This is JR World Travel, and I just got back from a vacation. Oh yeah, it was pretty cool. Thanks for asking that was really nice of you. But here’s the thing though, if I were going out of the country, let’s say to sunny Bolivia, my whole trip would’ve hinged on one vital thing: my passport. But what is this thing exactly? Why do I need it to travel? The first question has a pretty clear-cut answer. A passport is a document issued by a government that verifies your identity and give you the right to travel under its protection. The word passport comes from passport, a Middle French phrase from around the 1500’s. However, the idea of a passport is positively ancient. You can find evidence of state-sponsored travel documents dating from as far back as 450 BCE. Since about the 1980’s most passports have been regulated by a department of the United Nations called the International Civil Aviation Organization or ICAO. So, why do you need one? Ultimately, it goes down to proof of nationality. For example, let’s say I was caught up in a vast conspiracy and had to travel to the Vatican.
That happens, right? Well anyhow, I’m flying into Italy and I have to present some sort of proof that I’m really coming from where I say I’m coming from. Otherwise, any old supervillain with a passable Yankee accent could stroll off the runway pretending to be an American, right? So possessing a passport is like having your country of origin vouch for you, assuring other nations that you are in fact the person you say you are. Keep in mind however that possession of a valid passport alone doesn’t guarantee your entrance. Countries allow visitors at their own discretion, which means that in theory, they can refuse entry to pretty much anyone at any time. So, even if you have a valid passport, make sure to check the entry policies of the country you’re visiting before you hop on the plane.
And not everyone’s happy with the passport system. In The Invention of the Passport, professor John Torpey argues that it is inherently a monopoly of the state. Meaning a private company like say HowStuffWorks couldn’t just slap my mug in a little book and send me off to Japan. Religious organizations can’t do this either. Not only do countries control the passport system, but the issuing country can revoke your passport at any time. In clear terms this system is about as big government as you can get. And of course not everyone has a passport either. In 2014, only about 46% percent of Americans had either a passport or the less comprehensive passport card. The 54% who don’t have one overwhelmingly didn’t get it because they just didn’t want the thing. So there you have it, in theory almost every single person on the globe needs a passport or some sort of official document to travel. This official document could be something for an individual or it could be an agreement between specific countries. Virtually everyone needs something like this, but did you notice how I said almost every person, than virtually everyone. That’s right ladies and gentlemen there is one person in the world who can travel freely and legally without a passport or other documents, and that person is: Paul, could you get a drum roll going please? Thanks.
(drum roll) The Queen of England. True story, British passports are issued in the name of the Queen therefore it’s not necessary for her to have one. The rest of the family has to possess a passport though. Even the princes William and Harry. Thanks for watching. Hey, do you have a passport? Don’t show it but what’s the strangest or coolest country you’ve ever visited? Let me know in the comments below and keep an eye out for more Brain Stuff..
JR World Travel