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There’s no need to go to a photo shop or your local 24-hour pharmacy to get your passport photos made. You are allowed to take them at home. But don’t take a selfie — or at least don’t make it obviously a selfie — because your U.S. passport application could be denied.

holding a passport and boarding pass


Here are 10 other interesting facts about U.S. passports:

1. U.S. passports are made with a whopping 60 different materials provided by 16 different vendors. The assembly process is considered top secret, according to this fascinating Gizmodo article.

2. Benjamin Franklin whipped up a makeshift passport on his own printing press for a former Continental Congressman to travel freely in Europe in 1780. The document was considered one of the first recorded U.S. passports, according to Smithsonian.com.

3. In 2016 the U.S. Department of State issued 18.7 million passports. That’s more than three times higher than the number issued just two decades earlier.

4. The United States was the first country to issue machine-readable passports, in 1981.

5. U.S. citizens are required to use U.S. passports when entering the country, even if they hold dual citizenship.

6. Last year there were 131.8 million valid passports in circulation, according to the State Department. However, 18 million of them are set to expire this year, which is about 4 million more than last year, according to the Sun Sentinel. That’s because in 2007, the U.S. government made it a requirement to have a passport to fly or drive to any international destination. Previously, you could go to such spots as the Caribbean or Mexico without one.

7. Does the president need to travel with a passport? Yes, according to Slate, but he travels with a black diplomatic passport — one of three types of passports the U.S. government issues (the others are the blue tourist passport and “official” maroon passports, typically used by the military).

8. If you’ve gotten extreme plastic surgery, tattooed your face, or lost or gained a significant amount of weight, you could be required to get a new passport.

9. The U.S. passport is tied for third (along with six European countries) as the most powerful passport in the world, according to PassportIndex.org. It allows access to 156 countries without a visa; Germany leads with 158 countries.

10. Among the things you shouldn’t wear when having your passport photo taken: Eyeglasses, headphones, hats, temporary tattoos and uniforms of any sort. Unacceptable photos are the No. 1 reason passport applications are denied, according to the State Department.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Passports
12 Ways to Cruise Through Customs and Immigration

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Check out the stories you may have missed from around the travel world.

australian passport


The End of Passports? How Australia Plans to Make Travel Documents Obsolete by 2020
The Telegraph reports that Australia is pioneering a new “contactless passenger identification system” involving facial recognition technology and fingerprint scanners. These will theoretically take the place of passports and paper landing cards by the year 2020.

How to Save Money on Your Next Flight With an Airfare Predictor
U.S. News & World Report offers an in-depth examination of airfare prediction tools such as Kayak, Google Flights and the Hopper app. Using such tools could help you decide when to pull the trigger on booking your airfare.

16 Mesmerizing Pictures of Patagonia
Feast your eyes on these Rough Guides photos of Patagonia, complete with craggy mountains, glittering lakes and cool-blue glaciers.

First Low-Cost Asian Airline Cleared for Flights to the U.S.
Cheaper fares to Asia could be in store for Americans. CNN reports that AirAsia, a budget airline based in Malaysia, has just been approved to fly to the United States. Though the fares might be cheap, passengers would have to pay extra for meals and bags.

This Artist’s Amazing Sketchbooks Could Be the Inspiration You Need to Start a Travel Journal
Lonely Planet profiles a traveler named Dina Brodsky, who has shared the stunning sketches from her travel journal on Instagram. (If you don’t have much artistic talent, it’ll make you wish you did!)

How Airline Passenger Rights May Change in 2017
As the U.S. makes the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, Conde Nast Traveler investigates which air traveler protections will likely stay in place and which might be on the chopping block.

Meet Mr. & Mrs. Smith: The Couple Curating the World’s Best Hotel Collection You’ve Never Heard Of
Forbes profiles the founders of MrandMrsSmith.com, a website that curates and reviews the best boutique and luxury hotels around the world.

This week’s viral video, featuring northern lights footage captured by a passenger on a flight between New York and Iceland, has been viewed more than 340,000 times on YouTube.


