Benjamin Chait


15 December 2012

I have my passport back, finally. For most of the past four weeks I’ve only seen it intermittently. Not a single night has passed during which I’ve held it, physically. But that’s normal in Vietnam.

Unlike anyplace I have previously visited, Vietnamese law requires your lodging to hold your passport while you stay. It’s a part of checking-in at each new place and I needed to remind myself to ask for its return with each check-out. Even after a month, it feels weird to hand over such an important document.

Traveling with a United States passport is a privilege. Visa requirements are kinder perhaps only to citizens of the United Kingdom with its extensive map of former colonies. Researching entry regulations across SE Asia and the Pacific, I am amazed at how many places provide us a visa upon arrival. Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and New Zealand have no pre-arrival expectations other than a departure plan; Australia is an online submission for an Electronic Transfer Authority -mine was approved instantly, providing entry for the next year. Thus far, only Vietnam has required an actual visa in advance-and that requirement holds true for most foreign visitor. Still, one out of the first six stops makes this process incredibly simple.

I feel slightly exposed without my passport while abroad. It is effectively my only form of identification while traveling save my driver’s license. Beyond that, it also serves as my means to travel; without it, I can cross no borders. Relinquishing it still feels weird and I am glad to have it back after checking-out of my final stop in Vietnam.

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