getting fly

Sometimes, no matter how badly you wish you were doing it right now, you just don’t have the conditions necessary to take flight. The work hours are long, the money just isn’t right, you have to take care of your ailing grandfather – there’s always something, and there will always be something. Though I’ve thrown caution to the wind countless times (and sometimes paid the price on the back-end), it’s not always possible to just pick up and go.

That’s why you need a virtual escape hatch. Your escape hatch can be anything – a postcard of Rio, a movie set in India, an oil or lotion whose fragrance reminds you of the Orient. My hatch is built from a combination of specific things: the song “Adore” from I:Cube or anything by Audio Lotion, a vintage travel poster, the picture of an airplane wing mid-flight. These are things that rescue me from the mundane and transport me into travel itself, since for me, the sensation of being propelled through time and space to another reality is the most exhilarating part of travel. It’s in the getting there that excitement and expectation peak.

So when workaday blues start to get you, access your escape hatch and get away, if only for an instant.


What’s your virtual escape hatch?
You can follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and don’t forget to “like” me on Facebook!

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Last week, fellow fly brother Greg Gross of I’m Black and I Travel posted about African-Americans, Africa, and why we should be traveling more frequently to the Motherland (read his entire posts here and here). Acknowledging cost, distance, and lack of familiarity with the continent as historical barriers that can and should be overcome, the issue of time remains a persistent hindrance to American travelers of all races, simply because our workaholic culture allows for a mere two weeks of vacation each year (and how many people even actually get to spend those entire two weeks on vacation?). Brother Gross says that a minimum of ten days in Africa is required, but I’m willing to argue that there are at least two or three city breaks you can do from the East Coast of North America to the West Coast of Africa over three or four days, if you’re serious about setting foot on African soil without having to use up any sick days. The flights are shorter than nonstops to Rome, and these may not be the cheapest of weekend jaunts, but consider this: that bargain airfare you get to Europe is often off-set by lodging, food, transport, etc.; you may pay more up-front to get to Africa, but on the ground, it’s a different story. If you’re truly serious about heading “to the East,” you can make it happen.

Dakar, Senegal

Image by Catherine Hine

Cosmopolitan and exhilarating, Dakar packs an unbeatable music scene, jammin’ nightlife, busy beaches, and exuberant street-life onto a pointy peninsula jutting into the Atlantic. This geographic situation made the city an important – if nightmarish – port-of-call during the slave trade; if nearby Goree Island and its Door of No Return doesn’t leave a lump in your throat, you’re a heartless douchebag.

South African Airways links DC and Dakar daily as a stopover en route to Johannesburg, and Delta hits town thrice-weekly from New York-JFK.

Accra, Ghana
Pronounced uh-KRAH – not AK-rah – this bustling English-speaking burg serves up surf and sound, with year-round beach weather (of which Europeans have been taking advantage for a while, now), laid-back riddims, and an intense bargaining culture for those sale-hounds up for a little friendly back-and-forth over that perfect, handcrafted souvenir for Grandma-nem.

United runs five times a week from DC to Accra, while Delta does a daily NYC and thrice-weekly Atlanta nonstops.

Casablanca, Morocco

Image by Jean-Claude Morand

Yes, despite arguments to the contrary, Morocco counts as Africa. The city captured on celluloid as the Bogie-Bergman jump-off may not be sub-Saharan, but Africa – the second-largest continent on the planet – is not ethnically (or even racially) monolithic and Casablanca is a hot-and-spicy concoction of centuries-old Arab, Berber, and black African cultural interaction.

Delta codeshares with Royal Air Maroc on the 7-hour NYC-Casablanca hop.

No excuses.

Please tweet your comments @FlyBrother, or email me (see About page). And don’t forget to “like” me on Facebook!

If you’ve already been on the traveling circuit for a while, you know what CouchSurfing is, but there is still a surprising number of people who don’t! Essentially, CouchSurfing is an online network of amicable hosts and humble travelers who cross paths at opportune moments – the host in a given location offering lodging in exchange for cultural interaction with a traveler passing through the area; no money involved. While yes, some untoward shenanigans may occur amongst the youngins, CouchSurfing is not a hook-up site. And no one is obligated to allow strangers into their homes; you can offer to meet some for coffee if you like your cultural exchanges in public. Participants are vouched-for by other members and all correspondence is recorded within the system for safety purposes.