10 Things You Don’t Know About Passports
9 Best Places to Travel in 2017

— written by Sarah Schlichter

If you wear eyeglasses, you’ll need to take them off before having a photo snapped for your passport.

woman with passport at airport


Starting in two weeks, on November 1, the U.S. State Department is banning glasses from passport photos. Apparently, rogue shadows and glares are skewing our good looks.

Glasses are the most common reason that passport application photos get rejected, according to the State Department. In fact, passport processors had to turn back more than 200,000 passport applications last year because of poor photos. Eliminating eyeglasses will add more consistency to U.S. passports and hopefully prevent a good chunk of application rejections.

Given that the passport division expects to process 20 million U.S. passports next year — a record high — anything it can do to speed up the process is good for all of us.

If you absolutely must wear your glasses to have your photo taken, you may do so, but must include a note from your doctor stating that the glasses are a “medical necessity.” Our advice? If you can do without your eyeglasses for the five seconds that you’re having your pic snapped, forgo them; you can still wear them while traveling.

If you are sporting the four-eyed look in your current passport, don’t fret. Your travel documents are still valid. Just remember to go sans glasses when you get the passport renewed.

And unlike in France, where an administrative appeals court has upheld a ban on smiling for passport photos or identity papers, you are still allowed to look happy in your U.S. passport photo. For now.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Passports
The Passport Center: How to Get or Renew a U.S. Passport

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Passports are technically property of the government, but rarely are expired ones kept by any government official. So what should you do with an expired passport?

We’ve come up with five reasons why you should stash them, and three reasons to trash them.

passport stamps


First, the reasons to keep your expired passport in a safe place:

The passport may be expired, but some of the visas aren’t. Some countries issue single-entry visas that expire as soon as you depart. Others offer multiple-entry visas that could be valid for several years, well beyond when your passport expires. So if you travel to that country, you’ll need to bring your expired passport with your valid one.

You may need a record of your travels for a visa application. When applying for visas, some applications require you to detail all of the countries you’ve visited over the past five to 10 years. Larry Irving of Washington D.C., who travels frequently on business, encountered that recently on a visa application for Russia. “I can’t remember always, but the passport stamps help,” said Irving, who has visited more than 50 countries. He stores expired passports in a safe place in his office because having a record of his travels helps him complete the applications more efficiently.

How to Get a Visa

They make memories. Television news producer Yvette Michael has spent her career on the road. She’s attempted multiple times to write a travel journal to document her adventures. “But it really became too much work,” said Michael, who lives in New York, “so the passports double up as diaries!”

They inspire children. Lisa Bolton of Frederick, Maryland, gave her old passports to her son to play with. “It gave me an opportunity to talk to my kid about the wonders of traveling and experiencing cool stuff,” she said.

The expired passport still proves your citizenship. The U.S. State Department recommends on its website that you keep your passport because “it is considered proof of your U.S. citizenship.” As this USA Today article points out, there are many scenarios in which an expired passport cannot be used as a valid ID. But if you need proof of citizenship — such as to get a replacement if you lose your current passport — even an expired passport will suffice.

And now the reasons to trash your passport — or, more specifically, to shred it or turn it into something else:

An expired passport could lead to identity theft. Expired U.S. passports are punched with holes; other countries’ government officials alter them as well to void them. However, there are some clever thieves out there, and in the wrong hands, even an expired passport could be doctored into a fake ID for someone else.

They make cool art. With all the colors and stamp shapes, passport pages can make interesting art be used in craft projects. Pinterest user Becky Kemps deconstructed her passport and framed the pages. Artist Leonard Combier uses old passport pages as the medium for his art. Etsy seller The Nic of Time turns them into coasters. You could even put your passport on your Christmas tree.

They just add to clutter. Are you someone who keeps all your old tax returns dating back decades? If you have no good reason to keep old documents, then you should get rid of them. Not that keeping your passport makes you a hoarder, but if you’re not nostalgic about the passport, why bother keeping it?

