Don’t leave home without one

Published 2:05 pm Friday, July 6, 2007

By By TRICIA PETERS / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Traveling out of the country this summer? Well, along with the luggage, camera and the million other things you have to remember, do not forget your passport. Don't have one? Then apply for one – as soon as possible.
Receiving a passport can take upwards of 12 weeks depending on your departure date. According to Michele Boyd, owner of Signal Travel Agency, you can pay an expedite fee that can decrease the waiting time down to two to three weeks. Boyd highly recommends doing so, to ensure getting your passport in time for travel. However, there are still no guarantees.
The Federal Passport Agency is bogged down with processing applications for new passports, renewals, name changes and those adding pages to their passports. "This is always a busy time for the passport office. This year is just worse than normal. They have hired 200 temporary workers as of this week to get them processed," Boyd said.
Who needs a passport? Anyone traveling outside of the United States, including the Carribean and Bermuda. Even a child as young as a one-day-old needs a passport. "The passport is your best proof of citizenship," Boyd added.
In order to apply for a passport you will need to visit the County Clerk's office in Niles or St. Joseph. Many post offices, including Niles, South Bend, and St. Joseph can also process passport applications. You will need to bring a government-issued photo ID, two passport photos (which can be obtained at Signal Travel as well as a wide variety of local businesses) and the passport application fee. You will then be required to fill out an application form. Signal Travel offers these pre-printed applications as well as any assistance you need with the passport process free of charge. You can also visit to access the application online.
Renewal is possible by mail if you send in an updated passport photo, your expired passport (in good condition), and a check or money order. Boyd recommends paying the expedite fee even on renewals.
Boyd also strongly suggests checking all the information on your passport very carefully after receiving it. "We are seeing more mistakes these days and it's because people are in a rush basically," she said. If there is an error in your information, you will need to complete a corrections form obtained from a passport official at the County Clerk's Office or the Post Office. This is another excellent reason to apply early for your passport, as the correction process will add additional time to getting your passport in hand for travel. Corrections need to be made within a certain period of time to be free of charge.
Boyd also explained that you should sign your passport before getting to the airport, as well as keep it safe and in your possession at all times, never leaving it behind in the hotel room. This excellent tip is not only for safety reasons, but often you will need to show your passport when making purchases in a foreign country. Make two copies of the signature page, keeping one at home and one with you during travel, recommends Boyd. This will make applying for a new one much easier, if it were to become lost or stolen.
What to do if you have a family emergency and you need to get to a foreign destination immediately? Signal Travel works with a service that can help you during these unforeseen circumstances. By paying a fee ranging between $100 to $200, the application can be hand-walked through the process by a passport official on behalf of the applicant. This requires an appointment with a passport official and a copy of your itinerary already in hand.
On June 25, the Federal Passport Agency in Chicago issued a directive that county clerk offices cannot process a passport application if the applicant's birth certificate was issued within that county. "I think that's putting an unfair burden on people. Because if they live in Berrien County they will have to go to Cass County or South Bend. Not only is that an unfair burden, but I don't understand the logic behind it. After all, they are government employees and it shouldn't be a problem," Boyd said. At this time, with the clerk on vacation, there is no confirmation from the County Clerk's Office as to whether this directive will be put into effect any time soon.
In the past, Signal Travel has hosted "Passport Day" and will be doing so again this fall. During this event, Signal Travel representatives will help answer your passport-related questions, take passport photos, and will even have a passport official on-site.
Once you have your passport in hand, you will still face security procedures at the airport. According to Boyd, South Bend Regional Airport is processing just as they always have. Of course, the more you follow the rules and regulations of the airline the smoother the security procedure runs. Airports are still requiring you to take off your shoes, therefore, Boyd recommends wearing slip-on shoes to save time. Airports are also stringently enforcing the 3-1-1 rule which requires all carry on liquids to be no larger than 3 ounces and contained within a 1 quart see-through bag. Regardless of the 3-1-1 rule, you should always keep liquids in sealed plastic bags, as they can expand and leak during long flights.
Boyd also recommends not taking a full aerosol can, but rather using some before packing it to relieve some of the pressure. There's nothing worse than getting to your destination to find an exploded hair spray or deodorant can, toothpaste or shampoo all over your belongings.
Each piece of checked luggage should not weigh more than 50 pounds, otherwise you will incur additional fees. It is wise to keep this fact in mind, especially when regarding your trip home. Many travelers are caught by this rule because they are carrying much more than they left with in the form of souvenirs.
Ultimately, to ensure that you will move as quickly as possible through airport security, do not bring anything the airline does not allow. You can visit the TSA website to educate yourself on airline rules and regulations.
Traveling out of the country is an amazing experience, but make sure you find yourself well-prepared and with passport in hand in plenty of time before your final boarding call.