Hayward: Have passport, will travel: your step-by-step guide


A U.S. passport.

Lauren Hayward

If there is one piece of Australian advice I could dispense, it is the vital need for the human psyche to travel and experience different cultures.

We often describe life as a journey; however, with fewer than 40 percent of Iowans owning passports it would appear this adage has slipped into metaphoric vernacular as opposed to a literal life lesson.

Living in Australia we are severely geopolitically isolated, but, it would seem that there is an inferiority complex that comes with being a western nation located in Asia that closely follows the Canadian multicultural policies: We see second-hand culture, but crave to experience it ourselves.

Australian culture prescribes international travel at a young age. The concept of a “gap-year” of European travel and backpacking is a rite of passage and was the catalyst for Contiki Tours — those wild and debaucherous bus tours across Europe, and now the world.

Many high school graduates take a year off before beginning tertiary education to save up cash, living with mum and dad before traveling Europe for several months, taking in obligatory experiences such as La Tomatina in Spain, Oktoberfest in Munich, and “coffee shops” in Amsterdam.

Closer to home there are more overseas travel options, New Zealand is to Australia what Canada is to the United States.: filled with adventure sports, incredible skiing and beautiful scenery. Meanwhile, Asia is the equivalent to the Caribbean and Central America: cheap, wild, tropical and dangerous.

Australians love to travel to the U.S. as well, citing the shopping, cultural influence and more recently the fact that our dollar is stronger than the U.S. dollar, as strong motivators to pay a visit to the land of the brave and home of the free.

All this globe trotting has one thing in common: the ownership and frequent use of a passport.

A passport enables you to truly have an adventure, and for those who are older than 18, it lasts for 10 years, and is relatively cheap and easy to obtain.

In honor of Passport Day on April 9, here is a step by step guide to obtaining your first U.S. passport so that you too may be able to travel the world and dispel those rumors about Americans overseas.

Getting a passport: You’ll want a passport and passport card. It costs $140 plus a $25 application fee. Yes that might seem a little steep, but really it’s $16.50 a year to have the honor of holding one of the most coveted documents in the entire world.

Fill it in: Complete the DS-11 form. Thanks to the great American invention of the Internet, it’s all digitized and online now, but if you want to go old school, you can fill it in by hand too. Either way you’re going to have to print it out.

This form has all sorts of information that tells you what is required of you to obtain a U.S. passport but essentially all you need is a certified U.S. birth certificate, driver’s license, recent passport photo taken at a drugstore or retail outlet and to fill in the gaps regarding your personal information including what you look like — height, hair color, eye color — your social security number and your parents’ names.

Don’t be put off by the question regarding future travel plans, you don’t need to have any, and many people obtain passports for all sorts of reasons other than overseas travel including extra ID or to prove that they are indeed a citizen of the U.S. for work purposes.

Show up: Yep, you will have to trundle down to the Ames Post Office, at 525 Kellogg Ave., to submit your freshly filled out DS-11 form along with your certified U.S. birth certificate, your license, and front and back photocopies of each of these forms of ID.

There are specific times you can submit your form at the post office — 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday to Friday — so don’t be that person that walks up at 2 p.m. demanding they accept your forms, that’s just annoying.

Say “Cheese”: If you haven’t already obtained an acceptable passport photo from places like Walmart, Target or Walgreens, you can have one taken while at the post office. They’ll make sure the picture is legit, but remember that they’re never pretty. You have to have a neutral expression, wear average everyday clothes and can’t wear sunglasses or hats, so at least try to make sure you hair looks nice and you’re not coming off a three-week Charlie Sheen bender, unless you want to die of embarrassment a every border.

Money down: Now is the time to hand over the money, the entire $165, and you can pay with your debit card, check or money order. But just think as you’re saving those extra pennies how much better Heineken in Holland tastes than Budweiser in your buddy’s basement.

And now we wait: In four to six weeks you will receive your passport, along with your birth certificate — potentially in a different envelope at a different but similar time — and you will be a certified American passport holder, able to travel the world.

Now you just have to pick where you want to go, save up and go.

It’s not hard, it’s a little bit scary, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Enjoy your adventure away from Iowa State.