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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Passport to the World! 1.14.12

Blog tour update: Don't forget to go check out Hobbies on a Budget this week. Not only because I'll have a guest post there on something fun and travel-related, but also because you could win a copy of my book, see a review and the blog is AWEsome. I also have a guest post on a new blog called The Travel Guru on traveling to London on a budget.

International travel is exciting, but preparing for it can be a little more involved than just packing a bag and printing out a boarding pass. Actually, if only all travel was like that, I think more people would be inclined to go somewhere more often. Unfortunately, there is money involved and actually finding things to pack, whittling down your things to pack, planning what you will do based on what you can afford, sobbing because you can’t afford everything you want to do, doing conversion math to find out you did the exchange rates wrong and cried for nothing, reading through countless reviews of hotels, resorts or properties within your price range, finding the perfect outfit and hairdo to make your passport picture perfect, disappointment in how not perfect your passport picture turned out…and oh yeah, actually getting your passport in time for you to go to Mexico or Hungry or Lithuania.

Overwhelmed yet? Don’t worry. Getting a passport isn’t that difficult, unless you’re a terrorist or can’t prove your citizenship. If that were true, you probably can’t even get on a plane now anyway, so you might have bigger problems than figuring out where you are going on your yearly vacation(s).

By now, we all know that a passport is a handy thing. If you ever want to leave the country you live in, it’s a complete necessity. Also, if you want to go somewhere, but don’t have the motivation, going through the trouble of getting a passport will make you think about actually using it. Suddenly, going to North Dakota doesn’t seem so glamorous, especially when you can spend the same amount of money and go to Peru or Jamaica. Stretch your dollars and expand your travel radius to go somewhere truly new.

How soon do your need to apply for your passport? A reader asked me this recently and it occurred to me that this might not be a question many people know how to answer. If you are planning a trip, then the sooner you can go in and take care of this crucial step, the better. Typically, it takes about 6 weeks to get your passport after you apply. You can cut that down to 2-4 weeks if you expedite it, but if you don’t need it in a hurry, save your $60. Use that towards airfare to your exotic destination. I would suggest you apply no later than two months before you are set to leave. It gives you a little bit of wiggle room.

How many millions of dollars will it cost you to get a passport? Luckily, it won’t even cost you a whole million to get your passport and be able to travel (almost) anywhere you want in the world for the next 10 years – when you will need to renew it. In fact, it’s only $135, which includes your application fee ($110) and processing fee ($25). Of course, you also have to pay for photos, which are pretty specific. Those can be anywhere from $8 to $25, depending on where you go. My suggestion would be to contact your nearest postal branch and see if they do the whole kit and kaboodle. You can fill out your application, get your photos taken, give them money and then go home and wait for it to show up…in 6 weeks.

What if your passport is expired? If your passport is expired, you can easily renew it. Hopefully, you have a bunch of stamps in there and made it worth your while to get one in the first place. If you must renew, know that the same rules apply as getting a new one. It’s easier if your current one is undamaged, has your (now) legal name, was issued within the last 15 years and when you were 16 years of age or older. The only thing you save is the processing fee, though. You still have to fork over $110 and a new photo. (At least this helps if your current one is just terrible and you want a do over.)

If you have children, know that they will also need a passport to travel with you. If they are under 15, it needs to be renewed every 5 years until that age. Application fees and processing are a little more affordable, totaling $105, but renewals will cost the same price each time.

Hope your picture turns out better!
What’s the deal with that passport card? If you plan any kind of international travel, I would suggest a regular passport. It enables you to go anywhere. If you’re an avid cruiser, a passport card can be a useful tool. Travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean can be done with just a passport card, as long as you aren’t flying to any of those destinations. If you will be entering by car or ship, you don’t need a full-on passport, but wouldn’t it still be fun to have an actual passport to get a stamp in? I think it would!

One tip I can give you is to get a passport before you actually make plans to go anywhere. It enables you to fit it into your budget and not have to spend vacation money to get one or more for your trip. $135 is not a huge amount of money, but what if you have your spouse and three kids? That’s almost $600! That is a severe chunk to lay down at once, but also could be the stumbling block to actually going anywhere, or having to eat PB&J for the whole week you’re gone. Yum for one meal. Yuck after your 6th or 7th one in a row.

For more info on passports or passport cards, check out the Government’s travel site.

{All photos courtesy of lovely users at weheartit. Click thru for originals.}

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