anonymous tourists showing us passports on street on sunny day
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Passports 101

So, you’ve done it! You’ve thought and thought for years about it and now you’ve decided to take the plunge and make the commitment! Hooray for you! You are going to get your passport! It will open you up to a literal world of experiences and you won’t regret it. TGC is here to walk you through the whole process with a couple of facts, a couple tools, and, as always, a couple of stories. So, sit back with a glass of wine or a cup of tea, let’s get to traveling!

anonymous tourists showing us passports on street on sunny day
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Listen in to our conversation about passports on our podcast! Babcia and Yia Yia Travel The World is a great way to get all kinds of travel tips. Click here to listen to this episode and more!

Did you know?

  • Only 25% of Americans make the effort to apply for a passport so you are in quite an elite group of travelers now.
  • Passports really expire 90 days before the date in the book. Be prepared to reapply early!
  • Passports are held by the bursar on cruises. He or she has the responsibility of getting your passport stamped and legal in every port.
  •  The Real ID Act which looks to take hold in October 2021 requires you to have your personal documents updated and reviewed by your state. Once done, you get a star on your driver’s license. If you are looking to travel and haven’t done this yet, know that your brand new passport will work just as well (even when flying domestically).

The Basics

Everybody who gets a passport has to start with that same first step: applying to The State Department! For most, applying is pretty straight forward. Simply use the online application, gather your documents, get photos taken, and make an appointment at your local post office. The cost is about $165.00 in a check made payable to The State Department. A few weeks later, you will have your fancy new passport in your hands.

teal fujifilm instax mini camera near white ceramic mug
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Birth Certificates

There is one part of the application process that scares me. One of the things you have to send along with your application is your official first copy of your birth certificate. To set you at ease, be sure to look in on how the USPS has been faring and opt for an upgraded method of delivery if the post office machine seems to be lagging at all.

My best friend applied for an expedited passport in order to enjoy some time at Niagara Falls. She would up missing all of her Canadian time because her birth certificate was not accepted by the State Department! It turned out that the birth certificate she had been using for decades turned out to be an unofficial copy from an area notorious for giving the State Department fits. Finally, she got her passport 4 months after she had first applied.

Your Passport Choices

A standard passport has plenty of pages to gather stamps around the world is works perfectly fine. There are a few other options including a double thick book and a passport card. I’d leave those to the business travelers!

person putting a passport on bag
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Global Entry?

First, evaluate whether you need global entry or TSA precheck, keep a few things in mind. As technology develops, lines in smaller airports are usually less than 20 minutes. Use this app to check in on the airports you are going to use to see if TSA precheck is really needed. Global Entry includes the TSA pre-check service. Global Entry is basically the passport version of the Fastpass.

I once raced my mother through ATL customs. She was on Global Entry and I was using Mobile Passport (the link is below). We both emerged from the process at the same time. The only difference? My option was free. All in all, it could be money better spent in other areas of your trip.

Passport Safety

One option to keep you connected is the STEP program. By registering with the Bureau of Consular Affairs, you can keep up to date on any advisories related to your destination and have a direct connection to the government if you are in need of help. It can be handy especially in more “exotic” locations.

Don’t put your passport in the pocket of your airplane seat! In fact, I was once in Dubai connecting to a flight to Greece. Sure enough, just as I took my last step off the plane, I realized that my passport was back in the seat pocket of seat 34D! Unfortunately, it was too late to backtrack and I had to wait for everyone to disembark then hope that a nice flight attendant would be kind enough to go check. I almost missed my connection! Lesson learned! Never-ever put that passport down when you are gathering your things!

Never hand over your passport! I was crossing the border between Zambia and Botswana. So, our driver had gotten us right to the Zambezi River and then turned around and asked for our passports. A sticky situation! While not wanting to offend, I also didn’t want to hand over my official identification to a complete stranger. What to do? I politely asked what he wanted to do. It turned out that he simply wanted to cut the line by going to the back door of the passport office. I asked if I could walk with him. He was delighted! Issue avoided. Lesson learned! Look for the polite way out.

Check out these fun passport resources!

Study Hall: Essays On Travel

10 Things Airlines Could Do Better

As a frequent traveler, I deal with airports and airlines all the time. and I must say there are good ones and bad ones all over the world. We pack, we arrange, we get there with hours before our flight so that we have plenty of time to stress out. The thing I can’t wrap my mind around is why airlines and airports don’t get what customers really want. So, here are the top 10 things airlines could do better according to my very informal non-data driven study.

10 Things Airlines Could Do Better

Guarantee Luggage

Here’s the bottom line. If Amazon can get my package to me in 24 hours without blinking an eye, airlines can get my suitcase on the same plane I am on. As airlines continue to charge us fee after fee, it is beyond me why they are not held accountable for ensuring they do the job we are paying them to do.

woman in white top and denim jeans sitting on red luggage bag
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Normalize Gate Checking Bags

Speaking of luggage, so many people are trying to avoid that checked luggage fee that they drag their bags to the gate. Why do airlines wait until two minutes before boarding to announce that everyone’s bags are not going to fit in the overhead compartments? I don’t get it. Let’s just all give in and check those bags right at the gate. Put them on those slides and load the bags! And you know the most frustrating moment before take off and some lady with four kids is trying to find space for her 6 carry-ons! I’m so frustrated!

airport
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Fast Pass Boarding Procedures

If Disney can get people on the Millennium Falcon using Fast Pass, so can airlines. For Heaven’s sake! Just give me a time to show up and I will. How hard is that? Why must I wait in like three huge lines to check in, clear TSA and walk on a plane? Why?! I just don’t get it. Wouldn’t it be easier to clear everything right when you arrive? I once watched the TSA line at JFK for about 2 hours. What a s**t show.

woman in sleeveless top and black denim jeans
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Get Rid Of The Center Seat Once and For All!

Do I really need to say any more than this? I mean, airlines are already packing us in and charging us for the best spots to sit on the plane, I think we deserve to get rid of the majority of those banks of three seats.

people inside commercial air plane
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Mind The Gap!

While we are at it, with all the great engineering minds in aviation, why am I still shoving my jacket and purse into the gap between the wall? I don’t get it. Why?! For the love of everything sacred, fill in the gap- preferably with something soft on one side and USB ports on the other.

grayscale of airplane window and chair
Photo by Rui Chaves on Pexels.com

Family Seating

I checked. There is no rule or law that says all airline seats must face forward. So why in the world don’t we simply face two banks of seats together so that families can have a space to themselves? Imagine airlines treating seating more like trains do. Seating in groups of twos and fours. How much more inviting and easier would it be?

car chair comfort commuting
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Install those lay down seats! I want the top bunk!

We’ve all seen them on Facebook. Long haul flights deserve a better way to make it to the other side. There is nothing comfortable about flying overseas at all. So why in the world aren’t airlines shouting for the rooftops about how happy they are with this new solution?

The Zephyr Seats
things that airlines could do better
The Zephyr Seat System

Step Up The Waiting Game

New airports are showing the grand dames of the past that airports are not just holding pens for traveling human cattle. It’s time to rethink how spaces are being used in airports. Travelers want and pay for clean usable, comfortable areas. Older airports take notes and join us in the 21st century.

people sitting on gang chairs
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Money, Money, Money

I know! All of my brilliant ideas cost money. Well, airlines, you’ve charged me for my seat, my bag, my drink, my takes to pay for the terminal, early check-in, some premium stuff, and I was overcharged for my mocha latte in the terminal. There are no excuses here. It’s time for stockholders to realize that they must reinvest things that airlines could do better.