resources, road trip, saving money, travel tips

How to Save Money on a Passport

Can you believe there was an upcoming road trip that I DIDN’T want to go on? I really didn’t want to go to Seattle. It’s not that I don’t like Seattle. In fact, that’s the city where I first really fell in love with travel. But I wasn’t looking forward to the reason that I might have to go there.

The government was forcing me.

Seattle Pike's Place Market Pig Art
At Seattle’s famous Pike’s Place Market when I was sixteen. This was a trip taken out of necessity, not pleasure. But it did end up letting me save money on a passport!

This is my personal experience in getting two passports in twelve years. Read to the end for tips on how to save money when getting YOUR passport!

Seeing Seattle

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The Seattle Space Needle. Money tip: It’s super expensive to ride the elevator to the top, but totally free to walk around the artsy perimeter!

You see, when I was fifteen, I applied for my very first passport. I was headed to Peru with my youth group. Unfortunately, this was 2007, when it first became a requirement that US citizens have a passport to go to Mexico and Canada. That really increased the demand for passports, and mine somehow got misplaced or pushed to the back burner in the passport-producing office. No matter how many times I called to check on it or how many times it got expedited, it was just not coming on time. And I applied months in advance! My mom had to drive me to an appointment in Seattle to get a same-day passport just a few days before I left. My original passport ended up arriving the day before I RETURNED from Peru! So I ended up having two US passports for a short period of time, but since that’s illegal I had to send the unused one back. (I also ended up with two birth certificates due to this fiasco, but apparently, that’s allowed.)

On that trip up to Seattle, I was excited. I had been a couple times before on choir trips. I think I fell in love because it was my first time being out of state for multiple days without any relatives. Who knew this independence would cultivate a solo female traveler? Even though I was going with a family member now, I was excited to see things on my own terms this time. My mom had never been to Seattle, but she wasn’t nearly as excited. She warned me that she would turn the car around if we heard word that my passport was being shipped. She wanted to leave Seattle pretty much as soon as I had a passport in hand. However, it did take several hours between our appointment and the time that the passport got printed, so I did have time to show her the main sights. While I did understand that this excursion was unplanned for and an inconvenience, I didn’t get why we couldn’t think of it as a fun bonus trip. Now that I’ve had experience as an adult getting my second passport (well, technically it’s my third if you count the one I had to return), I’m definitely more understanding.

I Almost Repeated this Seattle Incident

Eiffel Tower Paris France Europe
Paris was the first stop of my first trip to Europe. But will I be able to complete my second trip to Europe next week if I don’t have a passport?

For my upcoming trip to Ireland and England, I made plans. I bought tickets. I made reservations. I saved money. I kept you all updated in my progress for getting there. I even booked another international trip for later this year. I was excited to go, and nothing could stop me. Except for maybe the fact that I didn’t have a valid passport.

My first passport expired in 2017. I originally planned to renew it six months before its expiration so that I would always be ready to jump at any opportunity to visit another country. I even got my passport photos taken and filled out an application. But then I decided not to send it in. I didn’t have any travel plans in the works. I figured that I would wait until I actually needed a passport again. Since an adult US passport is valid for 10 years, I could extend the validity by waiting. Unfortunately, I waited a bit too long.

I applied for my passport seven weeks before my departure date. The government asks for 4-6 weeks for processing, and lately, I’ve heard most people getting their passports in less than four weeks. So I figured I was good to go.

Four weeks passed. No passport. I started checking online. All it said was that it was “being processed”. Finally, I had to do it. I made an appointment at Seattle’s passport agency.

There’s actually a closer passport agency in San Francisco. I couldn’t go there in 2007 because it was all booked up for weeks. (It probably wasn’t as bad as the agency I saw when I went to New York City in June 2007. The line of people waiting to get passports there wrapped around the block! If I’d known that my passport wouldn’t be coming, I would have stood in line with them.) I considered going there this time, but I’ve driven in San Francisco traffic before. It might be faster to drive to Seattle. I also wanted to take a quick trip to Portland, so I could just tack on a detour to Seattle after that.

Thankfully, the day after I made my appointment to go to Seattle one week before I leave the country, I got an update that my passport was being shipped. This not only saved me time and stress, but also saved me the extra day I would have to take off of work to get to Seattle, the costs associated with driving up there, the night in a hostel, and parking fees, not to mention the expedited fees.

