Traveling without a Passport: Lessons Learned

Welcome home, all of us—it’s been an eventful two weeks! For the holidays, Mrs. Satis, Little Satis and I had planned (for quite some time, I should add) to travel back to our ‘home’ town of Sheffield, England, to visit the dear friends we left behind when we moved to the Garden State four years ago. In particular I was looking forward to seeing my best friend Ben, who is directly responsible for The Redemption of Erâth existing at all, and whose little boy had just turned one.

We were due to leave on Christmas day (cheap flights and all), and so during the typically frantic last-minute preparations, we got out all our travel documents on Christmas Eve, including passports (both Little Satis and I share a British and US passport). As a matter of routine, Mrs. Satis asked me to check the expiration dates of the passports—after all, sometimes you can’t travel if the passport is close to expiration.

Mrs. Satis’ passport: fine.

Little Satis’ passport: fine.

My passport: expired—one year ago. My other passport: also expired one year ago.

Please, for the sake of matrimonial harmony, don't let your passports expire …

Please, for the sake of matrimonial harmony, don’t let your passports expire …

Well, hell hath no fury like a wife whose husband neglected to renew both of his passports and didn’t find out until the night before he was due to travel. After a great deal of frantic online searching, it was discovered that there was absolutely nothing to be done; a call to a (very friendly) United Airlines representative assured us that it is absolutely impossible to fly internationally without a valid passport. I mean, it kind of makes sense (duh), but it was worth asking.

What to do? The next day (Christmas day), I drove Mrs. Satis and our son to the airport, and watched rather pathetically as they passed through security with their perfectly valid passports, and drove home to spend the first of several very lonely nights. It was, in typical ‘me’ fashion, an auspicious beginning to our holiday.

My intention was to go to the passport office in New York city the following morning, argue my case as miserably as possible, and hope that someone would take pity on me and issue me a new passport. I set my alarm for 5:00 AM, slept poorly, and just before I stepped out of the house, thought maybe—just maybe—I ought to double-check the opening times of the New York passport office. Yep—7:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday … except December 26.

Damn you, keyhole …

Damn you, keyhole …

Brilliant. I was now looking at spending the entire weekend alone, while my wife and son were galavanting around Sheffield, enjoying themselves with our friends and going to pantomimes. In my despair, I decided to feed my depression with pizza and stepped out that night, into temperatures well below freezing, to collect from our local trattoria. The moment the door shut (naturally), I slipped my hand into my jeans pocket to check that I had the house keys. Not normally an issue, because there was someone else in the house to let me back in.

Only tonight, there was no one. And the keys … were on the kitchen counter.

Luckily my car keys were still with me, so I was at the very least able to pick up the pizza, which was the only thing that kept me warm during the hour I waited for a locksmith to come and jimmy the door open. Two hundred dollars and a crowbar later I was back in the house, and I was pretty sure the holidays couldn’t get much worse. It was in this state of mind that I checked Facebook, and discovered a friend from work was out performing at a gig nearby. I rarely had the opportunity to see her sing, and here—home alone, with no one to tuck in—was the perfect opportunity. But did I dare leave the house again? Decisions, decisions …

Mary and the Uptown Getdowns!

Mary and the Uptown Getdowns!

In the end I went, having quadruple-checked that the house keys were in my pocket before latching the door, and ultimately it was the right thing to do. Live music is a cheering pastime, and I stayed out until the end of their set, which went on until nearly midnight. Well-played, Mary.

As luck would have it, that was largely the end of my misfortunes; I spent Saturday and Sunday alone and got quite a bit done on recording The Redemption of Erâth: Consolation as an audiobook for Ben. Monday morning I was at the passport office at 6:00 AM (to find a line of fifty people already ahead of me), and to the surprising credit of the US government, a brand-new passport was in my hands by 1:00 PM. With hardly a pause I raced on to the airport, where my rescheduled flight was waiting for me (only $600 to change, too … ). By 1:00 PM the next day—only four days late—I was reunited with my family, and the vacation could begin.

The University of Sheffield, Firth Hall—where Mrs. Satis and I first met.

The University of Sheffield, Firth Hall—where Mrs. Satis and I first met.

With the exception of being unable to withdraw cash because my bank’s fraud team was a touch overzealous, the rest of the trip went off largely without a hitch. While I missed the pantomime (Peter Pan, at Sheffield City Hall), Mrs. Satis and I were nonetheless able to visit many of the places we remembered from our time there, including the University where we met and the Town Hall where we were married.

We even found time to drive up into the Peak District and visit Ladybower Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley, and despite the cold and frost it’s still one of the most picturesque places I know in the world.

