For the Love of Passports
By Audrey Scott
In anticipation of Passport Day (it’s this Saturday, March 10), here are a few thoughts on passports — including how to get one and how to keep it safe. If you have anything to add, please let us know in the comments section below.
My passport. To the untrained eye, it’s an ordinary little book. Dark cover, heavy stitching.
It also happens to be the most important book I own.
It’s my identification. My passport indicates where I’m from, where I’ve been, and where I’m allowed to go. You could say it takes me places, but it also allows me to go home.
It’s a symbol. It’s a book of dreams, of possibilities. It has allowed me entry into more than 70 countries and paved my way to accessing cultures, knowledge, and experience.
It’s a story. Chronicling my passage from one country to the next, from one year to the next.
Each stamp, visa, and scratch provokes a memory – the Republic of Georgia immigration official’s unbridled excitement at stamping my passport at 3:30 a.m., waiting at the Peruvian border for a guard who stumbled back to his post after partying all day in a nearby village, the relief I felt after finally getting my visa to Iran, drinking a toast to a Ukrainian barman at the end of the earth in Antarctica.
My own compressed mixed media art scrapbook of travel memories. That’s my passport.
There’s so much in one tiny little book that it’s almost easy to take it for granted. That’s why you shouldn’t.
How to Keep Your Passport Safe
Your passport should be your most prized possession when you’re traveling. Here are a few tips to help you keep your passport safe before and during your trip:
- Scan the information on the first page of your passport and send a digital copy to yourself and a family member or friend you can trust. If your passport is lost or stolen, a digital copy can expedite the emergency replacement process.
- Keep a printed copy of the first page of your passport with you at all times. I use a laminated a credit-card-sized copy instead of relying on paper as it doesn’t disintegrate as easily and it looks a bit more official. I’ve even used it to check into hotels. If someone unofficial (beware of people posing as officials) asks for your passport, you’re much better off providing a copy.
- Buy a passport cover. The more you handle your passport, the more quickly it deteriorates. If your passport is in good condition, you’re less likely to be scrutinized or detained — and the embassy will be more willing to extend its life by adding extra pages.
- Always carry your passport, or keep it in a safe place. Your back pocket and the outside pocket of your backpack don’t qualify as “safe places.” Keep your original passport in your hotel room (in a safe if possible) or deep inside a locked bag. If you must carry your passport with you, keep it in a secure front pocket or in a non-dangling money belt.
Obtaining and Renewing a U.S. Passport
- Nat Geo Expeditions
On Passport Day in the USA (March 10, 2012), regional passport offices will be open and taking passport applications without prior appointments. So if you’ve never applied for a passport before, this is a good opportunity to do so.
Otherwise, here are online resources to guide you through the process. Don’t leave your passport application until the last minute before a trip! Try to apply at least 6 weeks in advance.
- If you’ve never had a passport before or you’re less than 16 years old, you’ll need to apply in person at a passport acceptance facility or regional passport office. Regular processing time is 4-6 weeks, with expedited service at 2-3 weeks for an additional $60. If you’re a first-time applicant, find more information here.
- If you need to renew your passport, you can do so by mail in the U.S. If you’re abroad, you can renew a passport at an American embassy.
- If your passport is in good condition, you can apply for extra pages ($82) to extend the life of your passport at an American embassy (on the spot) or by mail in the U.S.
- More information on passport fees and processing times.
Audrey Scott is one half of the husband-and-wife storytelling and photography team at the travel blog Uncornered Market. For the last five years the couple has been traveling around the world, from Antarctica to Uzbekistan, going deep and offbeat. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
For some favorite passport stamps and stories from the Traveler staff, see our previous post: Cool Passport Stamps.