G is for Gas (Or..Petrol)

Hopping back on the A to Z bandwagon, even though I am several, okay more than several, letters behind. But, here we go!

G is for gas. Petrol for those of you who don’t live in the US. It may seem like an odd choice for G but for those of us who travel outside the US and rent cars in other countries it is, in fact, quite important.

See, one time I went on a trip with my parents. To Slovenia, Ljubljana to be exact. It was an amazing trip, I wasn’t gone for long, so it was a of travel for just a few days, but well worth it. I would say the entire country is still relatively untapped, although I hear more about it than ever before, so if you want to visit a country that is still charming to the core then I say get yourself there pronto.

After a few days there we were driving on to Venice for a night, on my birthday, and we happily hopped in a rental car and headed out. My dad, a very well versed traveler who should have known better, filled up the car with gas and off we went.

And here is my tip of the day – always, always check to see what you should be putting into your vehicle. Because when it is diesel and you put unleaded gasoline in nothing good comes from it. In fact the car stops pretty quickly. Which ours did.

We spent my birthday in a small town while we had the gasoline siphoned out of our car, eating lunch in a restaurant where the walls were covered in posters of naked women, and while we could have been frustrated it was one of those experiences where you look around you, in a small town in Slovenia, and count your blessings to even be able to travel. And so, on my birthday we did that.

We made it to Venice, and the rest of our trip was great, but nothing can top the story that is now part of our family legacy…and what we always think to check when we get a rental car before we put gas in it!

Check back tomorrow to see what else we will have on our A to Z Challenge!

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F is for Finn

I started this blog as a way to document the fun, and challenges, of traveling with our kids, while hopefully helping others with tips we have learned along the way. I will never be one of the big family travel bloggers (although I will keep trying!) and I realize my site has a lot of work that could be done to it, but at the end of the day I am really happy to be doing it for two reasons – F and L. Finn, and Lila, to be exact.

I have only referred to them by F and L on here for the past year, and will probably continue to do so for brevity sake, but today, with my attempt to catch up with the A to Z challenge, it is all about F, so all about Finn.

Finn was born to be a traveler. He has wanderlust in his blood and adventure in his spirit. There is never a time when he isn’t up for a road trip or a plane ride, when he doesn’t get just as excited as we do to plan our next holiday. He took his first plane ride at 8 weeks, and his first international trip at 12 weeks, to Portugal and Spain. He screamed endlessly in a square in Porto and slept peacefully on me throughout Galicia.

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His first transatlantic flight was at 4 months, in business class, where he wooed the flight crew and won over our fellow passengers, who cringed when they saw us board.

He has been to 8 countries and 20 states, with more on the horizon. He may not have traveled all of the world yet, but for a just turned 6 year old I would say he has done pretty good. He yearns to learn about other cultures, about other countries.

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Finn motivates us to continue what we are doing, to show our kids there is so much more to the world than the bubble we live in. I can’t wait to see where the years ahead of us take him, and I hope we are always along for the ride!

Check back tomorrow to see what else we will have on our A to Z Challenge!

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D&E: Dreams and Eventualities

Despite the traveling we are so fortunate to be able to do, and the traveling I have been blessed to have grown up doing, there are still so many parts of the World we have left to conquer, cities to see, cultures to explore, memories to create.

With limited vacation time, a budget that is anything but never ending, a yearly trip to the UK to see family and a huge amount of places we want to see we have to be realistic about where we want to go and where we will likely go in the future.

So, for now, this list falls into two categories, dreams and eventualities.

Dreams

The places I am dying to see the most are:

Petra, Jordan

Photo courtesy of wikimedia

Photo courtesy of wikimedia

Giraffe Manor, Kenya (although to be honest I want to do an African safari full stop)

Photo courtesy google plus

Photo courtesy google plus

South Island, New Zealand - I loved the North Island so I know I would love this as well!

Photo courtesy of genkin.com

Photo courtesy of genkin.com

Antartica – this would be my seventh and final continent!

