Tip of the week: Get a passport - before you need it

October 2, 2012, 2:43 PM · Do you love travel? Do you like to think about all the different places you could visit? Are you always "planning" trips, even ones you might never take?

Help make your travel dreams move closer to reality by taking a few moments to get yourself the single most important thing a traveler owns - a passport.

With passports, the Niles family is ready to travel.

Yeah, I've heard your excuses. You can't afford to travel outside the country. Or, maybe you think you could save up the money someday, but you've got plenty of time before you'll need one. But let me counter with this: Having a passport in your drawer - ready to go - changes the way you think about travel. It allows you to seriously consider possibilities that existed only as fantasies before.

Without the passport, there's no way an American is visiting Tokyo Disney, Efteling, or Universal Studios Singapore. So that's one more thing keeping you from getting serious about setting aside the cash, making a budget, or checking prices to plan a trip outside the country. Chicken, meet egg. (And vice versa, of course.) Get the passport, and you've eliminated one more excuse that's keeping you from planning the trip that, let's face it, as a theme park fan you probably really, really wish you could take.

Let me frame this for the science geeks out there. It's all about Newton's First Law of Motion: If you're an object at rest - sitting at home without a passport - you're not going anywhere. If you're an object in motion - say, a traveler with a passport - you're going to stay in motion until something stops you.

Very few of us are going anywhere right now, in early October. So keep your travel juices flowing during your stay-at-home time by starting the process to get yourself a passport right now, if you haven't gotten one already. And if you do have a passport, go get it and check the expiration date. If you're within a year of its expiration, renew it.

A first-time passport will cost you $135 (it's $105 for kids under 16). Don't bother with the cheaper passport card - it's only good for land crossings or cruise sailings to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. If you want to fly anywhere, or see the rest of the world, you'll need the real deal - a passport book. Get it, and I'll bet you'll soon start looking for an excuse to use it. Then you'll be traveling, which you love, right?

And one more thing, if you live in a state that's trying to enact a voter ID law, passports are the world's ultimate form of identification. I've found that passports always are accepted as ID - anywhere. Don't bother settling for some state-issued, non-driver's license photo ID. Invest in a passport instead, and you'll buy yourself admission to the rest of the world.

For more travel tips, visit Theme Park Insider's 100 Travel Tips for Visiting Theme Parks.

Replies (17)

October 2, 2012 at 3:04 PM · Great post. I'm always encouraging everyone I know, especially Americans, to get a passport. As a Canadian, we need one to visit the US so it makes us much more likely to have one and thus be more open to spur of the moment travel. But I also think that if more Americans traveled outside their own boundaries the world could be a much different place. Keep up the good work!
October 2, 2012 at 3:30 PM · I have a passport :^)
but I don't have the $$$$ :^(
October 2, 2012 at 3:33 PM · I like to think of it in terms of "That's $135 you don't have to save for your first out-of-the-country trip."

October 2, 2012 at 5:41 PM · Great advice. I have a passport card but thats because I live 3 or 4 miles from Mexico and go every now and then. There's a severe lack of theme parks south of the border, so I know I need to get a passport to see the international Disney and Universal parks.

...and before I get to visit my favorite ride of all-time, Back to the Future, in Osaka, Japan I got to get that magical little blue book.

October 2, 2012 at 8:28 PM · I don't think Americans should travel within their own country without a passport. It serves as a duplicate ID and proves your citizenship. We're so naive to think that we would never be in a situation within our own country where you might have to prove our citizenship.

What if the United States were suddenly attacked? Now that might be the extreme, but an ID is required at airports so I always travel with my passport as a backup. If your wallet is stolen along with your primary ID (drivers license) you're in trouble. The passport will ensure I get home, but also that I don't miss out on any of the fun while I'm still away from home like going to a bar, being able to check in to a hotel or even for identification in case I'm asked by law enforcement or pulled over while driving. While it's not a drivers license it does give you a better chance since it identifies who you are and if necessary, law enforcement can verify that you have a valid license.

October 3, 2012 at 2:06 AM · As a Brit, I have never not had a passport.
I have been lucky enough to always travel and have been to Italy, France, Spain, US, Cyprus, Gibraltar. I think its so important to have one.
But then I guess its much easier for us in England to flit off to another country on a whim, I could be in Paris in 3 hours from my house.
And for ID - its all I ever use.
October 3, 2012 at 4:40 AM · Having lived overseas as a US citizen for more than 14 years, my family and I have had passports for a long time and can't imagine not having one. Yes, it does open up so many travel possibilities and options.

We have been fortunate enough to have visited many amusement parks around the world including every single Disney park around the world- multiple times.

We have lived in Japan, England, Korea, and Italy and from those locations have traveled to many other countries, theme parks, historical sites, museums, etc.

You will never regret getting a passport! Trust me!

October 3, 2012 at 11:01 AM · Get your passport early in life also. I got my first one as a senior in high school. You have all the documents and people you need to document your identification living right there with you. The passport is good for 10 years and renewal is simple once established. I have used it for ID when moving and getting new driver licences. Never a problem.
October 3, 2012 at 11:03 AM · I think it's ridiculous for American citizens to not have a passport, especially with the new restrictions on travel to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It's sad that a majority of Americans do not have this essential form of documentation. Forms of identification have become a big hotbutton issue these days with numerous Voter ID laws going into effect and/or being overturned by courts, that you would think the State Department would step forward to triumph the importance and advantages of having a passport.

