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Michal Alter has spent her career working on behalf of underserved communities. So when the Israel native and New York resident decided to launch a tourism operation two years ago, the needs of others were at the forefront of her mind.

michal alter


The organization Alter cofounded, Visit.org, allows travelers to find and book authentic and impactful excursions in the U.S. and overseas. Visit.org carefully vets the organizations it works with to ensure that the activities make a social impact and that 100 percent of the fees a traveler pays for an activity is invested in the local community.

From her office in New York, Alter talked with us about this rapidly growing platform for what she called “social impact travel experiences.”

Independent Traveler: Why did you start this company?
Michal Alter:
We launched Visit.org in 2015 in response to the travel industry’s immense potential to generate economic sustainability for local communities. The $7 trillion travel industry is the world’s top economic driver, yet only 5 percent of earnings are left in local hands. With this in mind, we created a platform that enables social ventures like nonprofits and other community-based enterprises to create and market mainstream tourism products that will finance their missions.

IT: How many different activities could a traveler book through Visit.org?
MA:
As of March 2017, we have 545 exclusive experiences in 65 countries. We aim to reach more than 1,000 do-good partners by the end of the year.

IT: Why is it important for travelers to support local communities?
MA:
When we do not support local communities, local cultures and natural resources get diluted. What makes the destination so unique and different from our own home towns then disappears. When travelers support local communities, they are leaving funds directly in the hands of the local hosts whose communities’ natural resources, labor, social fabrics and cultures are affected.

IT: What are some of the more unusual experiences someone could arrange through Visit.org?
MA:
Some of my favorite experiences are in always inspiring Paris. The most unusual offers guests the chance to upcycle trash into artwork. Visitors repurpose waste into something beautiful as well as learn about the importance of responsible waste management.

In Cuzco, Peru, you can go to a potato park with a group that works to preserve local ancestral agricultural knowledge and celebrate the country’s unique potato heritage. There are 1,500 native types of potatoes grown in Peru!

IT: Can you tell me a little about the vetting process you go through before selecting the organizations you partner with?
MA:
We focus on partnerships with locally operated grassroots organizations as they are the best equipped to serve their communities; they have vast knowledge and understanding of the issues. Our high-level vetting criteria includes confirming a measurable track record of significant impact on the local community and a commitment that 100 percent of hosts’ revenue from the experience will be invested into the local community. We then conduct extensive online research about potential organizations and use existing official databases of highly vetted nonprofits around the globe to identify new partners.

Once we’ve identified a new potential partner organization, we send someone from our global network of more than 200 “travel ambassadors” to visit the organizations in person. After the meeting, the ambassador fills out a detailed report.

IT: Your activities are not very expensive. Do people have a misperception that social impactful travel equals more expensive travel?
MA:
There is definitely that misconception. It comes from the fact that a lot of what is marketed to consumers as “social impactful travel” is either an expensive and long-term volunteer tourism commitment, or a high-end, highly curated culturally immersive itinerary. This is where Visit.org’s innovation lies, as we make impactful travel experiences both affordable and easy to book.

IT: If a traveler is told that an excursion or activity will support the local community, what can he or she do to confirm that’s indeed the case?
MA:
Travelers can check a provider’s website to see what type of company it is, review the mission statement, research what the vendor is incentivized by and see how revenue will be spent. Also, check customer reviews to see if past guests had meaningful experiences and look to see if the company has responsible travel certifications from such organizations as the Center for Responsible Travel, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and the International Ecotourism Society.

IT: What have been some of your most memorable culturally immersive experiences from your travels?
MA:
I recently visited Al Hagal, an Israeli social enterprise that leads yearlong youth empowerment programs through surfing to underserved youth from around the country. I took my first wave-surfing lesson. Surfing the waves for the first time was a lot of fun, but much more powerful was getting to know the staff and youth, taking in the contagious passion with which the staff speaks about their youth program, and listening to stories of transformation from the program’s participants.