In fact, CouchSurfing proved to be so handy-dandy that I stayed with innumerable people over the course of my round-the-world trip in 2009, collecting friends on each of the four continents I visited and reducing the cost of the entire endeavor by a tremendous amount. AND I met my entire social circle in Brasilia through CS. But even if you’re not gearing up for a world tour, you can start building lasting friendships that are sure to inspire your next jaunt.

First, join! Set up and complete a profile. Include recent and clear pictures. Join groups in your geographic area and area of interest.

Go to CS Meet-ups! Be sociable and get to know people in your own area through CS Meet-ups: barbecues, bowling nights, language exchanges, whatever. You don’t have the crash at the their place (though that’s always an option, even if you live in the same city) to interact with them. After a few meetings, you’ll get to know the community and they’ll get to know you, which leads to positive testimonials and increased hostability if you plan to use CS on the road in the future.

Reach out! Pick a city you’re interested in and send out a couple of emails, respectfully, to CS members living in those places, introducing yourself and letting them know that you’ve had in interest in their particular place and culture, etc. Again, the idea isn’t to snag a date, but to snag meaningful interaction with someone from another culture. Trust me, people are more open that you might think. And lots of people want to practice their English.

Soon, you’ll be off to visit!

Please tweet your comments @FlyBrother, or email me (see About page). And don’t forget to “like” me on Facebook!

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A true Fly Brother or Sister is restless. He or she cannot stay put in one place for very long, lest neurosis set in. But many aspirants are not yet in the habit of stepping out the front door for anything other than work, personal errands, or picking up the Sunday paper.

With Netflix, broadband, and on-demand cable, there’s no reason to leave home. For many people, being home is comfortable, as it should be. But for many of those same people, the idea of travel, of experiencing something different, is an actual desire that they may not yet know how to turn into a reality. And it’s much easier (and cheaper) to catch an episode of Wild On: Panama than to actually get crunk in Panama (Panamá, that is, not Florida).

Well, I’m here to change all that. You’ve already ordered your passport, but while you’re waiting the six weeks for it to arrive, you can get your minds right and get out of the house!

Honestly, it’s as simple as gassing up the car, breaking out the Rand McNally, and hitting the road.

(This may be a little difficult for car-less folk, but we’ll make the assumption that most of that group lives in the Northeast and has rail and bus access to other cities.)

Day trips are a great way to ease yourself into more extensive travel. There’s much of America to be explored within a couple-hours’ drive of wherever you are. And if the mood strikes and the finances are right, weekend road-trips can always be arranged. Though the more the merrier, even solo soldiers can discover their surroundings and catch the adventure bug.

For day trips, fuel is usually the primary cost factor (“costly” being an understatement these days). But to compensate, stop by a grocery store and stock up on fruit and snacks, or maybe pack a cooler with some lunchmeat and a loaf of bread. It sounds collegiate, but college is where you should have learned how to live lean but still live. You can be grand and get the deli-sliced imported turkey from France to go with your Grey Poupon, but it’s still more fun and less time consuming than wasting hours waiting for food in a restaurant when you should be enjoying the journey (unless, of course, that particular restaurant is a focus of the trip…some folks drive hours just for some Jenkins’ Barbecue in Jacksonville, Florida).

Don’t know where to go? Most large cities in coastal states, even if they aren’t located on beaches themselves, are within a two hour drive of a beach or waterfront area. National and state parks are always excellent bets for nature lovers (the National Park Foundation offers a great $80 twelve-month pass to all US national parks that require an entrance fee…more incentive to get outdoors). Alternative newspapers like the Village Voice, Washington City Paper, or Creative Loafing are loaded with info about places to go in and more importantly out of the immediate vicinity (usually just the print versions, though). Also, most cities and regions of the country have ready-made Internet guides with insight on where to go, where to eat, where to shop, and where to stay. Use an Internet seach engine to find local city guides and tourism websites, as well as other independent sources. Among some of the day tripping websites that caught our eye:

Flee New York can tell you how and why you should get out of the Big Apple. AllAcrossTexas.com has a section that features day trips from all the major Texas cities like Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

Day trips around the nation’s capital, Washington DC, are even outlined on the US Senate website in a comprehensive, if not graphically appealing way. ATLiens are blessed with both urban and rural excursions nearby, as covered by the Journal-Constitution‘s day trip page, while Chicagoans can hit up Metra’s “Day Trips” page and not have to shovel their car out until Monday morning. And when it’s not raining in Southern California (they tell me never), check out AllGetaways.com’s LA page.

In fact, Viator and AllGetaways.com have the most comprehensive listing of interesting excursions that I’ve found, covering US and international destinations.

