I don’t remember my first passport because I never laid hands on it. I was a carefree (ahem, scatterbrained) 9-year old and my mother made sure it steered clear of my possession lest it poof into thin air and I ended up an involuntary resident of some foreign country. I do, however, have a few memories of my first trip. It was a cruise to South America and I vividly remember an exhilarating rush of adrenaline during the emergency drill that took place as we set sail into the Atlantic. My sister was horrified but I was strangely excited by the possibility of us having to rappel down the side of the boat into a rescue raft. Awesome! It’ll be like the Titanic! Oh wait….
I also remember seeing a sloth for the first time (it was sooooo sloooooowwww) and being nervous in Cartegena because I had heard so much on the news about the drug wars there. That’s about it. I don’t have some extravagant story about how my using my first passport was a life-changing experience that ignited my passion for travel. However, taking that trip at the tender age of 9 paved the way for my future as a world traveler by doing 2 very important things.
First, it allowed me to see firsthand that international travel is not some lofty goal that requires exorbitant amounts of money, connections, or a rich Uncle with a guest house somewhere. By leaving the country so early, I knew it was an attainable aspiration and though I did not expect to go abroad often, I knew that another trip was in my future.
Second, it removed the veil of fear, uncertainty and prejudice that covers the eyes of so many eyes of US citizens who are unable to experience other cultures firsthand. The media only shows what sells, so the pictures that are painted of many cultures, especially those whose people look different from the “Average American,” often times aren’t so inviting. Leaving the country at such a young age and interacting with cultures unlike my own broke down those cumbersome barriers of distrust and misunderstanding allowing me to enter my adulthood with an open mind.
As a result, when I turned 20 (officially a grown-up), I was fearless in signing up to live with a Costa Rican family for 6 weeks in the capital city of San Jose. It was my first time using my passport by myself and I was determined to become conversationally fluent in Spanish. While I came back almost, borderline, not quite all the way fluent, I did learn quite a few lessons that were far more valuable. For 6 weeks I was embraced and protected by a Mom who didn’t speak my language and learned that motherhood is a universal language that transcends culture. I was served a different dish for dinner every single night and learned that some of the best food and drinks your taste buds will ever be delighted in are found outside of this country’s borders. And most importantly, I learned that while America is a land where you can live the “Good Life”, you can also experience “Pura Vida” in Costa Rica, feel “Irie” in Jamaica, and live richly in the myriad of beautiful cultures that have been placed on this massive Earth that are only a passport stamp away.
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