3 Secrets for Traveling Like a Local
Voluntourism: Does It Really Help?

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Each time I visit New York, I try to embed myself in a different part of the city. Every neighborhood has a different personality, and getting to know more of them has given me a broader appreciation of the greatest city in the world.

traveler with smartphone


For my latest jaunt, I selected the Lower East Side as my base. Two days would never be enough to wander the whole neighborhood and find the best spots to feed my interests in local history and food, so I turned to a newly revamped app to guide me.

Trip.com was my best buddy that weekend, providing personalized recommendations I could have only figured out through hours of advance research — time I didn’t have. At Trip.com’s recommendation, I took a 90-minute Lower East Side walking tour via the Tenement Museum that brought my fuzzy high school memory of U.S. immigrant history back to life. I wandered through the floor-to-ceiling aisles of Economy Candy, a sweets shop in business since 1937. I gorged on fresh arepas at a tiny Venezuelan restaurant and sampled Swedish breakfast pastries for the first time. And I took in an $11, hourlong improv comedy show.

How did Trip.com know these spots were right up my alley? When you download the free app and set up your account, you select from among 20 “tribes” that describe your personality and travel style. I selected “arty,” “foodies” and “local.” Other tribes include “luxury,” “adventure,” “families” and “spiritual.”

trip.com screenshot


Recommendations pop up based on your location and the reviews of others with your same travel interests. For example, 98 percent of other app-using foodies and 87 percent of other travelers who like local spots enjoyed the Essex Street Market, so I popped in there to have lunch one day. Eight-six percent of other arty people liked a gift shop called Alphabets.

I added my own reviews and also created “postcards” (though it wasn’t exactly clear to me what the difference was between the two). With each review or postcard you add, you gain points and badges, if you’re competitive about tracking that sort of thing.

Trip.com has incorporated technologies that also make recommendations based on the local weather. If it’s raining one day, the app won’t give you outdoor suggestions. And in 15 cities, the app provides a calendar of special events. I plan to use this in my own home city too — it sounds quite useful.

Let the TripScout App Be Your City Guide
6 Flight Booking Apps That Could Save You Money

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

While renting an Airbnb property in 2015, Stefan Grant and a group of friends received a visit from a pair of police officers. The officers told him that neighbors had reported the house was being robbed, Grant said.

stefan grant noirbnb


An innocent mistake or a case of discrimination? Grant and his friends, who are black, said they were certain it was the latter. Following the attention he received after a Twitter post about the incident went viral, Grant had an in-person meeting with Airbnb executives to talk about discrimination and how the company could better serve his community.

In response to a multitude of reports of discrimination based on race, age, gender and other factors, Airbnb implemented new policies and procedures in September 2016.

But Grant was not satisfied. He and a partner thus have decided to start their own short-term rental company, Noirbnb, which aims to provide welcoming and safe spaces for black travelers and for anyone who may have faced discrimination in the past.

Grant chatted with us about the company he’s soon to launch.

Independent Traveler: Where are you in terms of the company development?
Stefan Grant:
We’re very close to our full launch. We have a few thousand properties so far, and more are signing up every day.

IT: Why is a service like this important for travelers?
SG:
I think a service like Noirbnb is important because it understands and caters to the unique experiences of black travelers and other travelers of color. It also provides a space for accepting people of all walks of life to connect with each other and build awesome new relationships.

IT: Do you think the changes Airbnb implemented last year to make its service more “colorblind” have been effective?
SG:
I don’t think they have been effective because we still see instances of rampant discrimination taking place on Airbnb all the time. I also don’t think that people should be “colorblind.” People should see people for who they are because our uniqueness is what makes the world a more beautiful place, and to blind ourselves to that is dismissive and counterproductive.

IT: Tell us a little about some of the property owners who have signed up so far.
SG:
We have a variety of different properties, from large homes and villas to apartments, condos and even a boat. Many people who’ve signed up with us tell us they love our mission and what we’re setting out to do. Our hosts come in all facets, and it means the world to us that they want to be part of what we’re building at Noirbnb.

woman on sofa


IT: What else will be different from your competitors?
SG:
We have a few differentiators that we plan on rolling out that will separate us from our competitors. But we don’t want to give away too much of our “secret sauce” before we launch.