Lastly, if you still need advice on where to go for a day or quick weekend escape, ask around. Surely your friends, neighbors, co-workers, or even strangers might have an idea of something, anything to do that doesn’t involve a remote control.

Please tweet your comments @FlyBrother, or email me (see About page). And don’t forget to “like” me on Facebook!

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Slim and sexy, LUXE City Guides offer compact, useful, humorous insight into the glossy urban sheen that makes world cities shine. Design hotels, avant-garde shopping, and destination restaurants on the right side of cool get described in tight and sassy English, in a handy 21-page foldable tome (or smart phone app), to be used in conjunction with a subway map or a wizened cab driver. Some of the listings may be a bit posh for my humble journalist’s pockets, but most are accessible to well-rounded travelers who appreciate design and comfort, satisfied with sipping on a cocktail at the bar of a stylish hotel and soaking up the ambience, if soaking in a tub upstairs is out of range.

I purchased the Miami guide a few weeks ago just to see how the LUXEuriants handled my former stomping grounds and was pleasantly surprised by the smart overview of the city, the geographic coverage, and how the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables was expertly summed-up in four lines. I also liked the $10 purchase price of the guide. As a traveler who straddles the line between upscale and underground – out of both necessity and cultural curiosity – I could have used a bit more info on accessing the underground music scene, and I noticed the absence of non-Latin ethnic food and cultural listings (and I ain’t talkin’ sushi, neither).

Still, the verve and authority of the writing reeled me in, and even inspired me to participate in the LUXE Guides + Grantourismo Grand Tour competition, in which entrants had to plot out a tour to five of the cities LUXE covers in 100 words or less. I won second place in the second round with this li’l number:

Start off with a little retail therapy in London’s mix-and-match Marylebone district, followed by tea and symphony at the Royal Albert Hall – the Proms are on. Hop across the Pond and, en route to fantastic light-tripping, stop by Brooklyn’s beautifully diverse Fort Greene Park for the free Sunday afternoon soulful house session and a slab of Southern-style barbecued ribs. Next stop: Tokyo, training the taste buds to distinguish between Ginjo-shu and Junmai-shu in a Shibuya sake salon. Swing through Singapore and take a dip in the airport’s rooftop swimming pool as a warm-up for professional relaxing on Phuket’s Kamala Beach.

Whether or not you’re planning a real Grand Tour soon, or just need a bit of armchair inspiration, a LUXE City Guide is an excellent city-slicking companion. And if you’re feeling a wave of creative wanderlust coming on, wander over to Grantourismo and submit your own 100-word Grand Tour. You could win a plush set of LUXE guides all your very own!

Please tweet your comments @FlyBrother, or email me (see About page). And don’t forget to “like” me on Facebook!

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This post is brought to you by Chelle Roberts of BrownGirlsFly and myHabanero.com.

1) The Early Bird Doesn’t Always Get The Juiciest Worm
Most airlines allow you to buy tickets 6 months to a year in advance. But, that far out, prices tend to be pretty high and if you book too soon, you’ll be sure to miss out on some juicy discounts. Over the years, we’ve learned that the travel-booking sweet spot is 3 months to 3 weeks before your desired departure. Within that range, here are a few other things to keep in mind.

• When planning a visit to a popular destination or during peak travel times (think Disney during Christmas break), give yourself more leeway. Airlines typically run sales 3 months out (i.e. Christmas sales often hit in September) and as those seats start filling up, prices will rise sharply during the months that follow.
• For other destinations and times of year, you can afford to wait a little longer. But, remember, all good things do eventually come to an end. At the 21-day mark, discounted fares disappear and prices often skyrocket after that.

While you’re waiting for the sweet spot to hit, be sure to familiarize yourself with the average fares available – how else will you recognize a good fare when you see it? Then, start tracking the fares and when you see a good one, pounce on it! Our favorite tools to help you track fares include:

Airfare Watchdog – sign up for their daily emails detailing the best fares departing from your home and nearby airports. They often share great tips on unpublished sale fares.
Travelocity FareWatcher Plus – sign up for a free account, pick up to 10 cities and receive an email when the fare reaches the price range you’re seeking.
YAPTA – Your Amazing Personal Travel Assistant is poised to track fares before and after you book a flight.

