It’s happening again. My passport is dangerously full but nowhere near expiring.

Once you get a couple of full-page visas, it’s not that hard to fill a passport if you travel internationally a lot for work. Or for any other reason, I suppose. And a passport is good for ten years. Unlike the pages pictured here, most stamps are placed more or less within the lines, which leads to just four countries per page. Right now I have one full page and two pages worth of fractional space available.

I’m going on vacation soon – that’ll probably yield two stamps, one entering the EU and one returning to the USA. But then, not too long after I get back, I have a business trip coming up that will use up a whole page for a visa, and at least 3/4 of a page on stamps for three countries, leaving (Have you been keeping count? What was the name of the bus driver?) less than a page margin for error or for additional stamps over and above the visa.

This makes me nervous. Sure, I can probably get a rush order for a new passport or at least some new pages – it’s business travel and the company will pay. But what if I don’t and what if I’m halfway around the world at some border and there’s no space for the stamp? Do I get turned away and deported? Can I even get back into the USA if there’s no place for them to stamp? Will they just stamp my hand and order me not to wash it until I get back to the USA? Will I pay some trumped up administrative fine?

Thinking about it, paper passports and ink visa stamps are looking pretty antiquated these days. There’s already a barcode and I hear RFID isn’t far away. But there’s a bit of old-time cachet to having a paper passport, especially one full of stamps. And a certain vanity, too: not only am I blogging about it now, but the last time this happened (January 2006) I declined to get the 48-page passport (standard is 24) because I was afraid it wouldn’t fit in my snug Shanghai Tang passport case. Go figure.