IT: Is your aim to attract black-owned properties or black-friendly properties? Or both?
SG:
Our goal is to attract black-owned properties as well as black-friendly properties.

IT: Do you anticipate that other groups of people who face discrimination, such as gay travelers or travelers of other ethnic backgrounds, will be drawn to use your service too?
SG:
We do anticipate that people of other ethnic backgrounds or members of the LGBT community will gravitate toward us because in many ways our experiences overlap and intersect. We also created Noirbnb for them because we want our platform to really be a diverse and welcoming community where people can feel free to be themselves.

IT: Once the site is up and running, where’s the first place that you want to book?
SG:
Once the site is up and running, I think I’d like to visit Cuba, South Africa or London. Those places are so beautiful and culturally diverse. They’ve been calling me for a while.

See more travel interviews!

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Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

My latest obsession is booking hotels, rental cars and other travel arrangements through rebate apps on my iPad. These apps give you cash-back bonuses if you visit booking websites through the apps instead of going directly to the websites to make your reservations.

wanderlust travel savings jar


They also give you bonuses for buying everything from groceries to new sneakers, so you can build up your vacation fund a little faster if you use them.

Privacy experts and conspiracy theorists are probably cringing right about now, worried about all the data these apps are collecting about me and my spending habits. Am I concerned? Not in the least. Retail companies are already collecting loads of data about us. Do you think your supermarket loyalty card is only about discounts? Do you think your credit card usage isn’t being analyzed?

My feeling is that they spend a lot of money to collect data about me, so I might as well cash in on that. Plus, the cash I receive each month in my PayPal account feels like a little present.

There are two rebate apps I use for travel purchases.

Ebates is probably the most widely used rebate app and website. It also works with the greatest number of travel industry partners, including Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Booking.com, Hotels.com, Marriott, Park ‘N Fly and Virgin America. Travel product retailers also offer rebates on the site — Patagonia and Samsonite are among them — as do package tour companies, including Cheap Caribbean and OneTravel.


The site offers straightforward “percentage back” rebates of up to 12 percent back, but also has a number of other coupons and special deals. A handful of companies even periodically offer double cash back.

Using a Chrome-based web browser, I installed Ebates’ special extension in order to receive a pop-up alert anytime I navigate to a partner company site. I didn’t know, for instance, that eBags was a participant until I was price-checking new luggage and the Ebates pop-up alerted me.

Ibotta is the other app I like. An app strictly for mobile devices, Ibotta was useful last month in nabbing $11.04 back from a New York City hotel booking. I have the last-minute hotel app Hotel Tonight downloaded onto my iPad, so by clicking through to that app via the Ibotta app, I was able to receive 4 percent cash back for the amazingly priced and very clean $109-a-night hotel I secured two blocks from the Empire State Building. Bundled with my $10 bonus for downloading the free app, the rebate will cover my Netflix bill for a couple of months.

Unfortunately, Ibotta only currently works with four travel partners. But it’s useful for grocery purchases, and those rebates will steadily help cushion your travel fund. Other useful retail rebate apps to try include Checkout 51, SavingStar and Receipt Hog.

9 Creative Ways to Save for a Vacation
2 New Ways to Earn Money for Booking Travel

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Once confined to just a handful of places, street art is commonplace in pretty much every city around the world now. Some cities have become more tolerant of artful graffiti adorning their buildings; others have turned over passageways to artists or even constructed walls primed for adornment.

