Happy Passport Day!

Today will probably go down in history as the point when a respectable number of Americans finally owned a passport. When the dust settles it could hit 35 to 40 percent–double the number of a few years back. Last April it got up to 27 percent and it crossed 30 percent soon after the deadline announcement. As of now, a passport is required for returning from any non-U.S. territory, including Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. We’re a nation of contradictions of course: lining up before first light to get a bargain the day after Thanksgiving, but putting off for years the simple tasks like mailing in a form to the government.

Besides, it has been easy to be lazy here, since you could visit an entire continent with nothing but a driver’s license, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Artic to the some of the hottest deserts on Earth. Places where French or Spanish is the first language could be reached on a road trip. Skiing, scuba, hiking, kayaking, and rafting without ever leaving the home country. It’s easy for the Belgians to sneer about their superior passport percentage numbers: when you get tired of eating waffles and drinking nice beer, what are you going to do for adventure? You drive an hour or two and you’re in another country. Here we can drive seven hours and still be in Tennessee, Florida, California, or Texas.

Of course I agree that isolation adds to ignorance–that’s true no matter what country you’re in. So hopefully my countrymen and women will put down the Pringles, turn off CNN and Fox News, and start venturing further afield. But will they do it in a way that really promotes understanding? Or will they just go on group tours and stay in resorts that shelter them from the place they’re visiting? Or will they go on cruises, where that industry lobbied to have a temporary exception to the passport rule? Time will tell, but after seeing hordes of real travelers in Mexico, Peru, and Argentina on recent trips, and seeing the increase in U.S. visitors to places like Turkey and Morocco, I’m getting more optimistic.

  1. Steve H.

    Hey Tim,

    I´m down in Uruguay right now – followed your advice to head down to Argentina (although it probably wasn´t your advice to go at high season…but come on, it´s 80 degrees here and about 15 back at home in Boston). Anyhow, just got here on Saturday and will be travelling down here for 6 weeks. Any must-sees that I won´t read about in Footprint or Lonely Planet?

    Also, I´ve got to say that your prices are right on – it´s not dirt cheap, but a great value. I´ll post again on this blog later on.



  2. tim

    I wish I could be there right now. Guess I’ll have to put on some tango music and drink some wine instead. My main bit of advice is to get up north to Cafayate. Really wonderful place and the scenery around there is spectacular. Nice wineries all around town to that you can get to on foot or on bicycle. It’s a scenic bus ride from Salta. Salta’s also nice in the center, with good nightlife, but a big bustling city. Hotels get cheaper once you’re out of Buenos Aires.

    I haven’t made it to Uruguay yet. Ran out of time…

  3. Steve H.

    Thanks Tim – Awesome. I’m liking Uruguay so much I think I’m going to spend an extra few days here, then I’ll head for the border to Salto (UY) and then on to Iguazu, before heading west for Salta…and hadn’t thought about Cafayate – but now I’ll definitely check it out. Sun sets around 8:55 over the Atlantic Ocean (if you google “La Paloma UY” and find a map, the western part of town actually faces the sunset) and it’s a sight to behold. It’s the height of summer for Uruguayan families and while the infrastructure isn’t anywhere near what it is in the states, the people seem to have plenty (even though the architecture is shoddy compared to North America), families can afford to take vacation here and what a place for it…not a beggar or tout in sight with the exception of one mangey looking guy today who tried to sneakily and cavalierly look through my backpack while I was waiting for the bus driver to remove my luggage from the lower compartment; a simple turn of the body and a look square in his direction, and he was cowering like a scolded schoolboy.

    But other than that the people are so cool and laid back…they are reserved and keep to themselves for the most part, but they have also been extremely kind and helpful to me as I attempt to communicate with my sub-mediocre Espanol. It’s truly strange being from the northeast USA and not hearing any arguments, blaring horns or angry outbursts – not a one – the only raised voices I here are those of parents corralling their young children.

    Disclaimer: I only spent three days in Argentina (and Bs. As. at that) but my sense is that prices here are a bit more expensive than AR – like a cross between AR prices and Brazil prices…I bought the cheapest sunblock – and believe me, I looked EVERYwhere – and it was about 9 bucks for a small bottle…at the same time, I’ve been eating delicious and filling dinners at top-notch restaurants for great prices – tonight was about 8 bucks with “1/2” of wine (I filled my glass 4 times). Last night I got two small deep dish pizzas and a martini for about $4.50. Groceries are slightly more than in Bs.As., and I’ve done things like renting bicycles and taking coach bus transportation, so I’ve exceeded my 30 dollar per day budget by 5-15 dollars (transport especially isn’t that cheap here), but I have to say it’s well worth it.

    I’ll post again later. Thanks Tim!

    Steve H.

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