Passports: Your ticket to the world

Raise your hand if you have a passport? Have you used it in the last five years? Do all your family members have their own passports?  

If your answer is no to any of these questions, make a resolution to change it.   

Early on we made travel a priority. We would take a U.S. trip one year and an international trip the next. The tradeoffs became what we owned, or owed and what we didn’t. Cabins were out. Older cars are in. We’ve managed to make those tradeoffs and love the return on our investment.

As we travel, I marvel at the ways the world is different and love the ways all the people of the world are the same. We’ve seen World Heritage sites on a few continents that make my head spin while I ponder how the heck ancient civilizations could construct cities, temples, glassware, fabric millennia before the European culture many of us call our heritage came close to figuring it out.  

I talk with strangers in airports, converse with people I’m working side-by-side with on a service project, quiz our tour guides, chat with ex pats living in these so-called “foreign” locations. What have I learned? We are one family of people who want the same things for our children — health, happiness and a good education. People want the crops to come in to feed their families like we want a good job to do the same.  

The week we returned from Turkey in January, a presidential candidate of the moment called Turkey a “terrorist Islamic country.” At the same time, I was telling everyone they must go to Turkey, because the people, food, culture, sites and infrastructure were all fantastic. Everyone I met was friendly, helpful and wanted to know more about the U.S. The Turks are rightly proud of their country — high employment, amazing annual growth year after year, importing little, exporting everything. We were told by our hosts to have no fear in walking around Istanbul, no one would hurt us.  

I wanted to ask the candidate if he had ever been to Turkey. We spoke with strangers who asked our opinion of whether or not Turkey should join the EU. “No” was our answer. You’ve got everything, except maybe the respect you deserve.  

So should you get that passport out and try a new country? Yes. Oh, I know the reasons not to — money, time, language (or lack of it), fear. So, save for it. Then take 10 days or even two weeks (an almost foreign, pun intended, concept in the U.S.) to get some good time on the ground wherever you go. I’d say three weeks if you’re considering China, Australia or New Zealand, but I don’t want to scare you off.

Then make a cheat sheet with phonetic spellings of the 10 most common phrases in the language you will hear all around you. Practice those phrases, but keep the cheat sheet handy so you can prepare on the fly to greet and respond correctly to the waiter, cab driver and shopkeeper.  

Oh, you have kids and kids don’t travel well. Our girls had their first international experience at 6 and 9. We stayed in the time zone by going to Costa Rica, so jet lag wasn’t an issue. Although the next year when we visited the relatives in Norway, the girls adapted to the time change faster that their parents!  

And the final issue to overcome: fear. Don’t listen to the talking heads or political candidates that stir undo fear into your thoughts of international travel. I’ve felt as safe in Beijing, Amsterdam, Amman and Istanbul as I do on the streets of New York and Chicago.  

Our family is very fortunate to have had these travel opportunities. It helps to have friends and family living or spending time in cities around the world. If you are so blessed, try to accept every invitation to visit. What will you get in return for the money, time, and a little jet lag? A better understanding of this 21st century world and her people.  

Priceless.

Welcome Jerde is a columnist for the Southwest Journal. She lives in Lynnhurst with her husband, Dan Berg, a dog, two cats, and occasionally, Hannah, a college student.