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Travel Lifestyle

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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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.

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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!

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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!

Travel Lifestyle

The Great Packing List

As we all take a pause to dream about travel, I hope we are thinking about all of the different facets that make travel so exciting. Much like an artist approaching a blank canvas, travelers approach a blank itinerary and to-do list. The anticipation of travel is, sometimes, more complex than the act itself. Moreover, preparing for travel with a packing list can be quite cathartic. Even packing your bag can be a ceremonial start to a trip. I think I may need a little of those cathartic, ceremonial feelings in these grounded times. I think I need to think about planning….

What’s in your bag?

There are two modes of packing: the “everything in” trip and the “carry-on” trip. I mean, let’s face it, you can take everything you want for a road trip or that extra bag that’s included in a cruise package. Conversely, practically every other type of trip you are taking has you shrink wrapping your things to fit in a plane-sized carry-on. Additionally, I don’t want my trip to be overwhelmed by my belongings. It’s important to me that, and I bet for you too, to keep my eyes on the travel and not the distractions. After all, I’m traveling to be globally literate, not to be a bag handler! I want to easily get my packing list in my bag and out the door with minimal fuss regardless of where I am. So, how do you pare down smartly for easy travel?

I have a confession.

I do not follow the masses of people who insist that the only way to travel is to lug their carry-on for the 17 miles it takes to get in and out of an airport. It seems that we all have to worry about so many things when we carry-on! Weight, liquids, battling for overhead space, check ins, oh my! Additionally, I’m plus sized.

Let me break down what that means. My bathing suit does not take up the space of a Christmas ornament. In fact, it probably takes up the space of a pair of shoes. Five of my tops do not fit in the same amount of space as a pair of shoes, in fact they take up about one quarter of a standard sized carry-on suitcase because I also use tank tops to layer. The list goes on. However, I’ve learned to adapt and overcome and pack into one suitcase (with a little room to spare). Over the years, I have narrowed down my packing method to create a balance between being prepared and not over packing. So how does one not over pack?

The Necessities…

1. I use several pieces to gather my things. For example, like a hard shell suitcase, a small, under the seat carry on, a good purse that holds my electronics well, and packing cubes. I am a true believer in the check in and I don’t fight the overhead bins. My purse does double duty as a secure spot for my electronics and I use packing cubes to corral things like swim wear, formal clothing and unmentionables. This makes it easier to sift through my luggage daily.

2. Laundry supplies… if I’m going for more that 5 days. I bring a tiny bag with a tide stick, some downy spray, a few pods, a laundry bag and some dryer sheets. Where ever I will be on day 6 is the spot I look for a decent laundry place. Usually, the hotel knows of just the right spot. This little baggie goes right in a packing cube and is out of sight and out of mind until needed. If my trip is less than 5 days, I just pack enough to get there and back with a laundry bag and don’t worry about any laundry supplies. One way or another, I’ll have clean clothes. I’m a little obsessed with the travel laundry situation. Click here for more.

3. Electronics. That includes my iPad, my travel adapter, cords, a portable charger and my phone. This normally all fits in my purse. And it covers all of my translation, travel, and communication needs. Check out this article on great apps to get tips on really helpful picks.

4. Travel extras. Things like my travel guides that can’t be digitized, a journal, my travel wallet, a reusable bag that folds down. I admit it, I try to digitize as much as I can but sometimes a book is just that much easier! So, I take exactly what I need to make my trip successful.

5. Clothes. I don’t believe there is any one piece of advice that works for every traveler. Pack what you think you need for the events that you plan just don’t pack more than what can fit in your suitcase. I take flats, sneakers, sandals that go with maxi dresses, and jeans. For most travel, I settle on one or two dressy things and casual mix and match.

6. Care products include a travel curling iron, hair and skin care. I have been taking stuff that’s almost done so I can ditch the bulk before I come home. But I am turning my attention to plastic free beauty bars. Hair bands because it will never last, light makeup, a bit of jewelry that won’t break my heart if it gets lost.

Share the load…

One of my first conversations with my fellow travelers is “Who has the laundry stuff? I’ll bring the curling iron! Do you have the travel guides covered?” While I need these things, it is far easier to collectively share and lessen the load. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Lessening the load? No one says, “gee! I wish I had lugged more stuff with me during my trip! It would have made it so much better!”

My list is for a typical trip that’s a few weeks long. There is no doubt at all that if you were headed to an African Safari or Game Drive or to a South Pacific Island, your list would be quite different. Just check out this post about my trip to Zambia! But, for most of us, the standard packing list is just enough. Check out this packing list freebie to help you on your next trip!

Travel Lifestyle

Ready, Set, Travel! 5 Tips To Make Leaving Easy

Dear TGC,

I’m ready to take the trip but I worry about leaving our home. Any thoughts?

Absolutely! Check out this great list of tips that will get you ready to travel! So, you’ve done it! You’ve made those great plans and now you can’t wait to take off on the vacation of a lifetime! But, let’s be realistic. You’ve got to get ready for travel or you won’t be able to focus on all those details on that fantastic trip!

Meanwhile… back at the homestead…

You have a million and one things to think about while you are traveling including ensuring that you have a safe and secure home to come back to! Here are some tips and options to keep things on track while you wander.

1. Consider a house sitter or pet sitter to check in on your home each day. Be sure to choose wisely and leave detailed instructions! We were on our way out of town and needed someone to just check in once a day on our self sufficient pup. I thought a neighbor’s son would be just fine and while my dog was properly fed and watered just like we asked, our sitter didn’t know to check around the house. We lost two sets of window blinds because my dog couldn’t see out the windows! Ugh! Like I said, detailed instructions!

2. If you are an Amazon Echo or Google Home subscriber, consider the automated plugs that let you turn on lights on a timer or automatically. If automation isn’t an option to get ready to travel, this is a good time to dig out all of those old school timers that you have in your Christmas decorations. Why not put them to work for you twice a year?

3. Take care of the bills, mail, and deliveries. If your lights go on and off but you have 4,000 Amazon boxes at your door, you haven’t helped yourself at all! I try really hard to not order any last minute things. Although I am very guilty of ordering a travel curling iron at the last minute only to find mine two days later as I pulled out my luggage.

For bills, I try to ensure that they are all taken care of before I go or I simply add them to my calendar so I get a notification when I need to pay them. Be careful to put them on the day before they are due so you don’t wind up being late! As for mail, think about whether to put a temporary stop in place or if your house sitter can take care of that for you. I try to leave an empty basket on the counter as a catch all.

4. Let your bank know that you are getting ready to travel. Your card will get flagged and you could wind up with declined charges. I know I can simply log in and annotate when I am coming and going with my bank. They make it pretty easy.

5. Leave your house exactly the way you want it when you return back home. Be realistic, you don’t want rotting fruit, dirty dishes, laundry or gross garbage in your house upon arrival. You want clean beds and baths, some frozen pizzas to heat up and an empty washer so you can throw your travel gear right in. My routine when I come home is to make my first stop the laundry room. I open them up and get a load going while I sort the mail. I order take out or throw in that pizza and collapse. Everything else can wait. After all, tomorrow is another day! Right, Scarlet?

Get ready to travel by thinking about home!
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