Recently I received an e-mail asking me what I thought about international travel. Since I talk a lot about microadventure, this reader wondered if I had any plans for bigger trips, and if I had a passport. He also wanted to know if I thought he should get one, even though he doesn’t yet have plans to travel internationally.
After returning his e-mail, I decided it might be worthwhile to work my thoughts on the matter into a post, which you’re reading now. You may have guessed from the title of this post what my thoughts are on the matter of passports, but I hope you’ll read on anyway.
At the end of 2015 I renewed my passport. So if I have to cross a border, instead of looking at this photo that makes me look insane-
-now everyone can look at this photo that makes me look insane.
I’m not too worried about looking bad in the picture for two reasons. First of all everyone’s passport photo is bad, right? Secondly, because it’s important to have a current passport, even if you don’t have any plans for international travel. When I renewed mine, I had submitted an application to be a volunteer crew member on the Draken Harald Hårfagre, a modern recreation of a Viking sailing ship making an Atlantic crossing this summer, but I knew the likelihood of getting selected was pretty slim. Sadly, I wasn’t chosen to be a crew member, but I’m still glad that I renewed my passport, even though I don’t currently have any plans for a trip abroad.
I recommend that everyone get a passport. It may seem silly if you’re not planning on taking a trip to a foreign country, but there are still good reasons for having one. If you’ve been debating getting or renewing your passport, or if it’s not something you’ve ever really considered, here are four reasons I recommend getting a passport.
1. Just in case something bad happens.
Accidents happen. People get injured, or get sick. If something were to happen to my wife, a friend, or a family member while abroad, it’s nice to know that I could go help get them home. Even in an emergency, the expedited process for getting/renewing a passport can take eight days. A US passport is valid for ten years, so investing in one now means I’ve got a decade where I don’t have to worry if I’d be able to go help a loved on in an emergency.
2. Just in case something good happens.
Last year, the company I work for flew three of my coworkers to Germany with relatively short notice. This year they’re sending one of my coworkers to Canada then to London and Paris next year. Sadly, I haven’t been tapped to go on these trips, but the possibility exists. Without a passport, I’d have to turn down a trip on the company dime. A few years ago some friends of mine had frequent flier miles that were about to expire, so they offered to fly me to Africa to visit them. Unfortunately, I hadn’t renewed my passport, so I missed out on what would likely have been a great trip. These opportunities are rare, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ready for them; it means that you should be prepared to take advantage of them when they arise!
3. Identification purposes.
There is a lot of debate online about whether you can use your passport as identification, but in my experience it has proven to be one of the best methods for confirming my identity. It is a “Real ID” identification recognized by all departments of Federal and State government. Perhaps a bouncer at a bar or a clerk at a liquor store would turn it away if they were unfamiliar with it, but I see no legal reason why it wouldn’t be valid. It’s an A-List I-9 acceptable document, which confirms identity and employment authorization, so when starting a new job it’s the only form of identification you have to show.
Further, as of last month, Drivers Licenses from Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico and Washington are no longer sufficient for entry to a military installation. That may not be a necessity for a lot of people, but it is a consideration. In theory, Drivers Licenses from those states may not be adequate for boarding a domestic flight by 2018 unless the states make changes to the identification. My passport and passport card, however, will get me on the base or in that plane.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not planning any international travel, because once you get your passport, you can travel internationally. It changes the way you formulate future plans. You’ll look at the globe a little differently, because your passport makes you an ambassador of your country and a citizen of the world. That’s a powerful thing. It’s one less obstacle between you and the possibility of traveling abroad in 172 countries (other countries, like India, also require a visa). Having a passport will give you a little nudge here and there; you’re more likely to contemplate Paris at night, or to think about gelato on the Italian coast. Maybe you’ll spend a little less cash here and there and instead stick that money in a savings account for your travel fund. Perhaps you’ll get a map of the world and start marking places you want to go. You just might end up getting on a plane that takes you over an ocean and then explore a part of the world that’s completely new to you.
Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll never make that plan, squirrel away that money, or get on that plane… But I think you will.
Afraid to fly? There’s always road trips to Canada and Mexico. No airplane required, but a passport (or passport card) is mandatory.
Worried about the expense? If you’ve never had a passport before, it will cost you $135. That’s $110 for the passport, and a $25 processing fee (which you don’t pay if you’re renewing your passport). I guess you also have to pay for the photo, so let’s add an additional two bucks in there for a whopping total of $137. I don’t have a lot of money, so I can see how that can look like a lot of cash (because for some of us it is a lot of cash). But remember, it’s a one time payment for a document that’s good for ten years. When you look at it that way, you realize that you’re paying $13.70 a year. That, my friends, is a steal.
So how do I get a passport?
The State Department has a fantastic resource to help you prepare all the necessary information and documents, apprise you of the current costs of your passport, processing, and shipping, and give you all the details you need to know about the required photograph. From there, you can complete the application forms online and print them, or print them and fill them out by hand. You can find this resource here:
If you’re renewing, you can send the forms by mail so long as your previous passport is undamaged and can be submitted with your application, was issued when you were 16 or older, was issued within the last 15 years, and was issued in your current name (or if you can legally document any name changed with original or certified copies of a marriage certificate or government issued documentation of legal name change). You’ll still need to submit a new photo with your application.
If you’ve never had a passport before, once you complete the aforementioned forms, you’ll have to take your application materials to an Authorized Passport Acceptance Facility. Don’t worry, there’s a handy search tool that will tell you where the nearest facility is. It’s pretty user friendly, so you shouldn’t have any trouble using it.
Processing times vary on the time of year, amount of applications, and any governmental issues (like the shutdown of 2013). I received my new passport in about a month, but I have friends who have waited more than two months before. This is a great reason to plan in advance and have a passport on standby.
Have questions? I’m happy to try to answer them, but I’m admittedly no expert. It may be worthwhile to check out the Passport FAQ for more information.
Do you have a passport? Have you ever had any trouble with it, or has it come in handy at an unexpected time? Have you had the opportunity to use it, or do you have plans to use it in the near future? I’d love to hear about your experiences, so please share them with me in the comments section!