Photo courtesy of wikipedia

Photo courtesy of wikipedia

This list is anything but complete, but if I had to list my top four choices it would be those listed above. But there are so many others we want to see, and fortunately we have some of them in the pipeline, which leads me to…

Eventualities

Japan – I first visited Japan when I was 8 years old. I remember the busy city, the people everywhere, the amazing country, and we plan on returning in 2015 to introduce our kids to the same experiences.

Croatia – After reading all of the posts from our good friend about their adventures there a year ago this is even higher on our list of eventualities. We tried hard to make it work during our upcoming trip to Europe but it isn’t happening this year – but maybe next!

The Northern Lights – There are no two ways about it, this is my husband’s dream and we will make it happen, sooner than later.

Porto – Another one of my husband’s dreams. We first visited Porto when our son, F, was 10 weeks old. We would love to return without a newborn!

Our lists will change, our dreams will expand, or narrow, our eventualities will happen or they will fade. But as long as we keep trying, keep traveling, keep showing our kids the world, and letting them create their own dreams and eventualities list, we have done our job.

What are some of your dreams and eventualities?

Check back to see what else we will have on our A to Z Challenge!

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C is for Coloring Books For Travel

You may be wondering how coloring books relate to travel, but in our world they totally relate. They may be, in my opinion, the most versatile supply you can bring for your children when you travel. They provide hours of entertainment, they are an alternative to electronics, they are a quiet activity for kids to do at a restaurant, they fit easily into most bags.

And, we’ve discovered, they are a great way to teach your kids about travel before you actually go, if you get coloring books that are geared to whatever destination you are heading to.

There are printable coloring sheets, like these:

US Coloring Pages

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Travel Games Coloring Pages:478

Traveling Kid:

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Or full size coloring books, like these:

Rosie Flo’s Travel Coloring Book

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Color This Book: New York City

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You can use them to get your kids ready for a plane ride:

My Plane Trip:

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The Airport Airplane Coloring Book:

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And, in preparation for our upcoming trip, we are thinking about getting these:

 

 

London Colouring Book:

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I Love Ireland:

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Newcastle Colouring Book:

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York Colouring Book:

51KTzggss3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_(Check out all the All About My Town Colouring Books from the UK here!)

Our favorite crayons are the Triangular crayons, ones that don’t roll off tray tables or restaurant tables!

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Don’t get me wrong, we love our ipads, and they are definitely a lifesaver, especially on long flights. But you can’t go wrong throwing in some crayons and a coloring book and giving your kids an easy, quiet travel toy!

Check back to see what else we will have on our A to Z Challenge!

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B: Baltic off the Beaten Path

When we first got married we had racked up an impressive number of countries that we had visited, both together and separately, and knew that we wouldn’t let marriage, or children, slow that down.

Well, the children slowed it down a little, but not as much as we could have allowed it to. But having a family and wanting to show them the world meant reevaluating destinations we had already visited and deciding whether they were worthy of a revisit, only this time with little ones in tow.

A few trips kept popping to the top of the list, but one in particular always came to mind – our trip to the Baltic. Specifically Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This trip was intended as a follow up ‘honeymoon’ as our first honeymoon, to Morocco, was shorter than we would have liked, out of necessity of needing to get back to silly things like jobs and grad school. As we were planning it I realized I knew very little of the cities we were heading to, and knew even less what to expect once we got there.

12 days later we headed home to London, satiated with a love of all things Baltic, from the history to the people to the culture. And while we thoroughly enjoyed the capital cities of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, it was some of the sites we saw off the beaten path that left the greatest impression.

The first, which I have blogged about before, was the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania, about 3 hours from Vilnius. The sheer amount of crosses was mind blowing, and the history behind it even more so. There is a distinct air of peace to the area, and even to the most non-religious there is an ethereal feeling when standing there.

Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

Hill of Crosses, LithuaniaHill of Crosses, LithuaniaHill of Crosses, Lithuania

In Estonia we made a stop in Parnu, a cute beach town less than 2 hours from the cruise port of Tallinn. This popular beach destination for locals is less touristy than the capital, but has the same distinct feel to it, and is a great way to see more of Estonia.

As we drove through Latvia we drove through smaller towns, soaking in the culture of a country that remains, relatively speaking compared to much of Europe, fairly untouched. It reminded us that some of the best trips we take are the ones where we veer off the touristy roads and onto ones that may not hold well known landmarks but can still create incredible memories.

