Tina Sibley, a native of the United Kingdom, considers herself a well-traveled person. However, while attempting to board a Qatar Airways flight leaving Thailand in February 2020, she learned that certain stamps in your passport can cause serious trouble.

“An excited traveler, I presented myself and my passport at Qatar Airways last night to be told I couldn’t fly because of the Machu Picchu stamp in my passport,” Sibley shared in a Facebook post. “I thought the guy was having a laugh. But no.”

Sibley, concerned, headed to the British Embassy in Thailand to make her case, only to get more bad news.

“The embassy heard my plight and said that it was rubbish,” she wrote. “My passport was valid and as such, they couldn’t issue a replacement. They told me to explain that to Qatar Airways and if they wouldn’t take me, to go with another airline.”

However, at the airport, both Qatar Airways and Emirates would not accept her passport either. 

So, what exactly was the issue? A seemingly harmless novelty stamp from Machu Picchu.

According to Travel + Leisure, there was confusion about the validity of the souvenir stamp that thousands of other travelers likely have in their passports. Beyond the popular stamp visitors can get in Machu Picchu, super travelers also seek out to collect others — the “Checkpoint Charlie” stamp from Berlin, the Antarctic Heritage Stamp from a pilgrimage to Antarctica, or the Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch passport stamp from Wales — to add to their official collection. 

That said, Sibley’s stressful experience, and page five of all United States passports, serve as a warning to avoid unofficial stamps in your official document.

passport cover
Photo Credit: Blake Guidry

The Fine Print In Your Passport

On page five of every U.S. passport, international travelers will find a note saying that the “Alteration or Mutilation of Passport,” is unauthorized and “only authorized officials of the United States or of foreign countries may place stamps or make notations or additions to this passport.”

Authorized officials include U.S. State Department staff, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers, diplomatic and consular officials of foreign countries, and immigration officers at international borders. In other words, giving yourself a stamp at Machu Picchu simply doesn’t count.

“The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid the use of novelty stamps in the U.S. passport. The Department could potentially consider novelty stamps as ‘damage’ to the U.S. passport,” a State Department official told Travel + Leisure. “We cannot comment on what passport damage or alteration might cause the Department of Homeland Security or the government of a foreign country to prevent entry at the border.”

What To Do Instead

Despite the disappointing news, there’s still a way you can collect memories through novelty stamps. Instead of using your official passport, travel with a journal where you can keep your souvenir stamps and memories from your trip. That way, you’ll have no worries about making it home while also having a special keepsake that houses your travel adventures.

As for Sibley, she did finally get an emergency passport after a bit of back and forth, begging, and pleading with the embassy. Surely this time, it won’t be filled with anything but official stamps.

Related: What To Expect When Getting a Same-Day Passport