Did I Save Money?

Inca Kola Peru
My first time using my passport was a mission trip to Peru, where I fell in love with their Inca Kola.

So yes, I guess I saved money by planning ahead (although I barely squeaked by with only a one-week buffer). I won’t have to cover the costs of a mandatory bonus trip. But even when I did have to take this bonus trip for my first passport, my family was surprised that we still ended up saving some money.

At the recommendations of friends, my mom and I stayed in SeaTac, the Washington city between Seattle and Tacoma that houses the airport. A motel there was cheaper than downtown Seattle. On the way there, we did have to stop in Salem, Oregon so I could get a new birth certificate. (My original birth certificate was wherever my original passport was.) That cost money, but even today it’s nice to know that I have a backup birth certificate in case something happens.

We knew there was an additional expedited fee, and my mom assumed that we’d also have to pay the passport fee. When we got to our appointment, we found out we didn’t have to pay the passport fee again (we already paid it when we applied for the original passport). But it was a nice surprise to find out that we didn’t have to pay the expedited fee either. It wasn’t our fault that my passport was left untouched for months, so the government was nice enough to cover their mistake. Since the agency is in a metropolitan area, we did have to pay for parking. But while we waited for the passport to print, we were able to sightsee on foot for free. We went to the sports stadiums, the Space Needle, and so much more!

Renewing a passport is a little less expensive than applying for a first-time passport IF you send in your previous passport. I kept my old passport in my dedicated travel supply drawer, so I sent that in with the lower fee. The renewal application is something you just have to print and mail, which saved time. I paid extra for tracking with the postal service, but overall spent less than my first-time passport.

Or did I?

Here’s the super-special way I saved on my first passport that I like to brag about, since I don’t think it could ever be replicated.

How old was I when I applied for my passport? Fifteen. For children who apply for passports at age fifteen and younger, the passport is only valid for five years. It costs less than an adult passport. If you apply after your sixteenth birthday, you have to pay for a full-fledged adult passport, but that is valid for ten years.

By the time I was headed to Seattle to get my same-day passport, I had already turned sixteen. That meant they had to give me the ten-year adult passport. But the agency considered the payment that was sent with my original passport application as payment in full. That meant I got a ten-year passport for the price of a five-year passport. When I did receive the original passport, it was indeed only valid for five years. Actually, it was never really valid at all since the government demanded that we send it back. But I definitely enjoyed those extra five years on my first passport. For the first five years on that passport, I took two trips to Peru and a trip to Mexico. With my five free years, I walked to Canada a couple times. (Yes, I walked to Canada. Okay, I was staying less than a mile from the border in Niagara Falls, so it wasn’t that big of a feat.) It was also during those five free years that I spent three months backpacking across the Mediterranean. That’s a well-used discount passport!

How to Save Money on Your Passport

US Passport
Headed home from Seattle with my very first passport. Glad I don’t have to go through that this time around!

Note that these are based on my experience in the US. Your results may vary.

  • If you have an expired passport, keep it in a safe place so you can use it to save time and money on your next passport application.
  • If you don’t have travel plans, consider waiting to apply for a passport. (But don’t wait too long!)
  • Don’t get your passport photos taken only to not apply for a passport. It’s illegal to send in photos that are older than six months, so these pricey pictures are pretty much worthless after that.
  • Don’t pay to expedite your passport. Apply for it more than six weeks before your departure date. If it doesn’t look like it will come in time with this precaution, call to have the government expedite it for free due to their delay.
  • Spring on the few extra dollars to get tracking when mailing in your passport application. Once it’s arrived at the processing center, you can track it for free at passportstatus.state.gov.
  • If you do end up having to visit a passport agency, make the most of your trip. Check to see which agency is closest to your home, but also consider further agencies if it will save you money or make your trip more fun. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to pay the expedited fee at the agency, but if it’s due to a processing error, you should be able to get your passport at no extra cost. Make sure you have all the needed documents (and maybe some extras, just in case), so you don’t take this trip for nothing. There are only a handful of passport agencies scattered across the United States, so it will be an ordeal of a trip for most of us!