I've had a passport since I was a teenager, and they really are the "master" form of ID. It trumps a driver's license, social securty card, voter ID, school ID, military ID, birth certificate, etc... The simple fact that you can use a passport in lieu of multiple forms of other identification (in most states, you need a birth certificate AND social security card to get a driver's license or state-issued photo ID), makes it an important document for everyone to have. Like a social security card, you don't need to carry it around with you everywhere, so you can just put it in a safe or safe deposit box until you need it so it will never get lost or stolen.

Also, an American who doesn't travel outside of the US at least once every 10 years (the length of time between required passport renewals), needs to consider taking more vacations.

October 3, 2012 at 11:29 AM · Got a passport for my "40th" birthday, swore if I didn't have a stamp in it by my "50th" birthday, I'm killing myself!
October 3, 2012 at 2:49 PM · Someone once told me that only about 8% of Americans have passports, which as a Brit, I find shocking!
October 3, 2012 at 2:52 PM · Why does every tip post seem like an opportunity to bash the ignorant? Just because someone doesn't have a passport doesn't mean people are idiots. Certainly people should get a passport and let me remind you that no one should let their passports expire. BUT, if you don't, there's nothing wrong in not getting one. The money you save from delaying it makes no difference. The lack of owning a passport doesn't do anything to affect your life.

I find it interesting that people are telling others to have more vacations. Can't you mind your own business?

"needs to consider taking more vacations."

Okay, thanks for the advice.

October 3, 2012 at 5:03 PM · Pretty sure most people without passport would have to make major sacrificies to afford a long distance holiday, or at least to afford one that suits their health status and travel expirience.
October 3, 2012 at 11:12 PM · I don't think those living outside the United States would even understand this topic.

If the United States were as small as most countries around the world and most of our citizens lived within hours of a border then more would have their passport.

An interesting fact is that only about 10% of the citizens in these European countries travel the same great distances that most Americans travel when they leave our borders. While more in U.K. or France for example have crossed their borders, most haven't traveled any farther than what many Americans do within our own borders.

Going from Los Angeles to New York is like going to a different country and especially when you consider how weird New Yorkers are. :-)

October 4, 2012 at 3:22 AM · ^ I totally agree this opportunity shouldn't be about 'bashing the ignorant' and I do see your point about equivalent distances.

However, saying that the culture differences between L.A and New York are so different in the same way as British culture is to French, Spanish, Polish, in my opinion, is an invalid point. Sure, there are plenty of cultural differences in the US, it is an extremely culturally diverse country but culture ultimately isn't created through how far one travels.

October 4, 2012 at 7:47 AM · I wasn't "bashing the ignorant," I was merely making the point that there are far more advantages and in some instances necessities to holding a valid passport than disadvantages. The US State Department does a terrible job of promoting the value of the document, and most US citizens probably have no idea how easy it is to get a passport (assuming you have a relatively clean past), yet getting a driver's license or state-issued photo ID can be far more daunting and in some cases even more expensive.

Most citizens seem to think they only need a passport if they're traveling to another country, which is true, but a passport is more than just a license to travel abroad. It's a form of ID that supercedes all other forms of identification, a fact that the US State Department fails to promote, and it's cost is comperable to most state-issued identification.

I would concur that I was making a dig that people should travel outside the US more, but that's something I strongly believe. I assume that most people that read this website enjoy traveling, because they're intersted in theme parks, many of which are probably not within 100 miles of where people live. If you're going to put in the time and expense to plan a trip to Disneyland or Disney World every 3-5 years at a cost of a family of 4 that likely approaches $3-5k, then you have the means to take a trip every 10 years outside the US borders. Whether it be a cruise in the Carribean or Mexico or a simple drive to Toronto (for east coasters), Vancouver (for west coasters), or Calgary/Edmonton (for midwesterners), everyone should take some time to see the world outside the US. I strongly believe that vacations are important, and while my family's vacations typically result in exhaustion and the need for a vacation from the vacation, they are an important part of life on this planet. Whether you decide to spend those vacations visiting family, driving to the closest big city, traveling out to the countryside or one of our amazing National Parks, or going to one of our country's most popular tourist/entertainment attractions, everyone should take at least one every year. Heck, most employers WANT, and in some cases NEED, you to take a vacation to satisify their shareholders or ownership.

I'm merely advocating the idea that one out of every ten vacations be spent outside US borders. You don't have to go far, and for many, you might not even need to get on a plane. Not only is it important on a cultural level, but it gives you an incredible appreciation for the great country that we live in. Our most recent 12-day trip abroad to Europe didn't cost significantly more than our upcoming 11-day trip to Orlando, so anyone who's scoffing at the costs should really take a look at prices. Sure, east coasters can much more easily do a week in Orlando and west coasters can to SoCal for under $1,000 than you can do Europe (next to impossible with airfare these days), but I know for a fact that I can do a drive up through Buffalo to Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec for less than it would cost for an average Disney World vacation.

In the end, people have the right to make their own choices as to how they spend their time. I just think that if you have enough time and resources to travel to some of the nation's most popular tourist destinations, you can easily take a trip outside the US once every 10 years.

October 4, 2012 at 8:24 PM · Yup, a passport is pretty much the best form of ID.

And too many people are stuck in their own bubble, whether it's their own town, city, community, etc. Travel makes you appreciate where you're from or where you live.

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