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Today:

*** New Passport Regulations You Should Know
*** Practical Writing Prompt of the Week: Oddities in Your Town
*** Reader Feedback: The Best Little LED Light for Travelers

Dear Reader,

A new passport regulation goes into effect this week. Starting January 23rd (that’s this past Tuesday) everyone traveling from the U.S. to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada by air needs a passport. (Birth certificates are no longer an acceptable form of ID).

This is a big deal for my friend Charlie. At $97 each for him and his wife, and $82 for each of their three kids (all younger than 16), this year’s family trip to the Bahamas just got $440 more expensive. And that’s if he applies for all five passports today.

It takes up to six weeks to process a passport, though it is possible, for an additional $60, to rush the process and have a passport in hand within two weeks. (You’ll find the details and forms on the U.S. State Department website, here.

If Charlie needs the passports even faster than that, though, he can use a private “passport expediter.” For a fee on top of the government fees — anywhere from $59 to $179 per passport — these folks will walk your application through the process for you and guarantee you have it in your hands quickly — even within 24 hours. Should you find yourself in need of an expediter service, this site seems very clear, professional, and easy to use: http://www.americanpassport.com.

Another caution about passports, while I’m on this subject: Some countries require that your passport be valid for at least six months beyond your travel dates.

Last October, I had to rush to have mine renewed before I left for our workshop in Greece. I realized at the last minute that it was valid for only three months after my trip, and I didn’t want to risk having problems at the border. Procrastinator that I am, I found myself paying an expediter a hefty fee to ensure I could travel without incident.

And so, my advice to you? Today — as soon as you’ve finished reading this e-letter — go find your passport and check the expiration date. If it expires this year, get it renewed now and spare yourself trouble and expediter fees.

And don’t forget to keep me up-to-speed on your travel-writing or photography success. If you have a story to share, send me a quick note at lori@thetravelwriterslife.com.

— Lori
Lori Appling
Director, Great Escape Publishing

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

PRACTICAL WRITING PROMPT OF THE WEEK

January’s Travel Post Monthly features an article titled: “The Folly of it All: 5 of Ireland’s Best Architectural Oddities.” You’ll find it here: www.travelpostmonthly.com.

What’s odd about your town or favorite vacation spot?

Editors like a unique angle (particularly if you’re writing about a place that gets a lot of press), and by answering that question about what’s odd, you can find yourself staring at a great — and saleable — article idea.

Depending on what it is you find that’s so quirky, you might be able to build an entire story about just that one thing.

Or, if you can think of three or more oddities, that could be the makings of a round-up or even two.

As with all stories, your audience is critical. So once you’ve identified what’s so odd… think about who would find it appealing. I asked Jen Stevens, author of our Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program to comment on this idea, and she offered up a great example of how this can work:

“In and around my hometown of Colorado Springs you’ll find all sorts of quirky offerings. For example, there’s the Cave of the Winds — a cave through which you can take guided tours and look at the colorfully lit stalagmites and stalactites. (By way of full disclosure, I spent the summer after high school working there in the gift shop.)

“And there’s this bug museum just outside of town, marked on the highway by an enormous beetle and filled, inside, with all sorts of crawly creatures, deceased, and pinned to display boards. The list of odd attractions goes on. But my point is that these are offerings you wouldn’t find elsewhere, which help give this place its character.

“I could write a round-up about five kitsch attractions for the college-student set. Or I could write a piece on three fun, quirky activities to do with kids. Or I could write about any one of them on its own with a specialized audience in mind. I mean, while the cave has been ‘tamed’ shall we say, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t interest an audience of spelunkers. And that bug museum… if you’re an insect-enthusiast, you’d love it.

“I think building a story about an oddity (or two or three or more) is a perfectly sound strategy. And a fun one, too! Just keep your audience in mind, and let your readers’ interests dictate the way you position your subject in your lead and throughout.”

READER FEEDBACK: The Best Little LED Light for Travelers

“I am a real estate developer/steep mountain skier. I spend a lot of time in Latin America. You should go to an outdoors store (like REI) and buy a couple of the LED lights. My recommended favorite is the Petzl Tikka. It is relatively inexpensive ($35), durable, and water resistant. It has a band you can wear on your head or wrap around your wrist. The new LED lights are incredibly small (2 oz, size of an apricot) and bright (up to 120 feet of visibility). Long battery life
(high setting 22 hours, low setting 68 hours).

“I always have one of these in my suitcase and one in my carry on. Given how variable power is or the number of times where you need to walk when it is dark, in Latin America this is essential.” — Jim Kean

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