendly. I love reading small conversations like these in blogs.

    Reply
    • May 6, 2018 at 10:46 pm
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      Thank you ? The lady really was very kind and thoughtful — I’m glad she’s in a line of work that allows her to interact with people. She has a great personality.

      Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 1:24 am
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    Life is unpredictable and difficult but it is a journey that we have to go through. I guess with your passport ready, you can travel anywhere you wanted to. Nice passport picture by the way!

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    • May 6, 2018 at 10:47 pm
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      Well thank you!

      Reply
  • May 5, 2018 at 8:29 pm
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    UGHHH pasports are soo expensive!!! I would like to get mine so my husband and I could do bit of out of country traveling! I love your passport photo! It turned out well!

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    • May 6, 2018 at 10:47 pm
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      Thanks Tia. And you’re right, they really are expensive. I’m glad I didn’t have to rush process mine — that would’ve hiked up the price even more.

      Reply
  • May 5, 2018 at 7:36 pm
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    I am 54 and have never applied for or received a passport. I have never really had a big desire to travel outside of the US. The only other country I have been to is Canada. Have fun with yours!

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    • May 6, 2018 at 10:48 pm
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      Thank you Gladys! I’m glad I get to use this one, but I’m with you — up until now, I’ve been busy enough exploring our enormous home country. There’s a lot to see here, no passport required.

      Reply
  • May 5, 2018 at 3:42 am
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    ❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
    • May 6, 2018 at 10:33 pm
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      Love you mum! ?

      Reply

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