10 Things You Don’t Know About Passports

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

airplane cloudsCatch up on the latest travel views and news with our weekly roundup.

A Major Study Is Out and What It Says About Trends in Airfares Could Save You Big Bucks
Frommer’s breaks down the highlights from a new study on airfares — including the best days of the week to buy a ticket (Saturday and Sunday) and how far in advance to book depending on where you’re going. The sweet spot for tickets to Europe, for example, is 176 days out.

Enterprising New Yorker Builds Igloo During Blizzard, Lists It on Airbnb
Via Metro.co.uk comes our favorite story of the week, about a resourceful Brooklynite who tried to use Winter Storm Jonas to make a buck. He built an igloo in his yard that he then listed on Airbnb for a whopping $200 a night, describing it as a “chic dome-style bungalow for you and bae.” (As appealing as it sounds, don’t waste time trying to book it — Airbnb has since removed the listing.)

Passport Expiring Soon? Renew It Now, State Dept. Says
The U.S. State Department is urging Americans whose passports will expire in the coming year to renew as soon as possible, reports the New York Times. A perfect storm of various factors could overwhelm the State Department later this year, so you’ll want to allow plenty of time if you’re up for renewal.

WWII Concentration Camp to Be Turned into a Luxury Resort in Montenegro
Okay, who thought this was a good idea? CNN reports that the uninhabited Adriatic island of Mamula, where a 19th-century fortress served as a concentration camp during WWII, will soon be turned into a luxury resort. While the developer overseeing the project promises that the history and architecture of the island will be respected, we can’t imagine many tourists are hankering to stay in a former concentration camp on vacation.

Don’t Mind the Wet Nose: TSA Enlists More Dogs to Screen Passengers
This entertaining story from the Washington Post takes a look behind the scenes at the lives of the TSA’s canine members, who use their sensitive noses to sniff out explosive materials at airports around the country. As one of their handlers describes it, the dogs are playing “the most fun game of hide-and-seek in the world.”

“Airbnbs for Dining” Give Italian Female Chefs Chance to Shine
We’ve written before about websites that allow travelers to dine with locals in their homes (see Beyond Restaurants: Eight Ways to Savor a Local Food Scene), but the Guardian describes this phenomenon from a different perspective: that of the hosts who get a chance to share their cooking skills. This piece focuses on female chefs in Italy, where most restaurants are headed by men.

11 Best Italy Experiences

This week’s featured video will help you take packing to a new level by rolling an entire day’s outfit into a pair of socks(!).


The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time
4 Signs You Have a Packing Problem

— written by Sarah Schlichter

tax return glasses calculatorWhen you rack up parking tickets, you can have your vehicle taken away from you. Now, the same could happen to your passport if you owe the U.S. Internal Revenue Service loads of money.

Thanks to a new law that went into effect on January 1, the State Department now has the right to revoke the passports of anyone the IRS says has a serious delinquent debt $50,000 or more.

“This is going to have an extraordinary impact [in terms of getting people to pay up],” Los Angeles tax lawyer Dennis Brager told CNN. Because penalties and interest accrue quickly, it’s not uncommon to see a much smaller debt skyrocket.

How the new law will be implemented remains unclear. It’s possible that the delinquents could have their new passport or renewal applications denied, or even have their active passports revoked. In the least, the IRS will be compiling a list of the delinquencies and will likely share it with the State Department sometime this year.

And there’s an additional, unexpected hitch: This could also affect some people trying to travel within the United States, starting in April.

The federal government passed a law a decade ago requiring that tougher standards for state-issued IDs. But fewer than half the states have complied. Some asked for waivers or extensions until October, and others haven’t moved on the issue at all.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to announce any day now how it will deal with this ID conundrum. If it decides to start enforcing the new ID law sometime this year, that would mean that residents of the states in violation of the Real ID Act won’t be able to present their driver’s licenses to board a domestic flight. You’d have to show a passport.

