“Passports? We don’t need no stinkin’ passports!”

I went across this great nation, and I didn’t need a passport once, well, not true, but thats another story. The line from The Treasure of Sierra Madre resonates, “why travel with a stinky passport when you don’t need one?”  And you don’t need one to travel within the United States, which for the longest time was a very unique concept, but now you see that more often, especially with the European Union.

I started with a train ride from my hometown to downtown Los Angeles where I got picked up with my back country hiking backpack by a friend of mine who was moving to Jacksonville, Florida. My job was simple- to entertain, to drive and to help pick out random things to explore as we drove through the southern states.  Being a immigrant child, it was only natural that I packed my passport in my back pocket with my wallet.

I’ve often seen articles about the low percentage of Americans having passports, which is a foreign to me considering that I have had a passport since I was two years old.  Travel appeals to me because its through travel that you meet different people and ideas drastically varying then my own, all of which has to be weaved into my conception of the world.  There lies the challenge.

I understand, now, why so few Americans have passports. Its not that I haven’t travelled across the country. I have made numerous trips to Florida, have gone to Chicago, DC, visited Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Houston, romped through Zion country in Utah and traversed the Western states. But to go across the country in a car, its a whole other experience.  I think for the first time I saw the cultural changes spread out through the miles.

Mark Twain had it right when he said, “I have found that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”  And while traveling it became a bit harder to differentiate between the red and blue parts of the country.  People weren’t as far apart as our politics suggests.

I also saw the uniqueness of America.  Its the place where each region is distinctive enough to make you want to visit it and enjoy it but not feel like you’re completely foreign.  While I might embrace the idea of jumping into an uncomfortable situation where I don’t understand a word being spoken, many Americans find it unnecessary to do so because there are just enough places in the States to visit and vacation in that you don’t need to step outside their comfort level.

Plus it helps to have a history where people were encouraged to visit the great outdoor spaces that spread across the expanse of the country, rather then go to the Alps or visit Venice.  The sad reality, though is that while we have wonderful and amazing parts, we also fail to realize how neglected fellow Americans are.  When I consider it its not just places like New Orleans that come to mind, but also places like Mobile, Alabama.

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