Here are some of the best streets to see street art.

street art rivington street london


1. Rivington Street, London: The most famous street artist in the world, Banksy, has satirical art on the walls of this street in the Shoreditch neighborhood. Other noted street artists here include Thierry Noir and David Walker. In total, there are nearly two dozen different pieces to see within a five-minute walk.

street art haji lane singapore


2. Haji Lane, Singapore: The buildings along this pedestrian-only alley in the chi-chi Kampong Glam district are painted hues straight out of a Crayola box, and some sections are adorned with murals. Haji Lane is filled with gourmet burger shops, bakeries and clothing boutiques.

street art u street washington dc


3. U Street, Washington D.C.: The large murals along a street that was once the epicenter of D.C. culture make political statements, pay homage to the city’s famous musicians and celebrate the history of Washington the city (not Washington the nation’s capital).

street art graffiti alley toronto


4. Graffiti Alley, Toronto: Also called Rush Lane, this kilometer-long alley between Spaldina Avenue and Portland Street is filled from street to sky with graffiti. The pieces are regularly painted over to allow for fresh art.

street art hangik university seoul


5. The streets surrounding Hongik University in Seoul, South Korea: Students from the arts school at Hongik University first started painting the walls, shutters and buildings around the campus. The art has become so popular that a festival happens every year to celebrate it, with freestanding blank concrete walls erected so artists can decorate them. One of the most art-filled spots is an unnamed alley just to the right of the main university building.

The 12 Best Cities for Art Lovers
The Best Cities to See Cool Public Art

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Photo of Rivington Street used and shared under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic. Original photo copyright Flickr user Roman Hobler. Photo of U Street used and shared under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic. Original photo copyright Flickr user Ted Eytan.

Coping with a mental illness like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression can sometimes be so difficult that it prevents you from traveling. At other times, the illness is managed well enough that you can travel, but the challenging feelings still tag along like an unwanted companion. A day at the beach, for instance, feels like anything but.

illustration of traveling with depression


“Traveling feels like you’re making a huge mistake,” says writer Lauren Juliff, who suffers from severe anxiety. “Everyone says to trust your intuition when you travel, but I had to learn to silence the voice in my head that was always telling me that something was going to go seriously wrong.”

Juliff, who has been traveling steadily since 2011 and writes about her experiences on her website Never Ending Footsteps, is among those featured in an online collection of illustrations that show what it’s like to travel while suffering from symptoms of a mental illness.

The images drive home how isolating it can be to travel when you aren’t feeling at your peak. If you’re traveling for pleasure, you’re supposed to be happy and having fun. If you’re traveling for work, you’re supposed to be sharp and at your best.

illustration of traveling with anxiety


English artist Loren Conner took on the project because it touched her in personal ways. She has dealt with anxiety and depression since her teens, and people close to her have also coped with a variety of mental illnesses. Her illustrations were featured in a Staysure article on traveling with mental illness.

“I am aware of the difficulties and struggles people suffering can go through in their day-to-day life,” said Conner, who lives outside of London. “I knew I had to portray and translate all these feelings as best as I could for people to connect and understand them and realize they’re not alone in their experiences.”

Having such struggles doesn’t mean you need to just stay home. You still can travel, but you need to prepare yourself for what you might encounter.

illustration of traveling with ptsd


“For me planning is key. This carries across to when I’m actually on holiday, so I can mentally prepare for any tricky situations that could arise,” says 18-year-old Ellen White, who writes about obsessive-compulsive disorder at Ellen’s OCD Blog.

The Experiences of Visually Impaired Travelers, Turned into Art

Do you have similar challenges? Share your tips in the comments below.

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Making a travel bucket list — even if it’s not realistic to visit all the places on the list — invokes a sense of hope, gives people something to look forward to and even inspires them to get into better shape, according to a new study by the largest nonprofit organization in the U.S.

senior travelers


Two out of every five Americans over the age of 50 say they have a travel bucket list, and nearly 70 percent of them expect to visit the next destination on the list, according the AARP Travel Bucket List Survey. While they hope to visit 80 percent of the places on the list, most people consider it a success to hit just 65 percent of them.

“You get a sense of accomplishment and contentment when you finally get to experience something you have wanted to do for a long time,” one survey respondent said.

Simply making a list has positive benefits: It gives people something to look forward to, inspires them to make the most the most of their lives and experience new things and convinces them, as one respondent said, that “my dreams can really happen.”

