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It’s been 222 days since we were last outside the U.S.
That international foray was a brief five-hour jaunt to Mexico on a four-night Disney Cruise — but still an important benchmark. In an alternate timeline, we would have collected at least three or four more passport stamps since then with planned trips to Banff in Canada and Europe using points and miles.
Now, however, we don’t know when we’ll be able to leave the country again. Most countries won’t take us, and we’re not yet ready to travel to those that will, as we’re keeping our travel closer to home for now.
Still, time continues on, and my 5-year-old daughter’s first passport has expired since that cruise. My passport will be valid for less than a year.
So, even though we have no international travel plans, we decided to renew our passports in the midst of a pandemic for two reasons: one practical, the other rooted in hope.
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There’s a backlog of passport applications
Close to 1 million U.S. passport applications and renewals are currently waiting to be processed. Last week, there were 151,000 applications submitted and 235,000 successfully processed. That means the U.S. Department of State is starting to get ahead of the backlog, though it’s still going to take longer than usual to get a passport right now. Expedited service is not available at all, so all you can do is apply and wait for your turn.
But that’s still progress, as there was a period of time when passports were only being processed for life and death emergencies.
When international travel is more readily available, it’s likely there will be a huge surge of travelers realizing they need to update passports that may have expired during the pandemic.
I’d rather get our paperwork in now, in case things get worse later — either because of the aforementioned surge or, also possible, because we return to a more locked-down state of operations where routine renewals aren’t processed at all.
After all, not every acceptance facility is operational. There are a few situations (such as your first passport or for a child’s passport) when you have to apply in person, so you need both federal processing to be operational, as well as your local post office, courthouse or other facility to be open so you can apply in person. (Be sure to make an appointment online in advance.)
As you look at your own passport expiration dates, remember that child passports expire after just five years — and most passports aren’t all that useful in the last six months of validity.
New passports give us something to look forward to
I expect it will take at least two or three months to receive our new passports, but that’s fine. I’m not rushing to take an international trip. (Heck, I’m still waiting for our Global Entry application renewals to process from October 2019.)
Instead, we chose this to be the week that we put on our masks and walked into the post office to renew our passports, mostly in the name of hope. Hope that there will be future travel opportunities. Hope that our U.S. passports will one day be widely accepted again. Hope that we’ll beat this virus.
For my own mental health, I need to believe that there will be a tomorrow that’s better than today. And for me, a part of believing that ‘normal’ will return means actively preparing for its arrival by renewing our passports, continuing to collect points and miles and dreaming and researching about where to go next.
Related: 6 trips to plan a year in advance
I don’t count countries and I couldn’t tell you how many passport stamps my children and I have, but I do treasure all of our travel experiences. And while there’s more than enough to see and do across the U.S. to keep us busy for quite a while, we are renewing our passports now in the hope that, some day soon, we’ll be able to enjoy new adventures abroad.
I don’t know when we’ll cross the border next, but I know we’ll be ready when that day comes. And, while I like to think we didn’t take international travel for granted before, we’ll be better equipped than ever to appreciate our trips when the boarding call finally comes.
Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy
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