2) The Late Bird Can Sometimes Find Yummy Leftovers
Sometimes, last minute decisions are unavoidable. If you find yourself in this situation, all hope is not lost. Empty seats and empty sheets are lost opportunities for travel operators. So, it’s usually better for them to sell a seat or hotel room at a deep discount than it is to leave it empty. If you’re in need of a last minute deal, try these tips:

• Check out the weekend web-only fares published by most airlines on Tuesday or Wednesday each week. You might just find your desired destination on the list. You can even subscribe to their weekly e-mail blasts to stay on top of your options.
• Check out the Smarter Travel Last Minute trip finder. You can search by departure or arrival city, making it easy to consider and compare different paths to your destination.
LastMinute.com offers last minute package deals including airfare, hotel, rental or any combination of the three. If you’ve only be able to find flights outside your price range, visit this site and search for a package combo. You’d be surprised; you can sometimes grab a flight with a weekend-long car rental, cheaper than booking a flight directly with the airlines. To see how this tip has helped us to personally save hundred dollars, check out this post detailing our previous experience with LastMinute.com.

3) The Most Flexible Birdie Wins
Weekend getaways are fabulous. Leave on a Friday afternoon and return early Monday morning. Using only a few hours of vacation time, you can get away for a few days and return refreshed. However, the airlines know that this is exactly what you’re thinking. And, with the exception of a few focused travel sales, these times are inevitably the most expensive options.

If you have some scheduling flexibility, look for the following flights departing and/or returning Tuesday through Thursday, flights departing in the early morning and flights with long layovers. Sometimes the inconvenience can save you a few more dollars.

4) Knock Out Two Birds With One Stone
Make sure you sign up for the airline frequent flier programs. While you won’t see the discounts up front, every trip you take now, will help earn you benefits for a future trip. Think of it as opening a travel savings account. And, as is the case with cash accounts, you just have to commit to it and be diligent about it, and the rewards will come. In the coming weeks, we’ll share more specific recommendations when it comes to frequent flier programs. But, for now, just remember that it’s a necessity.

¡Buen Viaje!
Chelle Roberts, BrownGirlsFly

Please tweet your comments @FlyBrother, or email me (see About page). And don’t forget to “like” me on Facebook!

Back in 2009, I took a three-month round-the-world trip to a planned five continents, and with the help of Fly Mother and some Zip-Lock bags, I was able to squeeze an adequate amount of clean underwear and other necessities into two very light-weight carry-ons. Observe:

That would be: One dress shirt and a pair of khakis, some jeans, 6 pair of draws, four pair of socks, 3 white tees, swim trunks, gym shorts, four short-sleeve t-shirts, two long-sleeve tees, and a pair of size-13 loafers.











Ta-Da!

Gracias, Mamita!

Please tweet your comments @FlyBrother, or email me (see About page). And don’t forget to “like” me on Facebook!

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I’m participating in Vai Via’s 15 Day International Travel Challenge, but doubling-up, as I’m not a daily blog poster. So…

Day 06 – What does “home” mean to you?
Of course “home” will mean wherever my family is, but I consider my circle of good friends as family as well, so there’s no geographic limit to “home” for me anymore. There’s also the feeling of belonging to a place, of walking down the street and being claimed by that place. For the moment, that place is São Paulo.

Day 07 – Besides people, what did/do you miss from home?
Barbecues, driving through cities at dusk with the perfect music for each place, cheap domestic airfares, cheap everything.

Day 08 – A favorite food from another country/culture
Mangú (mashed plantains) from the Dominican Republic. Yum! And a nice, flavorful chai from India (though they sell that at Starbucks here).

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Does this move you?

What about this?

Of any place on Earth, Brazil probably comes closest to delivering on the hype – for vacationers, at least – and I’ve lived moments here that were pretty damn similar to those evoked in these (absolutely amazing) commercials. If you come with the right attitude – and the proper documentation – you can too.

US citizens will need one of these:

And you’ll need patience. Lots of it.

Now, Brazil states that their tourist visa process reflects the process that the US requires Brazilian citizens to undergo in procuring a tourist visa. Both visas cost US$140 and are valid for ten years. The big difference, however, is that almost all Brazilian tourist visas are approved, while American visas for Brazilians can often be denied arbitrarily, after the person has spent months waiting for an appointment and paid the non-refundable fee. And whereas the US has ten Brazilian consulates distributed fairly evenly around the country, the US only has four consulates in Brazil – a country larger than the Lower 48. Brazilian bureaucracy may seem maddening to Americans accustomed to “efficiency,” and it is maddening, but remember that you have much less at stake than Brazilians (and many others) who spend much more time and money procuring a visa just to get to the Magic Kingdom and Sawgrass Mills.

