Hey guys! So it's been a while, but I assure you we are alive and well. We recently returned from a trip to Caye Caulker, Belize that was UNBELIZABLE!! Haha :) Once we both got there that is. . . Consider this your don't do what I did but if you do, here is how you fix it story:
So we had a week long trip planned to Belize to watch some of our best friends get married and to take a break from real life for a while. A bit different than our normal climb mountains, sleep in tents deal. My passport had expired back in August so I sent the documents in to renew in September. Filled out the needed paperwork, sent in my marriage license for the name change, expired passport book, etc. and received back in the mail a passport card. I was a bit confused by why I had not received a passport book but simply assumed that they were switching over to these cards as I had heard a bit about them online. Stupid assumption and right here is where I will take full responsibility for the events that followed. I should have done my research and double checked everything but I just didn't.
Fast forward to our vacation. We were set to fly out of Grand Rapids with an overnight layover in Charlotte, NC then off to Belize. Since we had such a long layover in Charlotte the airline attendant in Grand Rapids only checked us in for Charlotte and therefore did not check our passports at that time. We had a lovely evening in Charlotte exploring, eating and drinking and were excited to be back at the airport the next day to take off for Belize. I'll save us a few paragraphs of details and just say when we checked in it was made very clear to me that I would not be leaving this country on an airplane with a passport card. The card is only valid for travel by land and sea. If you really want the details of what transpired, just let me know, but basically a lot of sobbing, strangers thinking something truly awful had happened and hugging me, and whole lot of holy s*** what do I do now moments.
After A LOT of time on google and a trip to the Charlotte post office in hopes of talking to a live person, I found the only real possibility of getting a passport in time to still enjoy part of my trip was going to be by going in person to a main passport hub. There are a ton of 24 hour passport websites but most of these are third party processors and when you look at timelines and disclaimers, it is not nearly as simple as it sounds and it costs a lot of money. It was a Saturday so I also had that working against me. So if you are in a panic like I was and googling info on how to get a passport and fast here is what you need to do:
-Skip the 3rd party online "get it in 24 hour" sites. I'm sure there are plenty that are reputable, but READ THE FINE PRINT. In my panic I almost paid $400 for one before reading all the info they would need me to send them overnight then by the time they processed everything and got a passport to me, it really ended up being about 3 business days.
-Resign to the fact you aren't going to get any help on the weekend. Trust me, I tried every phone number, website, possible person/place/thing and there simply isn't much you can do on the weekend. Now I would assume in an emergency situation (lost or stolen passport) you may be able to get somewhere but I even tried the emergency passport line and was never able to connect with a person.
-Find the closest GOVERNMENT run passport agency to you. Again, there are a lot of 3rd party passport offices/websites, but I truly believe your quickest and safest route is a government run one. A list of passport agencies can be found here: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/information/where-to-apply/agencies.html
-Call 1-877-487-2778 to see when the next available appointment is at the nearest agency to you. Now the website says, and the lady at the office when we got there said, if it is an emergency travel situation you can just show up, however it seemed as though you stood a lot better chance of getting in and getting helped if you had an appointment. Since I was in Charlotte at the time I tried the Atlanta office, then various others that I knew I could easily fly to and ended up finding a Monday appointment at the Detroit office. This worked well for me since home is only 2.5 hours from Detroit and I could easily fly back out from the Detroit airport if all worked in my favor.
-If you don't have an appointment, get there EARLY. If you do have an appointment, get there EARLY. Obviously this is dependent on how tight of a time frame you are on. I was able to re-book flights that had me leaving Detroit at 5pm that Monday and arriving in Belize by 10am the next day (and by able I mean pay a whole lotta money to do so. . there may be something to that whole travel insurance thing). With a 1:30 appointment I knew I was going on a hope and a prayer but luckily, my Dad suggested we leave early and get there early just in case. When we arrived, around 11am, security was turning away anyone who did not have an appointment and who did not state a need for emergency travel. I explained we were early and they said that was fine and just asked for my appointment confirmation number. We got in and I was up talking to a worker within 15 minutes. After explaining my situation to the first worker, I was given a number then called up to talk to the second person within another 15-20 minutes, all long before my scheduled appointment time.
-BE PREPARED. Have all of the needed documents filled out (you can find those forms on the government website). Bring any and all forms of ID they might require. I went a little overboard and brought my old passport, social security card, marriage license, and birth certificate. If you are needing a passport for emergency travel have a PRINTED copy of your travel itinerary and any supporting documents to prove why you need to travel. In my case I had my original flights, my newly booked flights as well as the wedding invitation to prove why I was needing to travel there.
-Remain calm and clearly explain your situation. The representative was very willing to help and very kind but I did need to explain why I was there and in need of a passport so quick. In listening to others doing the same thing, it was clear the representatives working are much more eager to help if you stay calm, honest, and simply explain the situation.
-Have the proper payment. I can't completely remember but I'm pretty sure they took credit/debit cards but if you are paying in cash you must have the exact amount. They do not give change. For my passport and the extra fees for expediting it was a total of $170.
-I can't honestly say if the fact that I had the passport card helped to expedite my passport or not. Every situation is going to be different but they were able to approve my stuff and get me a passport by 3:30 that afternoon. Basically how it works is they take appointments until 3pm then if you are picking up a passport that day you come back between 3 and 3:30 to pick it up. They do recommend you come back before 3 and many people's passports were ready by 2:30ish, just depends on what time you were there in the morning.
We were able to pick up the passport by 3:30, and get me to the airport in plenty of time to make my 5pm flight! In talking to airline representatives, passport representatives, and facebook friends, this happens A LOT. There is a lot of confusion around these passport cards and what they are valid for. There are also seems to be confusion as to how/why people get them. In looking back through my documents, the best conclusion we were able to draw is that I never checked a box on the original form I sent in or I checked the wrong box and was sent a card, even though looking back, I paid the fee for a book. In any case, I should have double checked and if you are planning a trip out of the country, you should too. There are actually various places that require you to have a valid passport for at least 6 months before travel and some that require visas and other various things. Just make sure you reading and re-reading everything. And if you do find yourself in a similar situation, try to remain calm and look for the most logical solution.
I have to give a shout out to the Detroit passport agency and not just because I got what I wanted. I truly have never seen, nor could I ever have imagined, a government agency that was so incredibly helpful, kind and caring. Everyone was friendly and truly seemed like they wanted to help. They were prompt and knew exactly what they were doing.
And since I'm giving shout outs (is that even a thing anymore), my parents deserve a HUGE thank you for getting me to Detroit and to the airport and making sure I made it through this mess.
There's a whole lot more to this travel disaster/adventure that I'd like to share so keep an eye out for part 2 where I'll explain some in's and out's of spending the night in airports and why sitting alone in the corner of an airport crying may actually be good for your soul.