Traveling is one of the top aspirational activities of people 50 years and up. Most no longer have children at home, and they often have more money and time to travel than when they were younger. Around two-thirds say they’ll travel with a significant other or spouse; 18 percent say their next trip will be solo.

They are saving money for their bucket list trips and even getting in better shape to prepare for the rigors of travel, the survey found. More than one-third of those surveyed say they’ve already started saving money for their next bucket list trip, and half of baby boomers say they’re taking steps to improve their health so they can enjoy their travels more.

But at the same time, money can be a limiting factor. Forty-five percent of those surveyed say that money holds them back from visiting more of their bucket list destinations.

9 Creative Ways to Save for a Vacation

Boomers have an average of eight places on their bucket lists. (Compare that to less-traveled gen Xers, who average 12 places, and millennials, who average 15.)

The most common bucket list destinations are Hawaii, Alaska, California and Arizona in the United States and Australia, Italy, Ireland/U.K. and France internationally.

Which destinations are on your bucket list?

Bucket List Travel: Tips and Inspiration
8 Ways to Make Your Dream Trip a Reality

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

If T-shirts are among the souvenirs you’ve collected over your years of traveling, chances are you have a plentiful stock of vintage, too-small, faded or out-of-fashion tops cluttering your dresser drawers or storage room. But you can repurpose them into useful household items, home decor and new wearables without losing their charm.

t-shirts


1. Kids’ Clothes: An Alaskan mom named Natasha fashioned a baby onesie out of a vintage St. Thomas beach resort T-shirt and it couldn’t be cooler. Check out the tutorial on Knit Nat. You can make other children’s clothes too, including this adorable Savannah-themed sundress for a little girl from the blog Pretty Prudent.

2. Quilts: We’ve seen plenty of sports jerseys, cheerleading T-shirts and runners’ bibs fashioned into fleece-back quilts, so why not do the same with your travel T-shirts? Project Repat will snip and sew quilts using 16 to 64 T-shirts. The company takes a socially and environmentally conscious approach too, collaborating with manufacturers committed to providing jobs in the United States and using backing made from recycled fleece. If you have sewing skills, you could make your own quilt following these WikiHow instructions.

3. Tote Bags: In fewer than 15 minutes, you could turn an old T-shirt into a reusable tote bag — and you don’t even have to sew to do it. The small totes are sized right for trips to the grocery store. Here are instructions from Instructables.com for a no-sew tote. Apartment Therapy teaches you how to make T-shirt-based produce bags.

4. Pillowcases: How cute would it be to have a travel-themed sitting room decorated with your favorite photos and souvenirs on the walls and travel T-shirt pillows on the furniture? Snap Guide shows you how to make small pillows from T-shirts.

5. Artwork: With a square canvas and a staple gun, the image on an old T-shirt can become a work of art for your walls. Lifehacker provides simple instructions.

8 Things Not to Bring Home from a Trip
Shutterfly: Photo Albums in a Digital Age

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Have you ever tried to tell the story of something exciting or funny that happened on vacation, but you fell flat? Don’t feel bad, says storytelling coach Esther Choy, the founder and president of the Leadership Story Lab in Chicago. It happens to all of us.

esther choy skiing


Taking a break during a family ski vacation in Park City, Utah, Choy coached us on how to be a better storyteller when sharing our own travel tales.

Independent Traveler: In general, do you think most people are good or bad at storytelling?
Esther Choy:
Most people have wonderful stories buried in them. But there are a few things they can do to tell them better. What makes a novel a page-turner is that at every critical juncture of a plot, readers find out a bit more about the characters, and yet there is another cliffhanger. So the novel is intriguing their audiences.

You don’t need to handcuff yourself to recounting events as they unfolded per their chronological order. Telling stories involves an intriguing beginning, a riveting middle and a satisfying end. This three-act formula can generate an hour-plus-long story, or it can be a 30-second experience.

