Africa Europe Expat Chronicles travel united kingdom United States

The Disappearing Passport: Stranded in America

A US passport can mean a lot when you travel the world.

Is my title dramatic? Of course it is but I was going through a range of emotions and I felt like this captured it. Are there worse places to be stranded? Of course! I’m aware of the amount of privilege I’m swinging here but that’s sort of the point of this post. How I realized my American passport offered me so much privilege when it came to traveling (and life as a whole) and how crippled, deflated, and shocked I felt without it.

Travel isn’t everything but it does mean something when you’ve experienced it. Once you’ve gotten a taste for it, it’s hard to shake. Like a sweet chocolate chip cookie or ice cream addiction. It’s so good and you can’t help but go back for one more cookie or one more scoop.

I had to give up my passport as I awaited a spouse visa to join my husband in the UK. Since I’m from America, I had to mail my passport to a visa office in Sheffield, UK and wait for a verdict. This meant no international traveling of any sort until I received a decision. If I wanted to leave the country, I’d have to withdraw my visa application and reapply with more money and wait an unknown period of time that could last for up a minimum of 3 months. No thanks! So I spent the tail end of Summer and early Autumn trapped in NYC. Specifically, the Bronx.

Again, woe is me right? Trapped in a cultural city known as NYC with lots of things to do, see and loved ones at my doorstep. Yeah, I’m playing my tune on a tiny violin but I’m trying to make a point. The point that when without your passport, your world feels smaller. Although I could travel domestically, I felt like everything around me enclosed on me. Especially with all the anti immigrant rhetoric and presidential news, my world felt like options were reduced and I could only see but a few steps ahead.

I also began to reflect and notice the amount of privilege I had. How I could easily travel around the world without having to apply for visas or get too much grief for applying. How I could just show up in Europe, flash my passport and pretty much get past the border without the third degree. It was simple and now I felt that that power was gone. That power to discover the world around me. I couldn’t leave NYC for Bali at the drop of a hat (though I would never do that because I require a little budget and a little planning). I wanted to learn about new cultures, see new sights and try new food. Again, I know I could do this in NYC but I wanted my privilege back, as odd as that sounds as a black female.

I never understood how complex (or how much more complex to be accurate) that life could be until after I started traveling. Learning about how different countries approached subjects like healthcare, democracy, homelessness, gender, etc. It was all so eye opening. But when I was grounded in the Bronx for about 3 months, I knew I had to settle in and just observe my surroundings with the hopes of being reunited with my passport. Observe I did. I saw what my neighbors considered a way of life and how people looked toward various moments of happiness. It was enlightening.

Cut to now. I have my passport and visa and I’m in the UK. I’m dying to book my next big trip (or small trip) and I’m so happy to have some autonomy restored.

 

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