I plan to travel to Europe with my wife this summer, and we will spend our time in Spain, France, and Portugal. I will use at least some of this trip to hit a few archives, looking for primary source material that will strengthen my doctoral dissertation.
Though I have set foot outside of the continental U.S. on a few occasions, my last trips were in the pre-9/11 years, when a passport was not needed in places like Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico. I thus began my quest to obtain a passport book so that I might travel abroad, though my efforts to acquire this necessary documentation have been hindered by a few snafus.
My first problem involved my birth certificate. Not only was this tattered photostatic relic missing somewhere in the semi-organized clutter of my house, but the State Department now requires a certified copy of the birth certificate of a prospective applicant. Given that I was born in Detroit, I faced either a 3-4 hour journey to the bureaucratic purgatory known as the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, which maintains such records, or facing the pricey fees of the third-party Internet records specialist VitalCheck.com.
I opted to spend the money online, as my time is worth much more than the $20 or so I would have saved by driving to Detroit. For $54.45, VitalCheck delivered my birth certificate to my front door via UPS within 48 hours.
Possessing the requisite documents and a completed application that I downloaded from the State Department, I proceeded to the U.S. Post Office, one of the designated passport processing agencies. Alas, the form I accessed online has been superceded by a new DOS application in the past few weeks, and I had to fill out the new form all over again. There did not seem to be any discernable difference in the questions asked, but the new form was a 2-color, trifolded document with greater aesthetic appeal.
Maybe all those new passport clerks got bored after catching up on the backlog of applications, and needed a form redesign project to keep them busy. Who knows?
After inking a pair of checks - one for $75 to the State Department and one for $25 to the U.S. Postmaster - I am now the proud recipient of a stamped piece of paper that certifies I have submitted my application. In the next 3-6 weeks, I will receive my official passport, and my travel plans can be finalized. Among my destinations will be Sagres Point and Lagos, important places in the history of Infante Dom Henrique of Portugal, who is a source of academic curiosity for me.
That is, of course, provided that the State Department does not botch my passport, or find some arcane reason to deny me one. I sure hope that blog posts are not scrutinized by the DOS, or I may find myself on a plane to Guantanamo Bay instead of Barcelona.