Tea, rain, full English breakfasts and plentiful public transport … it was the full British experience, cut short by only a few days. Ben was absolutely giddy to receive his signed copy of The Redemption of Erâth: Consolation, including the first five chapters as audiobook for his (dubious) listening pleasure. Little Satis got to spend time with his (girl)friend since nursery school, and Mrs. Satis and I had enough time to reminisce about our time in Sheffield.

Ladybower Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley.

Ladybower Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley.

Sometimes I regret leaving, and sadly there was far too little time to do everything we wanted to, but it was ultimately a wonderful winter vacation, salvaged by, of all things, the US passport office. It would have been lonely indeed had I not been able to renew my passport.

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For Seven Days, I Turned Off the Internet…And the World Didn’t End

Last week I got to do something very cool, and it was something I’ve never done before. I turned off the internet.

I suppose I can’t really claim that the entirety of the internet went down entirely, although if it had I wouldn’t have noticed, because I experienced a week of digital abstinence. The worst part is, I meant to.

Wow. What an admission that is. Imagine choosing not to receive emails, or text messages, or RSS feeds, or (horror!) WordPress hits. Imagine that, if you wanted to write something down, you had to use an archaic instrument known as a pen. Imagine not knowing whether you had new Facebook friends!

Such a world I lived in for an entire week. To give a bit of context, for most of the time between 12:00 PM one Saturday and 2:00 PM the following Saturday, I was in the middle of the ocean somewhere between Port Canaveral and Nassau in the Bahamas. I didn’t get wet, though, because I was on a boat. The boat was big, and in the end we had to share it with a few other people as well, but the captain was from Sweden and so I didn’t really mind.

I suppose I can’t actually claim to have shunned all technology entirely; I did bring a digital camera with me, as well as my iPhone (just for recording video, I swear). Between them, I captured 1,200 photos and two hours of video. I don’t want to look at them, because if I do I won’t ever stop. These pixellated memories are so numerous because my plethora of iDevices weren’t dinging and pinging and swishing every few minutes with something I decided was really important to know about. I didn’t receive an email. I didn’t get a text. I didn’t read a tweet, or update a feed. In fact, I ended up with such an awful lot of time on my hands that I had to look at the ocean sometimes, which was nice because there were quite a few sunsets to be had.

Another thing I had time for was thinking. After all, when you don’t have Wikipedia, you have to come up with your own answers to things. An astronaut told us that the body’s immune system doesn’t work in space, and gosh – we had to dig deep into our own poor wisdom to try to figure out why. My wife and I felt like scientists, trying to answer a question no one knows the answer to.

Above all, I was inevitably forced to spend time with my family. Man alive, the distraction of the internet is certainly a blessing for those who want nothing to do with their loved ones! I’ve been trying to keep a few chapters ahead of where my son and I are in the Redemption of Erâth, just in case one week I don’t write something, but I used them all up because he really, really wanted to know what happened next. At the end of chapter 12, I had to tell him that there actually wasn’t any more yet, and he nearly beat me. As for my wife, I had to share a jacuzzi with her, be sympathetic when she got seasick, eat a dozen chocolate-covered strawberries with her, sing karaoke with her, kiss her, and simply just be with her for seven days straight. Can you imagine?

At first, I was very worried. What was happening at home? What if someone at work really need to get in touch with me, even though I’m not really in charge of anything at all? What if my mom called? What if someone read my blog? What if a groundhog made a nest under the house? What if something really, really unimportant happened somewhere in the world? I wouldn’t be able to answer calls, say thank you to blog likes, take goofy pictures or read all about it on my iPad. I felt lost. But then, an odd thing began to happen. I slowly came to the following realization:

None of it matters.

Nope. Not one bit. Not one single thing in the imaginable universe was more important than spending seven entirely uninterrupted days with my wife and son in the Caribbean. Because you know what? I could always find out when I got back. And if I missed something in the meantime? Well, if it was something so ephemeral it only lasted a week, it probably wasn’t important enough to know about in the first place. If my schedule changed, I’d find out when I got back. If scientists discovered life on Mars, I’d find out when I got back. Hell, if my mother died, I’d find out when I got back.

In the end, of course, I got back. I came back to 101 emails, 91 tweets, 8 Facebook notifications, 66 RSS updates, 3 voice mails and 30 app updates. And you know what?

None of it really mattered.

I feel really happy right now. I don’t think I can live without connection in my working, every day life, but never again will I go on a holiday without turning off, leaving behind or utterly disabling my many devices. It is beyond worth it.