The Travel Essential: Getting your passport

It has always been my dream  to have a world map on my wall so full of push pins from places I’ve been that you can’t read the names anymore.

I’ve made a good start: the past two years have shown me all around the world, from craggy rock springs to deep, lush rainforest valleys, back to the beach, and across desert plains. And I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon.

I don’t even really need to say it, but I will: you can’t fill the map with amazing locales without a passport. And it may just be me, but I don’t think you can call yourself a well-rounded person until you’ve experienced life the way someone else does.

Getting a passport seems like it can be tricky—at the very least you know you’ve got to deal with some paperwork—but it’s definitely a lot easier than it sounds.

1. Get your picture taken.

Good passport photos are essential, so don’t decide to change the color of your hair a week before your trip unless you really don’t want back in. I also don’t recommend you taking them yourself; if the government doesn’t like them they’ll just throw out your application and it takes that much longer. Save yourself the trouble and stop by the drugstore.

Other things you’ll need: your birth certificate, social security card, and picture ID. This can get tricky if you’ve ever changed your name, but otherwise these three things will do.

2. Save up.

In reality, it’s going to cost you to leave the country—even before you’ve bought your plane ticket.

How much is a passport going to set you back? There’s a $25 process free and for the passport it’s an additional $110. If you plan on including a passport card it will be a combined total of $140 but unless you frequently cross the Mexican or Canadian borders from the US, it’s not necessary.

3. File your paperwork.

You can get all the paperwork online, which is a plus. For first timers, it’s the DS-11 you’ll want to check out. Then when you need to renew it (which you have to do every 15 years, sooner if you apply under the age of 16), you’ll fill out the DS-82.

Print it, take it to your nearest post office with your money and documentation, and they’ll send it off for you.

4. Give it some time.

It’s going to take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks to be processed, so make sure you give yourself enough time before your travels dates. Expedited services exist, but the likelihood that you planned this trip at least two months in advance is pretty high. So don’t sit and wait, because you’ll spend an unnecessary amount of money.

5. When you’ve got it, make lots of copies.

When you head out of the country, you want at least two copies at home with people who know you. In the event you lose your passport, they can always overnight a copy to the US embassy wherever you are.

You’re also going to want copies for yourself to take with you because getting back into the United States isn’t easy, even with all your required paperwork.  Your accent may be authentic, but National Security still wants to see your papers.

One last bit of passport traveling advice: Renew it before it expires, and don’t use it during the last six months of its validity. When traveling to certain countries, you won’t even be allowed to board the plane if you have less than six months before your passport expires.

Now go, friends! Step on every bit of this good earth! You’re going to have a really hard time not becoming a better person for traveling; it’s the best souvenir you could possibly come home with.

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