Every month or two I see some inaccurate statistic in the news about how only one in ten Americans has a passport, usually followed by some smug remark about how much more enlightened and well-traveled the writer’s home country is in comparison.

A short piece in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal quoted the U.S. State department as saying that “27% of U.S. Citizens have valid passports.” This fact won’t get indexed by search engines since the WSJ’s web site is a closed system, but maybe if I note it here some correct info will start getting into the press.

The thing is, it was only 22 percent just last year. As I’ve always said, the U.S. number is misleading because Americans could visit Canada, Mexico, and half the Caribbean holding nothing but a birth certificate or driver’s license. Add that to a very large and diverse homeland and it meant a huge chunk of real estate was available to us for vacation without going through the hassle and expense of getting a passport. Compare that to much of Europe where you’re in a new country as soon as you cross a river or ski to the other side of a mountain.

This Northern Hemisphere mobilty is now changing though in this age of hyper-security and movement tracking. Soon we will have to have a passport for those places too–as it stands now, at the beginning of 2007. That has spurred a lot of applications from people who have traveled around for years without one. Maybe that will spur them to go beyond our back yard. Time will tell.

By the way, Lonely Planet has a book out called Don’t Let the World Pass You By! 52 Reasons to Have a Passport. If you’re looking for justification on spending that $97 for a passport (or you need to convince a parent or spouse to pay for it), you’ll have plenty of ammo with that book.