And you don’t have to be a superhero to tell great stories. Sure, if you’ve just climbed Kilimanjaro while hoisting your aging parents and barely walking toddler twins along, you’re a superhero. But a compelling tale can be as seemingly mundane as getting through a quarter of your reading list during a laid-back beach vacation. A great story relates the central theme of your story to a universality, a shared human experience.

IT: What other components make up a good travel tale?
EC:
You have to balance indulgences with an experience your listeners can relate to. Of course, if you’ve discovered the best ramen in the world, by all means, share that. But if your tale is mostly about touting one indulgence after another, then you’re creating a “Facebook updates” experience for your audience. Yawn!

A good travel tale has a well-balanced mix of new, pleasurable discovery and universal experience. Let’s say that after discovering your favorite ramen restaurant in Honolulu, you went overboard and ate ramen every day for five days. Then you had indigestion and didn’t love the ramen place as much. As you wrapped up your tale, you reflected on how even a little bit of self-restraint could have perfected the whole experience. In this story, discovering the best ramen is the indulgence. Exercising more self-discipline in order to preserve a wonderful experience is the universality.

IT: Before you start telling a story, what should you think through to make sure the story is well received?
EC:
Always keep your audience’s preference in mind. With an adventure story, some might be more intrigued by how you arrived at the best whitewater rafting part of the Grand Canyon. Some might wonder how you justified to your boss that taking a month off for this experience would make you a better employee.

No matter the preference, treat the storytelling more like a dialogue, implanting hooks for questions, rather than doling out one long monologue. In my upcoming book Let the Story Do the Work, I talk about how “aggressive listening” is a prerequisite for good storytelling. The main idea is that you want to incorporate what is important to your audience as you’re telling your stories.

IT: What should you do if you notice that your listener is losing interest?
EC:
It’s important to pay attention to signs of waning interest. They’re smiling too long. They’ve stopped mirroring your body language. They’re looking toward the door or at their phones.

Cliffhangers help. And if you’re telling a travel story in an informal setting, know that your story doesn’t have to be a monologue. Take advantage of natural back-and-forth of dialogue to break things up. Ask a rhetorical question — “Guess what happened next?” And use humor to re-engage interest.

IT: Does it help to show visuals, such as photographs or souvenirs?
EC:
Visuals can help, but be highly selective. A picture can speak a thousand words, but only if you’ve chosen a good one. For example, my husband and his friend are very advanced skiers. One day, they ventured to the peak of Red Pine Bowl in Park City. Once they summited, they saw a sign that said “You Can Die.”

As they shared their stories over dinner, all they said in the beginning was, “We HAVE to show you this sign.” And they refused to say anything else. This was highly effective because it left us wondering, what was that sign? Why wouldn’t they say anything else?

you can die sign


IT: Okay, you got us. What happened next?
EC:
On a ski lift, my husband Bernhard and his friend Nik met a local skier who recommended that they hike up to the top because the view was worth it. It was already toward the end of their day and they were tired. But then they thought, what the heck? Just as they reached the top, though, they saw the sign.

At this point during our dinner, Bernhard and Nik paused. With a smirk, Bernhard said, “This sign got me thinking…” And then his voice trailed off. Nik chimed in, “I wondered what would happen if…” His voice trailed off too.

I have witnessed Nik promised his wife not to do any double black hills with a cliff or anything “too risky” on several occasions. His wife and I looked at each other, and waited for more in full anticipation.

“So we took a left, followed the trail and went back down.” And that was that!

As you can see, in this little story no one got hurt and no one died. No one even attempted any highly risky act. The only highlight was the sign. Although the sign was a bit dramatic in its messaging, there wasn’t any other dramatic element in the whole story. But Bernhard and Nik know their wives well. They made full use of anticipation, pauses and dialoguing to tell this fun tale.

And by the way, the view was so worth it.

Check out more travel interviews!

What’s your favorite travel story?

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The 6 Qualities of Highly Effective Travelers

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

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.

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12 Ways to Cruise Through Customs and Immigration

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma