I never really understood why my parents’ eyes would tear up at the airport as I’d prepare to embark on another trip.
It’s as though I was being dropped off for my freshman year of college all over again, hearing reminders to be responsible but have a good time “and don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.”
With college, I was just 40 minutes down the highway. With my travels everything seemed relatively straightforward: Alaska is in the United States and as long as I carry bear mace I should be OK, and almost everybody in Western Europe speaks English so finding help in an emergency shouldn’t be all that difficult.
I suppose I got a taste of that parental instinct a few weeks ago when I sent away for my Tanzania visa. It’s standard practice that you must include your passport (they insert the visa into your passport, as well as — I’m assuming — use it to do some sort of background check before allowing you into the country). People send their passports away all the time in instances such as this, but the trip to the post office on May 4 left me with a bit of a pit in my stomach.
I felt like I was telling it “Have a safe trip to the embassy. Enjoy your time there, but make it back home in once piece.”
My mom has expressed disappointment that they don’t stamp your passport at every border crossing in Europe like they did when she was 18 because, even though the open borders allow for more hassle-free traveling, the collection of passport stamps made a nice record of where you’d been. The passport in itself became a keepsake.
In my case, the passport represents about a $5,000 or $6,000 investment and, if the passport doesn’t return on time … there’s no trip and only the refund of whatever my travel insurance will agree to.
I paid for expedited processing — three business days instead of the customary five or more — to make sure my passport returned home in time for me to not grow nervous. After about two and a half weeks, however, the pit in my stomach returned when the United States Postal Service online tracking service showed no record of the passport having been mailed back. I looked into how long it would take to get a replacement passport if need be, and I would be cutting it close if that became necessary. I searched online and found no records of others having problems getting their passports returned.
Then, at about midnight Thursday, the USPS website showed that the package had arrived in Kansas City, Kan., at a sorting facility. There was no record of it ever leaving Washington, D.C. Regardless, my prized passport returned home safely the next day with a visa as a souvenir.