This doesn’t mean we would go back and skip Tallinn, Riga or Vilnius, they are cities definitely worth a second exploration, to discover the very things that made us fall in love with them the first time.

Cathedral in Vilnius

Cathedral in VilniusTallinn's Main SquareTallinn’s Main SquareTown Hall area of RigaTown Hall area of Riga

Where have you been that you would love to show to your children?

Check back to see what else we will have on our A to Z Challenge!

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April A to Z: A is for Atlanta With Kids

(I am late to the party with the April challenge of posting every day (except Sunday) on A to Z, so I will be catching up over the next few days. Thanks to Ann at Travel Turtle for posting about this, so fun!)

For A it seemed like a no brainer to blog about the very city we live in, the city we call home, the place that we happily return to after our days away, despite our reluctance to end our vacations and get back to the real world.

How fortunate we are that we can do just that in a city that we happen to think is full of so much to offer for not only families but tourists of all descriptions!

So, in no particular order, find out what we love about Atlanta, and what we recommend all visitors – and residents – check out!

Showing our fair city lots of love!

Showing our fair city lots of love!

The usuals:

Georgia Aquarium,  Zoo AtlantaWorld of Coca-ColaCNN Center, High Museum of Art, The Ted (for a Braves game), The Dome (for a Falcons game), Stone MountainFernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Piedmont Park, Legoland Discovery Center, Children’s Museum of Atlanta

Slightly off the beaten path (and some a little outside the city center):

Fernbank Science Center, Skyview AtlantaSoutheastern Railway Museum, Center for Puppetry Arts, Bremen Museum, Oakland Cemetery, Carter Center, Etowah Indian Mounds, Tellus Science Museum, Dunwoody Nature Center, Chattahoochee Nature Center, Babyland General Hospital, The Southern Museum and INK Children’s Museum.

We have crazy holiday traditions like riding the pink pig, or making an appointment for Santa in July. We have festivals for every season and food trucks on every corner.

Riding the Pink Pig, an Atlanta tradition

Riding the Pink Pig, an Atlanta tradition

Atlanta has so many areas to go hiking, it has restaurants that are great for families (and lots that are great for eating without kids too), shopping  areas that extend beyond the  mall.

Want to see a game but avoid the crowds? Check out the Gwinnett Braves, the Rome Braves or the Silverbacks.

We may like our tea sweet and our pace of life slow but one thing that can’t be said about the ATL is that there isn’t anything to do here, especially for families!

Check back to see what else we will have on our A to Z Challenge!

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San Diego Zoo Safari Park and La Jolla

On our second day of our short San Diego adventure we woke to gray skies and a chill in the air, very unlikely Southern California weather. Knowing our time was limited, and what a great opportunity the weather the day before awarded us with an almost empty SeaWorld we packed up and drove out to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, about a 45 minute drive from SeaWorld.

We had purchased our tickets with the 3 for 1 ticket package but be aware that this allows you entrance to the safari, but does not include parking or most of the actual safaris once in the park. You are free to walk around but if you want to do one of their additional, in depth safari tours you will pay extra.

Walking to our cart safari at the SD Zoo Safari Park

Walking to our cart safari at the SD Zoo Safari Park

We picked the Asian Savanna Cart safari, and had the cart to ourselves (there were 6 of us), but there could have a few other people on our safari. Our driver was very informative, and even let both our kids feed an animal through a fence. We saw much of the African cart safari while on our drive, and he gave us info about those animals as well, so it seemed as if we got two for the price of one.

L and her papi on the Asian Savanna cart safari

L and her Papi on the Asian Savanna cart safariFeeding one of the wild cows at the SD Zoo Safari ParkFeeding one of the wild cows at the SD Zoo Safari Park

After an expensive, and not particularly enjoyable lunch at the park we finished touring the park with their bird area and a carousel ride, both big hits with our kids.