So, if you have an excessive tax debt and you live in one of those states, your passport could be revoked, meaning you couldn’t even fly from Minneapolis to Milwaukee if you wanted to.

It’s all complicated and bureaucratic, but the lessons to be learned are simple: Make sure you have a valid passport, and pay your taxes.

11 Ways to Prevent Identify Theft While Traveling

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

us passport visa pagesYou’ve seen them in the security line in front of you: globetrotters with passports so thick that they have to use thick rubber bands to keep them closed.

Soon, this will be a thing of the past.

Frequent travelers who run out of visa pages in their U.S. passports will no longer be able to order extra pages beginning January 1, the U.S. State Department announced last week. In 2016, if you run out of pages, you will need to order a new passport.

Previously, if you filled your passport with visas and entry and exit stamps, you could order an insert of 24 additional pages. The State Department is eliminating this option “for security reasons and to conform better with international passport standards,” according to a statement.

The standard U.S. passport contains 28 pages, 17 of which are reserved for visa entry and exit stamps. In 2014, the State Department began issuing 52-page passports (with 43 visa stamp pages) for no additional fee. (Renewing a passport through the State Department is currently $110.) Choosing a 52-page passport at the time of application or renewal is now the smartest option for frequent travelers.

The State Department will still issue the 24-page inserts through the end of the year and will still honor them at airports — so now is the time to order one if you need one. The cost is $82.

Routine passport processing via mail currently takes four to five weeks, according to the State Department. Expedited processing through the State Department takes two to three weeks.

10 Things Not to Wear When Traveling Abroad

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

stamp that says visa“Um. Do Romanians need a visa to go to Canada?” I asked my husband on a Friday afternoon, a sudden pit forming in my stomach. We were scheduled to go to Montreal for the Women’s World Cup the following Thursday, and somehow I’d forgotten to check on what paperwork might be required.

I immediately turned to my phone to Google the answer. Uh-oh. Yes, Romanians (like my husband) do need a visa to enter or even pass through Canada. We had less than a week! Could we get one in time? I clicked on the visa application button and quickly scrolled through to see how hard it would be. And then I spotted an almost-side note at the very bottom of the page: Permanent residents of the United States of America with green cards do not need a visa to visit Canada. Relief washed over me.

The crazy thing was, this wasn’t the first time I’d forgotten about such a small, insignificant little detail like without a visa they won’t let you in!

On our two-week British Isles and Norwegian fjords honeymoon cruise (!) I’d forgotten to check to see if my husband would need a visa to get off in ports along the way. At the time, I’d also been blissfully ignorant of the very existence of transit visas.

In a Rush? This Passport Mistake Could Cost You

Luckily, the immigration officer at London’s Heathrow Airport didn’t give it a second thought, simply stamped in a 24-hour visa for my husband to get from the airport to the cruise ship.

It wasn’t until we were on our ship that we discovered the consequences of not having a tourist visa for Ireland and the United Kingdom. For the Irish ports of Dublin and Cork, my husband was prohibited from leaving the ship.

That was a disappointment, but even worse was the U.K., which threatened to repatriate my husband off the ship before it even left the dock in Southampton. They continued to threaten repatriation through the first few ports (non-U.K. ports, I might add.) By the time we got to Belfast, they had changed tacks, threatening a hefty fine and forcing him off at the last non-U.K. port of the cruise. In the end their threats were empty; they let us stay on the ship through the end and gave him 24 hours to get back to Heathrow. But the stress lasted for most of the cruise.

I swore I’d never make the same mistake again. Ha! Nine years later only a short blurb at the end of the Canadian visa application saved me.

So, travelers, let my story be a lesson. Always, always, always check what kind of paperwork is needed at the same time you check on flight and hotel prices. That way you’re in the know and have plenty of time to get started on whatever you may need.

Five Ways to Beat Pre-Trip Panic

— written by Dori Saltzman

person's hand holding several passportsCan you guess which country’s passport is the most powerful?

We bet you can’t!