Did you think it was possible to save money on a passport before you read this? Did anyone besides me end up with a discount passport? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

How to $ave on your Passport
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Road Trip Weekend, Part 1: Meet a Favorite Speaker

It’s the weekend! What a great time for a road trip! Each day of this weekend, I’ll be sharing a recent road trip I took. My hope is that, even if you don’t take the route I did, you’ll get some tips and inspiration for wherever you go! Today, I’ll be catching up with a road trip along the Southern Oregon Coast.¬†

At age 13, I was introduced to a magazine that just about every Christian millenial girl read: Brio, published by Focus on the Family. In each issue, the “Dear Susie” column answered reader questions with the magazine’s editor, Susie Shellenberger. Susie also contributed other articles on a variety of topics like sex, drinking, and knowing whether God is real.

Although Brio is back in publication now, it did close down in 2009 along with just about every other Christian girl magazine facing the recession. Susie Shellenberger decided to start her own magazine, and my first published article appeared in the first issue of Susie Magazine. So it’s realistic to say that Susie Shellenberger was a major influence in me becoming a writer and editor.

Fast forward to April 2017. I had no idea this would be my last month with my very first Subaru. But when Susie Shellenberger posted on Facebook that she would be speaking in Brookings, Oregon that weekend, I knew I wanted to meet her there! After a couple messages back and forth, I discovered she would be speaking at a women’s conference as well as several church services and events.

AirBnB Boat Brookings Harbor
A glimpse of just one boat in Brookings Harbor. Keep reading to find out more about it!

I decided that if I could find an affordable place to stay Saturday night, I could attend the Saturday evening service and at least the first Sunday morning service, possibly the second service if I thought I could get back in time to start my 3 o’clock work shift. Most coastal hotels are pricey, and the only Oregon Coast hostels are in the northern half of the state. Since it would be rainy and chilly, I wasn’t up for camping. So I decided that, for the first time ever, I would make a reservation on AirBnB.

Once lodging was figured out, I started getting really nostalgic about my teen years. Brio was a part of my teen life, as was Lake Bradley Christian Camp, a retreat center in Bandon-by-the-Sea. I spent summers in high school working there. Although Brookings is the closest town on the Oregon Coast from my house, maybe I could take a longer route and drive up to Bandon first.

And if I did that, I would go up the I5 until I got off around Roseburg. One of my high school friends lives in Roseburg now, so I decided to see if she would want to meet up Saturday morning. She recommended a coffee shop for us to meet up at.

Cranberry Sweets Cheese Fudge
If you visit Bandon, Oregon, make sure to sample your way around the Cranberry Sweets store. Definitely make sure to ask for a piece of the cheddar cheese fudge!

With a rough plan in place, I headed out on Saturday morning. I felt kind of bad only spending about a half hour in the Roseburg coffee shop, but there was a lot to pack in before the service started at 6pm! From Roseburg, I went to Bandon to walk around Old Town and drive by Lake Bradley and other old familiar sites.

Then I headed South. I wanted to see the Prehistoric Gardens, but didn’t have much time, nor did I want to pay the admission fee. But there are two life-size dinosaurs to take pictures with in the parking lot. I also stopped at Gold Beach, hoping to find a glass float this time, but was unsuccessful once again.

Prehistoric Gardens Apatosaurus
Was so glad that my favorite dinosaur was one of the ones visible from the Prehistoric Gardens parking lot.

After several hours of driving and sightseeing, I finally arrived at my AirBnB near Brookings Harbor. For being my first AirBnB experience, it provided an unbeatable experience. I stayed in a sailboat that circumnavigated the world! During check-in, the owner told lots of stories that led to how this boat ended up in his front yard, surrounded by remains of another boat.

Because of these stories, check-in took longer than expected, so afterward I rushed across town to Brookings Nazarene Church. Susie’s message that night was about cemeteries and castles, which caused us to think about which of those two options we were currently living in, and which one we would rather be. I was thankful that it was a fairly small church, because that meant I had the opportunity to spend some time with Susie afterward!

Susie Shellenberger
Me and Susie. I’m holding the first issue of Susie Magazine, which contains my first published article!

That evening was spent listening to music and watching the sun set over the sea from the top of my AirBnB boat. I woke up to the sound of rain. After lounging around the boat a bit more, I headed back to church.