That being said, check this list of Brazilian consulates to know in which jurisdiction you fall. It may be more convenient for you to get to Atlanta from Tallahassee, but as a Florida resident, Miami’s your consulate.

Pay attention to the information on your consulate’s website. Each office operates differently: some turn visas around in three days, others in ten days (NO same-day, so if you’re grown and buy your ticket to Brazil, then think you can swing by the consulate the day before your trip, you’ll be rudely awakened when you’re on the phone with the airline trying to rebook your $1500 plane ticket the week before Carnival). Some consulates require appointments, others don’t. Some accept mail-in applications, others don’t. Operating times vary. Folks, again, pay attention to this stuff so you know what’s required of you and the process can go as smoothly as possible.

Before you go, get three 2×2-inch headshots of yourself with a white background (Walgreens, Kinkos, wherever). You’ll only need two, but it’s always better to have a spare, just in case.

Your passport needs at least six months validity left on it and two blank pages left in it.

Get a US$140 money order from the post office (some consulates accept other forms of payment, but all accept postal money orders); there’s an extra US$20 handling fee if by mail or third-party.

Have the print-out of your flight itinerary (the last time I applied, the printed itinerary of the flights I had planned on purchasing was good enough; not sure if this still works). Airlines flying nonstop between the US and Brazil include TAM from New York, Orlando, and Miami; United Airlines from DC, Chicago, Newark, and Houston; Delta Air Lines from Atlanta, New York, and Detroit; US Airways from Charlotte; American Airlines from New York, Dallas, and Miami; and Korean Air from Los Angeles. Air Canada, Aeroméxico, Copa, Avianca/TACA, and LAN all offer connecting services through their national hubs.

And for special cases: “Any application that shows ‘self-employed’ or ‘unemployed’ must be complemented with a current ‘Balance Account Bank Statement’ with applicant’s name and address;” “if traveling by land, provide proof of financial capacity to pay for ones stay in Brazil;” and if you’ve previously visited certain countries, you may be required to show proof of vaccination against yellow fever.

AND DON’T FORGET THE ACTUAL APPLICATION FORM!

Once granted, your visa is valid for 90 days and renewable for another 90 days for a maximum of 180 days per year for the duration of the visa (these days, ten years, so I hear…I’m on a work visa, and you can read all about that circle of hell, here). And you’re not allowed to work.

But you are allowed to Get Fly in Brazil!

*Admitted hyperbole.

Please tweet your comments @FlyBrother, or email me (see About page).

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I’m participating in Vai Via’s 15 Day International Travel Challenge (though I might have to double-up on posts, as daily might be a bit unmanageable), and today’s challenge is to post about the favorite place(s) I’ve been to.

Berlin is fly as hell!

My favoritest city in the world is São Paulo, and since I’m now living here, that doesn’t count.

So I’ll go with my Number Two: Berlin. Gritty, soulful, and borderline schizo, Berlin mixes classically European culture (museums, architecture, urbanism) with a wild party scene, avant-garde music and art, and a cool friendliness that draws you in. And it’s cheap (for now). If it weren’t for those Central European winters (and falls and springs)…

Runners-up: Mumbai and Cairo – enthralling chaos on both counts!


As of January 2011, only 37% of all American citizens possess that little blue book with the eagle on the cover. That’s a whole lotta people not getting fly!

By age thirty, everyone should have a government-issued passport. If you are over thirty and don’t have it, I won’t waste any time criticizing (triflin…). I’ll just say that there’s no better time than now to start the process, and I’ve tried to make the process a little easier by sifting through the US State Department’s travel site – travel.state.gov – for information on obtaining a US passport. I’ll also say that the folks thinking they can pop down to Mexico or the Bahamas with their driver’s licenses these days are in for a rude awakening at the border.

The State Department operates passport agencies in Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Honolulu, Hot Springs, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Norwalk (CT), Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tucson, and Washington (click the city name for info on that particular agency; all charge the expedite fee – see below). Lastly, passport applications can be picked up and submitted at almost all US Post Offices (without the expedite fee).

You can also download and print a first-time passport application: here.

The total cost (in United States Dollars) for a first-time passport is now $135 for anyone aged 16 and over and $105 for anyone under 16. The charge is broken down into the passport fee ($110 for 16 and over/$80 for under 16) and the execution fee ($25 for both). If you apply for your passport directly through the State Department at a passport agency, the total cost may be made in one payment and in several methods. If applying through the post office, the application fee must be made payable to the US Department of State, while the execution fee must be made payable to the US Postal Service (check or money order only).