Feeding birds at the SD Zoo Safari Park

Feeding birds at the SD Zoo Safari ParkCarousel at the SD Zoo Safari ParkCarousel at the SD Zoo Safari ParkThe moments that make all our traveling worth it wrapped up in one picture.The moments that make all our traveling worth it wrapped up in one picture.

The skies were clearing and we drove on out to La Jolla, to meet up with some friends from LA who drove down to meet us. This is such an amazing little town (and by amazing I mean expensive and super cute) and since we had no idea where to go I checked out La Jolla Mom and we met up at Pannikin Coffee and Tea, where we sat outside and basked in the newly present sun, while deciding where to go next. Every sign pointed to the Children’s Pool, not for swimming but for seal watching, and amazing seal watching it was. As we walked up the entire beach was filled with seals who were also enjoying the sun, and while the crowds were big we had no issue being able to watch them for a while.

Seals sunbathing at the Children's Pool in La Jolla

Seals sunbathing at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla

We headed to the other side of the beach and let the kids play around on the sand, with seals as background imagery. This may be an every day thing for some but for us land locked Southerners it was a pretty cool way to spend the rest of the afternoon.

F and a seal, in a stare down!

F and a seal, in a stare down!

As the sun set we were reminded, as we often are, of how very lucky are to not only experience these amazing places, but to share them with our children. We have been back a few weeks but we talk about things that happened on this trip at least once a day. We enjoy every where we visit but this trip definitely had some sort of magical feel to it.

Playing on the beach

Playing on the beachLa Jolla as the sun is slowly settingLa Jolla as the sun is slowly setting

Next up? The San Diego Zoo! Stay tuned!

 

Sunny, Er, Not So Sunny San Diego With Families*

*Part One

A few months back we planned a trip to San Diego, a destination our then 5 year old son, F, had been dying to go to so he could see the world renowned zoo and their white tigers. We planned it during his spring break, and booked it all.

And then discovered that I had the week wrong – and whoops, we found out when we got there that the zoo didn’t actually have white tigers and San Diego, which is known for year round amazing weather was forecasted to have storms that they hadn’t had in months. I am not sure what went wrong with our planning there but alas, it happens, and we rolled with it. Turns out that sometimes even under the least ideal circumstances good can come out of it if you just push through!

On our first day we headed out to Balboa Park, with sunny skies and threats of rain later in the day. Balboa Park is home to many museums, including the SD Art Institute, SD History Museum, and the SD Museum of Man. There is a carousel, a miniature railroad, a children’s garden and of course the Zoo.

Standing in Balboa Park

Standing in Balboa Park

Standing in Balboa Park

Standing in Balboa Park

We wanted to save the Zoo for a full day and with the skies looking as if they may erupt we headed to SeaWorld, which is about a 20 minute drive from the Zoo. You can pay for up-close parking ($20) or regular parking ($15). If you are there early or on a day with potential bad weather? Don’t pay the extra money. We paid for regular parking and we were just as close as the up-front parking.

*If you are planning on attending more than one attraction I highly recommend their 3 for 1 (or 2 for 1) ticket packages. We did the 3 for 1 and had tickets for unlimited visits to the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld and the SD Zoo Safari Park.*

SeaWorld, with cloudy skies, was empty. We had the park to roam around in, ride rides without any wait, front row views of all the animals, and lots of space for our kids to, well, be kids. While we did not see a Shamu show we did see every other exhibit there in the 5 or so hours we were there – and it never once rained!

Introducing Shamu the stuffed animal to Shamu the real thing

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Introducing Shamu the stuffed animal to Shamu the real thing

Introducing Shamu the stuffed animal to Shamu the real thing

With kids fighting jet lag and tired feet we headed back to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay, which was in an ideal location next to SeaWorld and close to the airport, and grabbed some dinner, where L, 2.5, showed that even for the most hearty child travelers jet lag is no fun!

How quickly the jet lagged fall (even with a chip in hand)

How quickly the jet lagged fall (even with a chip in hand)

Next up – The San Diego Zoo Safari Park and La Jolla!

Nashville With Kids

I have been to Nashville three times – once in high school to look at Vanderbilt, once with my good friends for a girls weekend, and this past weekend with my family for a quick getaway from our hometown, which was frozen into a standstill for several days prior.

