Exactly one year ago, the lovely and hilarious Michelle Collins saw me mention on Facebook that I don't have—and have never had—a passport.
"GIRL, I am making it my mission to get you a passport. THAT IS IT," she messaged me from California, where she was living before joining The View's panel of hosts earlier this year. "Also, I'm coming to NY next week. Can we drink? Seriously, I'll bring the application with me."
I was going to drink that next week with or without her, but of course I wanted to drink with her. Plus, I wanted to finally get the wheels in motion on my ridiculously late-in-life passport. I enthusiastically agreed to the tentative plans.
"Oh, hell yes," I replied. "I cannot wait to tipsily fill out my passport application!"
Then, with humorous and benevolent intentions, Michelle said, "I'll spill wine alllllll over it."
And my blood ran cold.
OK, that's a little dramatic, but it did give me pause.
See, the last time I attempted to complete a passport application, I had printed it out in my Boynton Beach, Florida, apartment back in 2007. I left it on my counter after filling it out, and when my mom came to visit later that day, she accidentally spilled her coffee on it.
Someone relatively normal would simply print and fill out a new one and get on with it. But I—a decidedly non-superstitious person—somehow took that as a sign that it just wasn't time for me to get a passport. Maybe I had a feeling that I would continue to not have the time or money to do any traveling over the following years—which turned out to be true—or maybe my printer was low on black ink, but I never got around to replacing the coffee-stained application.
Picturing Michelle spilling wine on yet another application sparked a kind of déjà vu that made me feel a self-imposed hopelessness about my ability to do what so many other Americans do: get a goddamn passport and leave the goddamn country every now and then.
And so we didn't get that drink. I mean, that's not really the reason we didn't get that drink; we just got busy. Wait—we didn't get busy like that. Our schedules didn't allow it during her trip. Jeez, guys.
Furthermore, I didn't print out another passport application on my own since then.
I'm not sure where this passport paralysis comes from; I don't love traveling, but I don't hate it, either, and I definitely want to see life outside the U.S. Did my parents pooh-pooh travel? Do I subconsciously think I don't deserve to travel? Am I scared of the unknown? Am I worried that I'm a perfect target to be framed for drug-smuggling, Brokedown Palace-style? I really don't know.
What I do know is that now that I've met someone I would love to travel with—I would've loved to travel with friends, but most of them were doing it with significant others while I was single—a fire has been lit under my ass to make that possible. Plus, the sooner I can put an end to the weirdly intense judgment that comes with telling people you've never had a passport and haven't traveled internationally, the better.
But once I get that inevitably unflattering passport in my hands, where should I take it first? I'm thinking Toronto or London—start slow, in a city where I have friends and speak the language, you know? But I extended the question to my fellow xoJaners to see if they had any well-traveled advice for me, just in case they could open my eyes to an option I hadn't considered. Here's what they recommended.
"Go to India and then tell me all about it. Then go to Australia, where I lived when I started Sassy magazine with an Australian publisher and thought it was the best mix of California (laid back) and Irish (drinking, hilarious senses of humor) vibes of anywhere I've ever been. They don't take themselves or anything seriously there and it rules."
"England! I loved my visit to London. I spent two weeks there and it was the best because I am crazy about museums and history and spent nearly everyday at a different museum, and so many of the art galleries and museums there are run on donations and free to everyone, and I think that's so important—art should be for everyone, not just people with the budget for it. I saw the Rosetta Stone and that was very exciting for me. So I was really happy there. And also I love fish and chips so it was the ideal place for me to be. I'm excited to go back sometime next spring and I'm hoping to hit up Berlin and Paris too."
"I was going to say London, too! And now I can't choose a runner-up because there are so many places I've been to out of the country that I love. Toronto, Venice... is it super-boring if I just urge you to leave America as soon as you get the passport in your hot little hands? At the risk of being slaughtered for sounding un-American, I am SO grateful to have traveled a lot internationally, and I love it. Yes, America is great. We are privileged in many ways. But we're also a baby country compared with so much of the world, and so many of us are raised to believe that 'We're Number One!' that it is enlightening and humbling to see the vast glories of other nations. Even when they're not postcard-picture perfect, places that outdate us by centuries have earned their dirt, and I love learning about other cultures on their turf and on their terms.
"But I'll say Toronto because it's like a cleaner New York with more ethnic balance and less trash and fewer rats on the street, or the West Indies because that's my heritage and the beaches are beautiful and I think about moving to an island and shacking up with an unsuspecting Auntie every day."
"CUBA! Marci, let's go to Cuba. Because we can now. (THANKS, OBAMA!) Seriously, I've been researching it for years, and it's so rad. So much art, music, scenery, and, um, FOOOOD. I know you're not a huge fan of hot weather, but if we go in the winter it won't be toooo bad. Plus, that's not hurricane season, so it's a win-win. It would be such a nice escape from the cold, bitter north in which we both now live. I'll be your translator and we'll go get our Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights on. ¡Sí! ¡Sí! ¡Sí! ¡Vámonos, Marci! (I'm serious about this though.)"
"The best place I have ever visited, and so implore you to do so to, is South Africa. I remember flying into Cape Town after a 10-hour flight (the longest I'd ever taken) and Table Mountain was to the left out of the plane window, sun beaming down on it, and it was the most magnificent sight."
"Staying in Cape Town, there were the best beaches I have ever seen (Clifton Beach is simply incredible), amazing vineyards, great shopping, the food is OFF THE CHAIN, and by driving less than an hour you get to see penguins in Boulders Bay, go shark spotting in Fish Hoek,or drive a little further to see the whales at Hermanus."
"Obviously, I'm all for you coming to Hong Kong! I actually think it's a great place for Americans to visit because while it's most certainly Hong Kong Chinese in culture and language, navigating the city in English is incredibly easy. It really is a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' type of place, depending on whether you want to have a more familiar or foreign experience. You can wind your way through very Chinese areas as well as very international areas, all within a 30 minute walk. The mix of 'East meets West' is one of the most fascinating parts of HK.
"If you're open and friendly, you'll meet people from all over the world while just hanging hanging out at the pub or getting a bite to eat. And if you're traveling on a budget, you'll never find better cheap, delicious food than in the street stalls or Chinese cha chaan tengs or 'tea restaurants.' I've yet to have a bad meal in Hong Kong."
"Last summer, my family took our first trip abroad, we hit London, Dublin, and Edinburgh. Marci, I kid you not, if I had the opportunity to move to Edinburgh this very day, I would do it. That is how much I loved our time in Scotland. Not only does it have stunning vistas literally every place you look, there are castles in pretty much every city you may want to visit, a never ending supply of tea, and I even ate haggis. And it was good.
"The country is pretty darn small, too, so if you rented a car and have some Great American Road Trip experience, you could see pretty much everything you want to in one trip and it wouldn’t be overwhelming. Edinburgh is a pretty low-key city. There isn't a lot of hustle and bustle, so your trip will probably be pretty chill and filled with some of the most beautiful scenery I've seen in my life."
And now, I turn to you à la Christina Aguilera, for your recommendations: What's a great place to go when you're traveling internationally for the "first" time?