Additional requirements include a copy of your birth certificate as proof of United States citizenship and a state- or federal government-issued photo ID for proof of identity, along with two 2×2-inch passport photos that can be taken at any FedEx Office or certain stores and pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS, or Wal-Mart. A list of other acceptable documents and forms of ID can be found here.

Passports can take up to 6 weeks to arrive, but can be expedited by visiting a passport agency, or requesting rush service with the application at the post office, for an additional $60. More information on an expedited passport can be found here.

You can also check on the status of your passport application here.

Passports for adults are usually valid for 10 years. Passports for children are valid for less time and require a different application procedure (check here).

Most foreign governments require that a US passport be valid for at least another six months after the conclusion of the trip. An adult renewal passport costs $110, and more information can be found here.

For international ballers who are running out of room in their still-valid passports, extra pages can be ordered, or you can get a newer, thicker passport here.

September 11 has, of course, caused a tightening in travel documentation requirements, hence the establishment of the WHTI – Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Essentially, all the formerly passport-free areas for road trips and cruises – Canada, Mexico, and much of the Caribbean – now require either a passport; a newfangled device called a passport card, good for border crossings by land or sea; or other “WHTI-compliant document.” The cards cost $55 for a first-time adult applicant, $40 for a first-time child applicant, and $30 for current valid passport holders. All air travel to these regions will continue to require a traditional passport book.

Any other information you might want, need, or forgot to ask…check the website, because, hell, the State Department ain’t payin’ a brother.


Please tweet your comments @FlyBrother, or email me (see About page).

If you’ve slept on getting that little blue book, the price tag’s gone up quite a bit as of today. But you still can’t put a price tag on the personal development and enjoyment that comes from international travel, and you can’t get fly without a government-issued passport.

By age thirty, everyone should have one. If you are over thirty and don’t have it, I won’t waste any time criticizing (triflin…). I’ll just say that there’s no better time than now to start the process, and I’ve tried to make the process a little easier by sifting through the US State Department’s travel site – travel.state.gov – for information on obtaining a US passport. I’ll also say that the folks thinking they can pop down to Mexico or the Bahamas with their driver’s licenses these days are in for a rude awakening at the border.

The State Department operates several passport agencies, located in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Norwalk (CT), Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington (click the city name for info on that particular agency). Lastly, passport applications can be picked up and submitted at almost all US Post Offices.

You can also download and print a first-time passport application: here.

The total cost (in United States Dollars) for a first-time passport is now $135 for anyone aged 16 and over and $105 for anyone under 16. The charge is broken down into the passport fee ($110 for 16 and over/$80 for under 16) and the execution fee ($25 for both). If you apply for your passport directly through the State Department at a passport agency, the total cost may be made in one payment and in several methods. If applying through the post office, the application fee must be made payable to the US Department of State, while the execution fee must be made payable to the US Postal Service (check or money order only).

Additional requirements include a copy of your birth certificate as proof of United States citizenship and a state- or federal government-issued photo ID for proof of identity, along with two 2×2-inch passport photos that can be taken at any FedEx Office or certain stores and pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS, or Wal-Mart. A list of other acceptable documents and forms of ID can be found here.

Passports can take up to 6 weeks to arrive, but can be expedited by visiting a passport agency, or requesting rush service with the application at the post office, for an additional $60. More information on an expedited passport can be found here.

You can also check on the status of your passport application here.

Passports for adults are usually valid for 10 years. Passports for children are valid for less time and require a different application procedure (check here).

Most foreign governments require that a US passport be valid for at least another six months after the conclusion of the trip. An adult renewal passport costs $75, and more information can be found here.

For international ballers who are running out of room in their still-valid passports, extra pages can be ordered, or you can get a newer, thicker passport here.

September 11 has, of course, caused a tightening in travel documentation requirements, hence the establishment of the WHTI – Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Essentially, all the formerly passport-free areas for road trips and cruises – Canada, Mexico, and much of the Caribbean – will by 2009 require either a passport; a newfangled device called a passport card, good for border crossings by land or sea; or other “WHTI-compliant document.” The cards cost $55 for a first-time adult applicant, $40 for a first-time child applicant, and $30 for current valid passport holders. All air travel to these regions will continue to require a traditional passport book.

Any other information you might want, need, or forgot to ask…check the website, because, hell, the State Department ain’t payin’ a brother.