02 November 2008

Book Review - Don't Let the World Pass You By!

Don't Let the World Pass You By!

52 Reasons to Have a Passport
Various authors

(Lonely Planet, 2005)

This chirpy, optimistic handbook is in some ways, a piece of propaganda. It is published by Lonely Planet, a guidebook empire that is based in Australia, but counts the United States as its biggest sales market. Imagine the number of guidebooks they could sell if the number of U.S. passport holders increased from the current 22 percent to, say, 30, 40, or 50 percent!

Despite the not-so-hidden agenda (this book is aimed solely at U.S. buyers) most travelers will find themselves nodding in agreement as they read the many reasons why everyone should have a passport. Several times, I entertained the idea of buying multiple copies of this book just to have on hand the next time someone tells me they don't feel a need to go abroad.
(Though in all fairness, we all know plenty of people we would rather just stay home - so they won't bring our country's reputation down even more!) It would make a great gift for a college senior or someone just making plans to go abroad for the first time.The title is written by ten different contributors, with Sarah Benson being the coordinating author.

The most worthy reason to own a passport is spelled out in the introduction by Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler, who says, "It's through travel, first and foremost, that we meet and understand the outside world. We can read all about other countries in papers and magazines or see them on television, but it's remarkable how different places turn out to be when you actually visit them."

If only our elected leaders, who only use their passport for whirlwind state visits, would take this to heart, the world would probably be a more peaceful place.The book starts with a history of the passport, reminding us that it really hasn't been around that long in its present form. In the U.S., the first one issued by the State Department came out in 1856, but the requirement to have one to travel in and out of the country has only been in place since 1952. Residents of other developing countries probably began to pooh-pooh the low percentage of U.S. passport holders soon after and never stopped. There's been a big loophole of course, one that most international criticizers don't think about. Many Americans don't have a passport because we have agreements that allow us to go a whole lot of places without one, such as (for now): Canada, Mexico, and quite a few islands in the Caribbean. Add in Hawaii and Alaska and you can cover a lot of real estate with just a birth certificate copy - a whole continent and then some.

You need a passport to go beyond though, and there are plenty of good reasons.

#3 Exercise Your Rights
As I wrote this review, Palestinians in Gaza were finally able to legally leave their country for the first time since 1967. North Koreans, Burmese, and Cubans still can't. In many Middle Eastern countries, the men can travel, but the women can't without a husband. What's stopping you?

#6 C'mon, Live a Little
Pioneers and explorers founded America. How did we get so fat and lazy? "Now that jet travel has evaporated distances and economy class is luxurious compared to Calistoga wagon trains, isn't it time to reclaim our gypsy beginnings?"

#7 It's Not Such Risky Business
The book lists the 10 Safest Countries. The U.S. ranks 27th, right after Armenia.

#15 Ship Out and Shape Up
Travel has got to be the most interesting and least painless ways to lose weight and get in shape. (See Travel Diets: The Backpacker Weight Loss Plan)

#26 Stay Awake in Class
One of my favorite justifications for travel: you learn far more than you ever will in a classroom. History and geography are actually interesting, instead of nap-inducing.

#27 Visit Other Lands of Liberty
Yes, the USA may be called the land of the free, but civil society sure does require the surrendering of a lot of freedoms. Go abroad to experience legal vices, beer and smokes that aren't taxed to the hilt, topless beaches, the lack of open container laws, and bars with no last call.

And #28 probably sums it up best when it talks about the numbing day-to-day routine we allow our working stiff selves to fall into. Breaking out of that is reason enough on its own. Only one life to live, and all that.

Picking a few examples is difficult since nearly every one of the 52 reasons is a valid one. Lots of fun charts and factoids are sprinkled throughout. One notes that in the time it takes to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, you could fly to Costa Rica. Or that in the time it takes to drive from Miami to Disney World, you could fly to Peru. A "Top-10 Cinematic Settings" list tells you where famous movies were filmed. Another list has "Top-10 Things You Can't Find in Your Own Backyard."If you're already an avid traveler, this is a bit of preaching to the choir, but it's still worth having on your shelf. If nothing else, it'll provide an endless list of talking points when Aunt Millie starts asking why you've quit your job (again) and are heading overseas (again). Or you could buy her a copy and say you won't answer any more questions until she reads it. Or hand a copy to your old boss along with your resignation letter. Maybe he'll read it while you're gone and will start to understand.

Review by Perceptive Travel Book Reviews Jan 2006

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