• 5 September 2007
  • USA

In 2005 Lonely Planet launched a campaign to encourage more Americans to get a passport and travel internationally. At that time, only 23% of Americans held a passport. Today that number is nearly 30% and growing.

The intention was, and still is, to have every September be declared and celebrated as National Passport Month, a dedicated time to communicate about the privilege and freedom to have a passport as well as the power and impact of international travel.

Since the inception of the project, Lonely Planet has worked diligently and consistently with travelers, local and national government representatives and like-minded partners. A dedicated website ( and book (Don’t Let the World Pass You By! 52 Reasons to Have a Passport) were created to support the message of this campaign.

People have traveled the world over since the beginning of time. Where did the notion of the passport begin?

Historians trace the first version of a passport to 450 BC. The early Roman equivalent of the passport was the safe-conduct letter, a letter stating your citizenship issued by the Emperor of Rome, allowing one to pass unharmed. Throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages, only the privileged few could travel. The right to exit and enter your own country – except during times of war – wasn’t written into law until King John imposed the Magna Carta in 1215. The word “passport” first appeared in writing in mid-16th-century England, though unlike todays little blue booklet, the document an elaborately handwritten, signed and sealed official letter valid for only one journey. The American Revolution turned travel around, nearly anyone could issue or use a passport, citizen or not. In 1856 the Department of State took control of issuing all passports and US citizenship was required.

Enter the 20th century – passports began to change rapidly, partly because more people could travel than ever before, but also because wars made travel control necessary. Passports became valid for a fixed period of time, photos were affixed, and for the first time, Uncle Sam charged for issuing one. Over time, they became a booklet with a sturdy cover and pages. In 1952 the federal government made it official: henceforth, a passport would always be required of US citizens to exit or enter the country, not only during wartime.

Even today, the passport continues to evolve. But some things never change. Just as in ancient days, a passport tells the world who you are and where you’re from, and helps make your passage around the globe safer. With it, you have the world in your pocket. (excerpted from Don’t Let the World Pass You By!)

Ask those around you about their passport – the stories will vary, though a consistent theme will emerge – the experience of travel and meeting people around the globe alters the way you see the world – forever.

Phil Keoghan, host of television’s Emmy Award-winning The Amazing Race notes: “I’ve found out that having a passport ultimately isn’t so much about the places that it allows you to go as the people who want to share their world with you.”

According to Mark Twain – “there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them. And St. Augustine said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”

Lonely Planet founder and world traveler Tony Wheeler observes: “It’s through travel, first and foremost, that we meet and understand the outside world. We can read all about other countries in papers and magazines or see them on television, but it’s remarkable how different places turn out to be when you actually visit them. The media feed us scare stories about those in other countries, but the reality is that most people in the world are searching for the same things we are – a better life, a better future for their children – and they’re only too ready to lend a hand to a fellow human being. Today, traveling to other countries is more important than it has ever been.”

For more information, contact Frank Ruiz,