When people think of Nashville they think of the things that may not make Nashville the most family friendly location – bars, music, beer, did I mention bars? But the truth is, like any city we have been to (even Las Vegas!) there are things for families that make this a weekend destination worth considering.

While we normally tend to go for the vrbo type properties on the last two trips we have taken we have decided to stay in a hotel, given the short timeframe of our visits. Our go to hotel is always Embassy Suites, for several reasons but the main one being that you can separate the bedroom from the sitting room, and we don’t have to go to bed as soon as the sun sets! Breakfast is included, and drinks and snacks are provided in the lobby for a few hours at night (don’t go if you are a good beer fan, but hey after a day with kids a free drink is a free drink!).

The Embassy Suites in Nashville is located right next to Vanderbilt’s campus, which gives the area a breath of youth, albeit older than our kids. The area is definitely hopping and being in an area where you can walk is great to help get the energy out of two young ones who were cooped up in the car on the drive down.

So what is there to do with kids in Nashville? Well, lots! They have the usual family fare – the Nashville Zoo, Adventure Science Center, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, but there are also some distinctly Nashville-esque things that are fun for kids of all ages, including the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Musical Petting Zoo and The Grand Ole Opry.

After a drive that took 3 hours more than it should have we were ready to run, and being close to dinnertime we headed to Centennial Park, home of the Parthenon, and across the street from where we stayed. Yep, a Parthenon. It is also Nashville’s art museum, but we didn’t get to go in and visit while we were there. It does however provide an awesome backdrop for photos and great space for little legs to run off their pent up energy! Nearby are ponds with ducks, so bring some bread to feed them as well.

Heading to the Nashville Parthenon

Heading to the Nashville ParthenonPerfect spot for photo ops!Perfect spot for photo ops!Playing in Centennial ParkPlaying in Centennial Park

The area around Vanderbilt is full of restaurants that seem welcoming to families, from nicer choices to quick stops. We checked out the Mexican food at San Antonio Taco Company, which is an order at the counter and get served quickly type of place, perfect for us after a long day. With plenty of high chairs and kid friendly choices this is a place we would recommend – plus it is next to Ben and Jerry’s, which made the end of the meal more pleasant for both F and L!

The next morning we headed down Broadway to see what we could visit, and I imagine the way we saw it was drastically different than how it was several hours earlier! Finn checked out the back of some bars and declared the alley to be smelly, and we concurred.

Standing outside the back entrance to the famous Tootsie's bar on Broadway.

Standing outside the back entrance to the famous Tootsie’s bar on Broadway.

Our next stop was the Ryman Auditorium, the original home to the Grand Ole Opry. You can do a self guided tour, a backstage tour (you need to book in advance) and you can even record your own song in this famous music hall. We briefly contemplated letting Finn record one of his “originals”, but didn’t think the $30 was worth the price of a recording about poop and lady butts. He is so 5.

Entrance fees: kids under 3 are free, 4-11 are $15 and adults $20.

Meeting Minnie Pearl, armed with their own cameras for picture taking.

Meeting Minnie Pearl, armed with their own cameras for picture taking.

We watched a brief video, and had a photo opp on the famous stage, and wandered around the rest of the theater, reading some of the history and taking it all in. We are not country music fans but there is something to be said to be in a place that has hosted so many of musics very best over the years.

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Heading on down Broadway you have all your senses opened to just how musical and how country this city truly is. There are venues all around you with live music (some which welcome kids), boot stores, bbq places and more.

Look at this big cowboy boot!

Look at this big cowboy boot!

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At the end of Broadway is the Cumberland river, and the Nashville riverfront, which is host to many events throughout the year. It is also home to Fort Nashborough, which was closed for renovations but is a reconstructed fort that kids can wander around and explore. You can also walk across the Shelby Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.

Shelby Street Bridge in the background

Shelby Street Bridge in the background

We really wanted to eat at Puckett’s Grocery, a Nashville institution that is great for families, but the wait was too long for my hungry kids. Back by our hotel we walked to Noshville, a NY style deli that is also popular for families and can have a long wait as well, but well worth the wait. Their kids menu is expansive, and they were ready with crayons for our ready to go crazy children.