GoEuro, a travel technology company, analyzed the passports of 50 countries and ranked them by a combination of visa-free access to other countries, length of validity and the cost of obtaining one — both in terms of price and how many hours at minimum wage a person must work to obtain the passport — to determine which passports are the best to have.

If you thought the United Kingdom or the United States topped the list, you’d be wrong. Sweden comes out on top when you factor in all the pieces.

Sweden, along with the U.K. and the United States, will get you into 174 countries without a visa, but it’ll only cost you $43 versus $110 in the U.K. and $135 in the U.S. In terms of minimum hours worked, that translates into 1 hour for a Swedish citizen, 11 hours for a Brit and 19 hours for someone in the U.S.

13 Best England Experiences

If you’re curious, a U.K. passport is the fourth most powerful passport in the world, while a U.S. passport is fifth.

Rounding out the top five passports are Finland at number two and Germany at number three. Both will get their citizens into 174 countries without a visa. Finland’s passport costs $56 and would require a minimum-wage worker to work five hours. German’s passport costs $69, which translates to seven minimum-wage hours worked.

12 Best Germany Experiences

On the other end of the spectrum, Afghani, Iraqi, Liberian, Indian and Chinese passports are some of most powerless passports out there. All get their citizens into less than 55 countries, with Afghanistan only getting citizens into 28 countries without a visa and costing $104, which requires an astonishing 183 hours of minimum-wage work to pay for it. Iraq’s passport only gets its citizens into 31 countries visa-free but is the most affordable, costing just $20 and requiring only three hours of minimum-wage work to pay for one.

Other passports popular among those asked which nationality they’d like to have (in addition to their own) were Canada, which ranked number seven on the list, and Australia, which ranked number 22. Canada’s passport gets Canadians into 173 countries and costs $133, which would require a minimum-wage worker to labor for 15 hours. Australia’s passport gets Aussies into 168 countries and costs $206, which also translates to 15 hours of minimum-wage work.

11 Best Australia Experiences

Which passport would you like to hold in addition to your own?

–By Dori Saltzman

shenandoah national park virginia autumn fallAs we enter day two of the limited U.S. government shutdown, so far travelers are mostly unaffected by the congressional deadlock. It’s business as usual at airports and border crossings, and passport applications are still being processed. However, travelers hoping to go leaf-peeping in a national park or visit the Smithsonian museums are out of luck.

All national parks, monuments, historic sites and other properties run by the National Park Service are closed (and you can’t even access their websites) during the shutdown. And this doesn’t just affect sites in the U.S. — the Normandy American Cemetery in France will also be closed for the duration of the shutdown, along with other overseas properties run by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

State parks are a good alternative to consider for those seeking hiking trails, outdoor recreation and scenic landscapes while the national parks are closed. Thrillist has put together a list of state parks near popular national properties such as Yellowstone, Zion and Acadia.

If the shutdown continues, travelers may start to see a slowdown at airports and ports as more employees may be furloughed or those who are covering for furloughed employees begin to burn out. Already, one third of the Federal Aviation Administration’s workforce has been furloughed, the (Newark) Star-Ledger reports. FAA officials said the furloughs have so far not affected daily flight operations or safety.

A spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told the Star-Ledger that staffing at airport security checkpoints will not be reduced. At cruise ports and border patrol checkpoints, U.S. Customs and Border Control will most likely be unaffected, as “they have been deemed law enforcement necessary or necessary for the safety of life and protection of property,” the CPB states on its website.

For travelers in the process of getting a passport, the longer the shutdown continues the greater the chance the passport won’t come. At the moment, passport services are functioning as normal with a processing time of up to four weeks for routine applications and two weeks for expedited service. For some people, though, actually picking up their passport could already be a problem as any passport agency located in a government building affected by the shutdown “may become unsupported,” the Department of State wrote on its website.

10 Things Not to Wear When Traveling Abroad

The Department of State will continue to provide emergency services as necessary to U.S. citizens overseas.

Has your trip been affected by the shutdown?

— written by Dori Saltzman and Sarah Schlichter