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Today:

*** Passport Delays and How to Beat the System
*** Practical Writing Prompt of the Week: Outdoors Stories
*** Reader Feedback: Landed a By-line in a Featured Pub

Dear Reader,

Jay Leno’s joke on the Tonight Show went something like this: “It takes more than three months to leave the U.S., but if you want to enter, you can just walk across the border.”

A flood of passport applications has overwhelmed the National Passport Agency. It used to take a few weeks to get a passport — now it takes more than three months. The delay has foiled travel plans for thousands of people who had international tickets in hand, but no passports.

Their uproar was loud enough that not just Leno — but the U.S. government — took note.

In fact, just last Friday, the government suspended the new rule requiring passports for air travel to and from Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. (Thousands more than expected applied for passports to comply with this rule, thus swamping the system.)

So now — until September 30 — if you’re traveling to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, or the Caribbean, you’ll be able to board your plane as long as you show a valid government ID AND the official receipt from your passport application.

But if you’re traveling elsewhere in the world, you’ll still need an actual passport — and you could well find yourself stuck. We almost did. We applied for our 1-year-old’s passport 13 weeks before our departure for France (where I was hosting our travel writing workshop).

It hadn’t arrived a week before we were due to leave, and a National Passport Agency rep. told us, “I’m putting a 24-hour rush on it.” But two days later, it still hadn’t come.

Three days before our departure, we were told five different times, “You’ll just have to miss your trip. There’s nothing to be done about it.”

Rubbish. Of course there’s something to be done! Here’s what you need to know if you find yourself in a similar situation:

At thirteen Regional Passport Agencies scattered across the U.S., you can make an automated appointment for a passport if you’re traveling within two weeks. You show up at your assigned time and you get a passport that day.

Only here’s the rub: Right now, you can’t get an automated appointment at these places because all of the appointment times are taken. The computer voice tells you nothing is available and then hangs up.

But, if you’re traveling WITHIN THREE DAYS you have some pull.

Call the National Passport Agency (877-487-2778) to check on the status of your passport application and ask the person you speak with to override the automated system and make you an appointment at a regional office. They CAN do this. They did it for us.

If you’re told that they can’t, politely hang up and call again until you get a person who is willing to do it for you.

If that doesn’t work, show up at one of the 13 Regional Passport Offices first thing in the morning. (We were told we absolutely couldn’t do this — that a guard would be posted at the door and that he wouldn’t let us in. But I met several people in the office we went to who had simply shown up — and they got their passports.)

Arrive at that Regional Passport Office with all the proper paperwork. (You’ll find a list of what you need here: http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html)

Remember your passport photos and your tickets or flight confirmation — proof that you’re to travel within three days.

We spent all day at the Denver Passport Office, but we got our son’s passport and were able to make our Paris flight.

So how do you avoid this situation altogether?

1) Put your passport application in early. Assume AT LEAST four — maybe more — months for processing.

2) No matter when you apply, pay the extra $60 (plus overnight mail fees) to expedite your passport. That should bump your application toward the top of the pile.

3) You may want to pay even more ($109-$199) and have a passport expeditor service take charge of your application from the very start. They ARE still able to speed the process. American Passport Express (http://www.americanpassport.com/), for example, says if you’re traveling within 14 days, they can get you a passport in two business days. If you don’t have firm travel plans but want, nevertheless, to expedite your passport, they can get it into your hands in as few as four business days.

Ah, the joys of travel in our modern world…

— Jen
Jennifer Stevens
Guest Editor, The Right Way to Travel

[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:

This weekend, step outside. Look for an outdoors-focused article idea. You can come at it interest-first or audience-first — whatever you prefer.  Just find a way to take your reader outdoors for an hour (or two or three).

Say you’re a gardener… Are there some flower-filled neighborhoods where you could suggest a walk? Or an annual flower-focused event? Or a park a visitor shouldn’t miss?

Or say you’re a hiker… Can you find a new hike you’ve not taken before and give it a try? Or maybe there’s an old stand-by you like, why not head back there this weekend and enjoy it with an eye to writing about it?

Or, if you prefer, think about your audience first.

You could recommend an outside activity for kids. Or for retirees. Or for spelunkers. Or for fishing enthusiasts. You get the idea.

Define your story in such a way that you can tackle it in 300 words. Then write 100 words on Monday, on Tuesday, and on Wednesday. On Thursday, edit. And on Friday you’ll have an article ready to sell.

READER FEEDBACK:

“Thanks for the tip. I wrote an article for 40 Plus Travel and Leisure on 5 good restaurants in Tuscany that are off the beaten track and it was accepted. The editor also approved two other ideas I have for future articles.” — Reynold Dacon

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