Remember a few months ago, when I proudly proclaimed that I was rearranging my financial priorities and putting travel at the top of my list? Well, since then, something big has happened:
I’m going to London!
This is going to be a solo trip. Soon after writing that initial post, my husband, parents, and in-laws all started asking me what I wanted for Christmas. I couldn’t come up with a single idea. Instead of giving me gifts I didn’t want, my parents and in-laws opted to give me cash, while my husband decided I should just spend the money we’d budgeted for my Christmas gifts later on, when an idea came to me. In all, I had almost $500, and nothing I really wanted to do with it…
…except go visit my best friend from college, Sarah (you’ll remember her as the international grad student I wrote about a while back). After recently graduating with her MBA from Oxford, she decided to stay on in England, accepting a job with a major financial publication in London. For me, that means I’ve got a free place to stay; the main costs I’ll be paying for will include my transportation costs, food, and “fun.”
(Note: I’ll write a more extensive post about how I’m budgeting for my vacation down the road, as I start to make official travel plans.)
The first step to my European vacation, however, is getting a passport. I had a valid passport – emphasis on had – until it expired last March. Sadly, in the ten years during which it was valid, I didn’t get a single stamp in it.
With my passport out of date (not only out of date; it still had my maiden name and my parents’ mailing address!), I paid a visit to the State Department’s website to find out what I’d need to get a new one. Since my passport had been issued in the past 15 years, after my 16th birthday, and hadn’t been lost or damaged, I was eligible to apply for a renewal. Because of my name change, I had to submit a certified copy of my marriage license along with the application and my expired passport.
A lot has changed about passports since 2002. Back then, you applied for a passport book. That was it. Now, however, you have options. You can either choose a passport book (if you are a frequent international traveler, you can request a book with up to 52 pages) or a passport card. There’s a big cost-benefit in getting the passport card; first-time adult applicants can get it for $55 (it’s good for ten years), while renewals like me can get it for $30. The card looks a lot like a state-issued driver’s license, but it can be used in place of a passport book when entering Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. It cannot, however, be used for international air travel – and since I won’t be swimming to Liverpool, it wasn’t an option for me.
Instead, I’d be applying for a renewal of my passport book. This cost me $110, plus the $8 I spent to get my official passport photos taken at a local drug store. The post office can also take pictures, but the passport camera at my USPS office was broken, and I didn’t trust myself to get the dimensions right by taking the shot at home. $118 is a lot of money to spend just to have your paperwork in order to travel, but since I can’t get to London (or home!) without it, I didn’t have a choice.
At this point, I’m still waiting for my new passport. I haven’t booked my flight yet – I’m still comparing prices – although I don’t plan on waiting for my passport to arrive before making these reservations.
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you who were so supportive when I first announced my plans to travel more; I didn’t expect I’d have so grand of an opportunity so soon!
Reader, if you could plan a grand vacation, to where would you travel?