Lonely Planet Writer

The importance of owning a passport: a perspective from Phil Keoghan

With National Passport Day approaching in the US (September 17, 2011), we will be featuring perspectives on the importance of owning (and using) a passport.

First up is Phil Keoghan, host of the Emmy Award-winning travel series The Amazing Race, and a life-long passionate traveler well before his TV days. We asked him for his perspective on travel and why having a passport is so important:

I had my first passport when I was two years old. (My own daughter got her first passport when she was two weeks old.) By the time I was 12, I had traveled extensively through the Americas. I even flew by myself from the Caribbean back to New Zealand to attend boarding school. I got the travel bug early. Now every time I look up and see a plane in the sky, I dream of somewhere new.

It’s imperative that we get students curious and hungry about the world early. The most opportune time to travel is straight out of school, when you can just pack your bags and go. Travel is the most valuable education money can’t buy – an opportunity to be resourceful and learn lessons that will affect the way we live the rest of our lives.

As people grow older, they become more rigid in their ways of thinking. They make up more excuses. They make the assumption that they can only leave their house and go overseas if they have a lot of time and money. My whole philosophy is that imagination is your currency, not the money you have in your wallet.

Americans often tell me, ‘But we’ve got it all here. We’ve got every culture.’ Americans do have a lot, but not everything. My favorite moments on The Amazing Race are when we have people who have never crossed the border, never owned passports, and never left their home state. When they end up in a place like India, it’s as if they’ve landed on another planet. There’s nowhere you can go in America that’s like Kolkata. This kind of experience gives you perspective, and a different understanding of the world.

Fear stops many of us from getting on planes. One of the things that excites me about The Amazing Race is that millions of viewers see everyday people in the Arab world, Asia and everywhere else doing acts of kindness for Americans. These are powerful images. The Amazing Race allows you to vicariously experience the world, but I promise you it’s better in person.

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. When people travel, they do talk about the postcard images they’ve seen of, say, Patagonia, but what they really remember is the human connections they make.

I’ve always had a passport. In a true sense, it’s a ticket to your dreams. Travel is about immersing yourself in something new, allowing yourself to be a fish out of water and just trusting that things will work out. It may not be like home, but so what? It doesn’t have to be. It’s time to get lost. The world is waiting for you!

Phil Keoghan is the host of the Emmy Award-winning travel television show The Amazing Race. Find more of Phil's movies, books and other projects at www.noopportunitywasted.com.