We debated what to do the rest of the day but with awesome weather and a long nap from L we decided to skip the science museum and do what we alway love to do when we travel – find a local playground. We ended up at Fannie Mae Dees park, or the dragon park, near Vanderbilt in Hillsboro/West End. A playground for the hipsters of this city and their children it did not disappoint, with huge climbing structures, slides and swings. F & L were in heaven!

Riding the dragon at the Dragon Park

Riding the dragon at the Dragon Park

 

Swinging at the Dragon Park

Swinging at the Dragon Park

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At the request of F we sought out a pizza place and found Bella Napoli, a hidden gem in Edgehill Village. It filled our tummies and, as our son declared, had the ‘best cheese on pizza he had ever tasted’. Whatever it was it hit the spot and was a great place to end our evening.

We left early the next morning to head home, but left without visiting a few areas that we would like to return to see – Downtown Franklin for sure, and some other outlying areas.

Have you been to Nashville? What would you recommend?

Finally, when in the Music City, well, act like it!

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For more family friendly info on Nashville check out this list on Visit Music City!

Passport Applications – The Basics For Kids

While we are busy firming up our travel plans for 2014 (Nashville, San Diego, Ireland, UK, Jackson Hole, we are coming for you!) I have heard from many of my friends who are also firming up theirs, including some international travel for the first time, which means needing to apply for passports for the kids in the family. And that, to most people, seems daunting, because it is definitely not quite as easy as a passport application for an adult.

But, it is totally doable! And we are going to break it down to take the confusion out of the whole process – please note this is for the passport book only. If you are interested in the passport card click here.

The first step is printing all the appropriate forms needed for the application. Visit this site to either print out the forms to fill out by hand or fill out electronically and print. The form is the DS-11, and can be found here.

Both parents must be present at the passport appointment (which can be done at passport agency or authorized passport application acceptance facility), as well as the applicant. If one parent can not be there, then the DS-3053 must also be turned in. This is a notarized form from the parent who can not attend. It can be found here, and must be presented with the DS-11.

If you can not obtain the written consent of the non-applying parent then you must complete item 4a-5 on the form DS-5525, which can be found here. It also must be presented with the DS-11.

Now, you have these forms, and you have to gather up additional info. You will need:

- Evidence of US citizenship (birth certificate, or if your child was born abroad you will need their Consular Notification Of Birth Abroad; their certificate of naturalization; certificate of citizenship; previous US passport)

- Photo identification; make a photo copy of both sides of both parents photo identifications (ie drivers license, and you will need a second id if the license is from a different state than the one you are applying in); or current US passport

- Parental consent (this is the DS-3053 or DS-5525 if both parents are not present, or see here if the applicant has only one parent/guardian)

- Passport photo, must be in color, 2″ x 2″, only one

- DS-11 form

- Passport Fees; The current fee for just the passport book is $105. If you want the passport card and book (the card can not be used for travel by air, and only for entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry) it is $120. To expedite the passport it is an additional $60. Bring cash or money order, they will not accept credit cards.

Right now current regular processing times are 4-6 weeks, and expedited 2-3 weeks. Click here to see updated processing times.

Now, here is where people get tripped up. You must apply in person, even for a minor applicant’s passport renewal (until the age of 16). US passport agencies generally only allow for applicants who are traveling in the next two weeks, and have proof of travel – these are only the agencies listed here. Where we live you can apply through a post office, or through your county court. You have to have an appointment for the post office, and they are not easy to get. You do not need one for the court. This varies by city, county and state, so click HERE to find the closest facility to you. Note that getting an appointment may take a few weeks, so plan for that in terms of the time allowed for the whole process.

As I mentioned above when you renew your child’s passport, which is done every 5 years as opposed to 10 for adults, it must be done in person, and you must have all the same documentation, including a birth certificate, even if you have their prior US passport. This was a bone of contention with us when we renewed our son’s passport because, well, it is illogical. But then again that is really not a surprise :) And really it is worth clicking on that link because our renewal story is amusing, even to us.

So, get those applications going. And get traveling! It is so worth it! And who doesn’t love these baby passports?

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