I’ll start out first and foremost by telling you that this article is borderline bitching about certain aspects of travel. If you’re sitting in a cubicle, hating life, I would either recommend to skip it or skip to the bottom where I talk about solutions to the problems I’m about to dig in to. Your choice. There are some good links though, so maybe just click on those before reading my feelings on the American passport…
Your standard American passport used to get sent out with 18 blank pages for entry/exit stamps and visas. These days, I believe it has 24, but mine is from 2002 and is a bit behind the times. With regular stampings, you can fit 72 entry and exit stamps in there. This seems like a lot and traveling within a huge chunk of Europe these days is just two stamps despite going to multiple countries thanks to blessed Schengen.
I made one trip in 2003, one in 2004, one in 2005, one in 2006, and then a whole bunch starting in 2007. My passport currently has one blank page in it and I have to keep it for another 2 1/2 years, but in some regards, I’m screwed already as the problem lies in visas. To get a visa, you officially need two blanks, facing pages in your passport when you apply for the passport. That eats up pages really fast and it means that if you only have one blank page, you’ve got a problem. Africa has been eating up pages at a large rate and this won’t decrease at any point soon as I need a visa to travel to every country there except South Africa, Senegal, Namibia and of all places, Equatorial Guinea (that would be due to all the oil.) There is a solution to this problem which is to send in my passport, have the government cut out the stitching and add in several more pages. I’ve seen this done and the passports look like utter crap afterward. Never before has a prav happened at so high a level.
The idiocy is that they just won’t simply issue you a new passport even if you fill up the current one and you can only add pages twice. Dumb, yes. Thankfully, if I’m in a really tight bind, the two years of work and the decent amount of application and research money I put in to getting my Croatian passport comes in really handy as it has 29 blank pages and they’re “freeform”, meaning you can put more than four stamps on a page.
Of course, once the time comes to get a new passport, you can put a small note in the application to get the bible-port, which has 52 pages and is as thick as a prayer book. There is no extra cost to get this and if peak oil doesn’t nix flying in the next 10 years, it will probably be an option that I take, despite the fact I’ll need a separate bag just for my passport.
But this is really indicative of the American attitude in that hardly anyone leaves the country. Most estimates place the amount of citizens with passports at 20% on the high end and 12% on the low end. I realize that the US is a very large country and so you might never need to leave it, but at the same time, never leaving it makes for all the inbred thinking that we have to date towards the rest of the world. And really, we should all have passports, or better yet, a Federal ID card so that my Social Security Card stays private.
I’m a bit stumped as of late because I’m getting questioned a lot more when I enter countries. As I mentioned above, my passport has a lot of stamps in it and I would think that would show I travel a bit and am just popping through, no big deal. But no, in London they asked my duration of stay, profession, where I reside, where I am returning to, what I was going to do in England (twice) and then let me through. Even returning to Spain from London, I was asked a number of questions, which has never happened before including how much Spanish I spoke. That was just bizarre as if the agent was going to say, “¡Aha! ¡You said you speak un poco, not un poquito Español! ¡You are obviously going to work illegally here, even though it is Catalunya!”
On a certain level, I really don’t mind this as it’s a reminder that just because you have an American passport, you don’t have a golden ticket to go anywhere else in the world, despite what idiots who go hiking in Iraq and get captured by Iran think. But, I just wish that there would be a consistency to it, although wishing for world peace would probably have more of a chance in being granted. I mean, is it the worry that I might abuse my ability to enter so easy and will work under the table, or worse yet, sell my sugarlumps on the street? This has really only come about as of late and while London was pretty much typical with the general xenophobia there, Spain was more of a shock.
Of course, my other theory is based on the fact that I had no problems in Paris when I flew in, in October. They glanced at my passport and thought, “Huh, American. 4,000th one today. Welcome to Paris, now shut up.” The other airports I was flying through were Gatwick in England and Girona in Spain. It’s possibly the case that the border agents in these airports feel especially important as they’re at minor airports and they have to prove something, thus harassing people more, although they will probably let everyone through. Unless of course you’re African or Muslim (or god forbid, both), in which case you get no end of trouble. Again, this is why I don’t mind a bit of a hassle when going through as others have it far, far worse. I just wish they would choose some level to be consistent with it.