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Travel rules, restrictions may apply | Colleen Smidt

By COLLEEN SMIDT Bremerton Patriot Columnist
March 29, 2013 · 12:17 PM
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I applied for my passport last week. Until now, I never needed to have one. The last time I left the country, I was still able to simply use a certified copy of my birth certificate for air travel. I know, the fact that I even had the option of using just my birth certificate seriously dates me.

For some reason, I had it in my mind that the process of applying for a passport would be a long, complicated, drawn out, bureaucratic ordeal. I rated the coming experience right up there with preparing for and receiving a tax return audit or a full body cavity search by TSA the next time I went to board a flight.

Surprisingly, the paperwork and document submission requirements for a first time passport were outlined in an easy and straightforward manner through the U.S. Department of State website www.travel.state.gov/passport. All of the forms can be completed online and then printed out. In fact the most complicated portion of the entire process had to do with finding a location and time in which to submit the application in person as a first time applicant.

Unfortunately, Bremerton does not have a Passport Application Acceptance Facility, so make sure you check the website carefully regarding submission times and if the location you want to go to requires you to make an appointment. Most application submission hours occur Monday through Friday during normal working hours. I am lucky to be close enough to the Silverdale Post Office facility that I could conduct my application submission during my normal lunch hour.

Passports are not inexpensive for the average family on a budget. The fee for mine was $110 for just the passport book and an additional $25 for the application fee. Over the next several months all of us in the Smidt family will be applying for passports. Spacing them out over time makes it more affordable to us.

Since I will be the one traveling out of the country this year, my application went in first. Also, if you apply for one when you don’t need it instead of waiting until you are ready to book out of country travel, the savings you gain by avoiding fees to expedite the process can be considerable. Average wait times are four to six weeks and no worries, your original documents such as your birth certificate will be returned to you once the passport has been issued.

Another travel issue that our family is navigating this year is the booking of air travel for an unaccompanied minor. During the upcoming summer break, Nick will be traveling across country to spend 18 days with his grandparents.

One thing I have discovered is that rules, restrictions, fees and flight availability vary considerably from airline to airline when it comes to children. Don’t be in a hurry booking this kind of travel. Read all the fine print. Many airlines require you to call in for booking unaccompanied minor flights instead of using their website to do so.

This gives you an excellent opportunity to get all of your questions answered. Also, even though Nick has been flying with one or both of us nearly every year since birth I want to know what the unaccompanied minor process is so that I can go over it with him more than once before he departs and he knows what to expect every step of the way.

Changes to travel and the rules that govern it seem to be in a constant state of change lately. Be very careful when you make your arrangements. The process from a past experience may or may not be the process you experience on your next trip.

Get out there and book some fun.

 


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