There were two Sunday morning services. The first was a repeat of Saturday night’s, but I still gleaned more from it. The second service was about sanctification. I wish I could have stayed even longer, but I had to leave right after the second service to make sure I arrived at work on time that afternoon. However, I had a lovely drive through the Redwoods on the way! Looking back, it’s bittersweet that it would be my last long drive with that car. It would be totaled a few weeks later. But at least it left on a high note!

Question: Have you ever traveled to see a specific person? If not, who would you want to see on your travels?

AirBnB
Inside the AirBnB boat. Behind me is a map of the route it took when it circumnavigated the globe.

I enjoyed my night on the boat, and it only cost $50! Click on this affiliate link to get $40 off your first AirBnB stay!

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Summer 2016: Adventures with Girlz 4 Christ

As both an avid traveler and the editor of a magazine for teen girls, I do have to be sensitive to the fact that teens are pretty limited when it comes to travel options. Even though I think my teen years involved more travel than most, I couldn’t do much more than family vacations, school travel, and youth group-sponsored trips. Designing my own adventures was basically impossible. However, I still want to encourage wanderlust and give a sense of adventure to the girls I write and edit for.

About two years ago, I attempted to start a travel section in the magazine called “Girlz on the Go”, which would have a feature of an interesting place and other articles containing travel tips. Unfortunately, it did not receive any positive response. Looking back, it wasn’t very realistic of me to suggest these things to teens and preteens. But I have since learned from my mistakes!

Summer 2016 Cover - real official

With the summer issue of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine that released today, I tried something a bit different. Instead of encouraging travel that probably isn’t attainable to the readers, I rounded up ways to make an adventure out of whatever they’re doing this summer. Since even those of us who are no longer teens can often feel “stuck” when it comes to travel dreams, I’d like to offer some of what is in the magazine¬†here too.

-I’ve suggested it before, but attending church is something that can be done for free just about anywhere in the world! Even if you don’t regularly go to church, I’d encourage you to visit and get a new grasp of local culture where you travel, or even a different perspective of your hometown! Author Kristen Hogrefe explains four benefits of this practice in the issue.

-One of my favorite reasons to travel is that it helps me discover more about myself. Another way to learn more about ourselves is through counseling. Whether it’s for mental health management, planning out achievement potential, or something else, we could all benefit from adventures through counseling. The lovely Adelee Russell writes about her experience and gives tips on how to handle an adventure that can initially seem as scary as new travel!

-When I can’t travel, I still like to learn about culture! I connected with two international Girlz 4 Christ readers so that they could share their life with all the other girls around the world. One lives in Rome, and I actually attended her church when I was there last September, so it was a nice walk down memory lane for me. The other is from Australia, an area where I haven’t even come close to, but I want to go now more than ever!

-Another exciting interview I had the privilege of conducting was with John Luke and Mary Kate Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. They share tidbits of their life between Louisiana and Virginia. And since the theme of the interview was accomplishing goals, the advice they give can definitely apply to the goal of travel!

-Emily Joy shared how she connects with people from all over the world through her social media ministry, Encourage All. Just looking at her Instagram photos was inspiring enough!

-The more I travel, the more I consider how I can help the people in need around me. While voluntourism is a controversial topic, I definitely got some at-home training by watching Poverty, Inc.

-One of the fashion articles is actually just about how I’m preparing for my upcoming trip to Maui. I share how to shop on a budget, how to effectively pack, and how to make homemade, natural beauty treatments.

-When I’m not traveling, I take mental vacations largely by reading books. Scattered throughout the current issue are eight suggestions for your next “bookation”. These include books by Duck Dynasty’s Robertson family, a book by amputee Lauren Scruggs Kennedy, and even a book giveaway from Kimberly Rae!

-And because travel isn’t always smooth sailing, (in fact, life itself is rarely problem-free) Adelee Russell wrote another article about how to deal with those awkward and embarrassing moments.

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These are just some highlights of this jam-packed issue of Girlz 4 Christ. The magazine itself is very traveler-friendly: it can be accessed on virtually any device and subscriptions are free! Click here to visit the website and get this freebie!

 

PS- If you want to see other travel writing I’ve done recently, check out this post about Letters to Juliet in Verona, Italy!