On a cold, rainy day in the spring of 2007, I took the worst photo ever. To clarify, I didn't actually take the picture, it was the worst picture that was ever taken of me. When my own mother saw it, she said it looked like a mug shot taken after I'd been picked up off a street corner drinking a bottle of Ripple. Then I had to clarify what Ripple was, and let's just say, being found with Ripple isn't attractive.
This photo was my first passport photo.
At 19, I had never been out of the country and was preparing for a trip to Ghana. For some reason, my dad was in town when I was planning to get a passport picture taken at the post office. He picked me up at my dorm room to take me to the post office and then out for an off-campus lunch, but all of this took place after I had walked to and from my classes and been put through the rain and wind ringer.
I'm not sure why I didn't think to put myself together a little bit, at least from shoulders up. It didn't occur to me until I was standing in line at the post office. When I was finally called back to take the picture, I immediately assumed the appropriate position and smiled. Then the lady taking the picture said I wasn't allowed to smile in passport photos. What?! A smile makes everyone look better, even on a rough day. Instead of assuming a neutral facial expression like a normal person, in my surprised confusion, I looked downright pissed.
Click! There was no warning as she snapped the picture nor was there an offer of a redo. They at least give you a three seconds heads up at the DMV, for goodness sake!
The whole trip planning experience continued in the same unpleasant vein. I had to visit the campus clinic for a series of inoculations against multiple diseases one might contract in Africa. The first trip ended with my debit card being rudely confiscated and cut up at the front counter because my bank account had been compromised earlier in the day, and I hadn't been notified yet. The second visit to the campus clinic included a stern and very uncomfortable lecture about not having sex with African men while abroad.
I finally made it to Ghana, and it wasn't glamorous. We stayed in a primitive house in a small village that sometimes had electricity. By the end of the trip, all of my clothes were a little stinky and a lot dusty. Regardless, it was a great trip!
What I thought I'd look like in Ghana.
How I actually looked in Ghana.
Over the following years, I was fortunate to go on a few other international trips. I'm thankful that many of these trips were taken before the omnipresence of WIFI and iPhones and Instagram because I may not have had as many authentic experiences. I may have been too consumed with capturing the most glossy or polished image to post and missed out on the true beauty of a place.
We're taking a trip next month where I'll need a passport, and I was all too eager to take a new passport photo since my name has changed since using my original one. Let's just say I put on some mascara, did my hair, and made sure my neckline was flattering this go around. When the new passport arrived in the mail, I was excited put it in a cute passport case that I received as a gift a couple of years ago but had never used because the previous one wasn't worthy of a nice leather case.
Wouldn't you know, a week later I received another piece of mail from the Department of State, and they sent the darn thing back to me! Oh well, I'll file it away as a memento from my first international trip and as a reminder to not take travel so seriously and to savor the REAL experiences.