New App Is Passport To National Parks

The Passport to Your National Parks iPhone appSince being introduced in 1986 the Passport To Your National Parks program has been a popular one with travelers. The program encourages visitors to America’s national parks to collect “cancellation” stamps in a passport book from as many parks as they possibly can. The stamps, which feature photos taken by park employees, are issued on an annual basis and are often viewed as collectors’ items. Now those analog passport books have a digital companion in the form of a new iPhone app.

The Passport to Your National Parks app was released a few weeks back and features some excellent options for fans of the passport program and the parks in general. For instance, it contains a database of every park in the U.S. system, allowing users to search by name, state or region. Once you find the park you’re looking for, a detailed view provides visitor center addresses and phone numbers, maps, entrance fee info and a brief description of the destination. It also lists special events and attractions, provides directions and tells you where to find the park’s passport stamp.

The functionality of the app doesn’t end there, however, as it also provides space for digitally logging your visits to the various parks and allows you to make lists of those you intend to visit in the future. Users can add dates and photos to those logs and even discover which parks are nearby their current location simply by using the iPhone’s built-in GPS chip.

The new app can be downloaded for free from the App Store and will soon be released for other smartphone flavors as well. It should make an excellent companion for those planning on visiting a national park in the months ahead.

The Purple Passport launches chic urban guide for New York City

purple passportFor the hip, worldly, and discerning traveler, there’s a new guide on the block: The Purple Passport, which just added New York to its roster of web-based city guides.

The Purple Passport offers handpicked hotel, restaurant, spa, nightlife, shopping, and activity recommendations from its team of travel tastemakers, with an easy interface that allows users to add items to personal “passports” that can then be printed or emailed to travel companions. Their listings are candid, comprehensive, and current, with categories like “Well Coiffed” for nightlife spots with a door policy and “Chic & Design” for trendy minimalist hotels. Picks in the New York City guide include home decor emporium ABC Carpet & Home, the Ace Hotel in up-and-coming NoMad, and the swanky Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel.

Founded by friends and travel companions Emily Brands and Jennifer Garcia-Alonso, The Purple Passport aims to provide a one-stop-shop for urban travelers seeking carefully curated information on the world’s most stylish cities. Guides are also available for London, Paris, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, and Beijing, with Abu Dhabi, Taipei, Chicago, Miami, and Washington DC next on tap.

[image via The Purple Passport]

Collect virtual passport stamps with VisaStamper

passport stampsIt’s a favorite ritual for many travelers to leaf through their passport (often while waiting in an immigration line), reminiscing on each stamp and the destination it represents. When a passport is lost or expired, losing all those hard-earned stamps can be tragic. VisaStamper is a new website that creates a virtual passport, with photo-realistic stamps for each place you visit. The site currently has passport stamps for every country, with city-specific stamps for the US, UK, Australia, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Ireland & Germany, and more every day. You can share your passport stamps on Facebook and Twitter, and collect “points” for each stamp in your VisaStamper passport.

VisaStamper works via your computer’s IP address location, automatically generating a stamp for the country you’re currently in. You can “backdate” your virtual passport by submitting your destination list and dates via email, though an easier form is in production. Apps for iPhone, iPad and Android are on the way in the new year to work via GPS and make sharing even easier.

Sign up and start collecting at VisaStamper.com (you can check out my stamps here) and visit them on Facebook. Happy (virtual) travels!

Knocked up abroad: applying for a baby’s passport

baby passportAs my new baby girl was born in a foreign country, getting a passport was a necessity for her to even return home to America. Though Vera was born in Turkey, she’s an American citizen by virtue of her parents’ citizenship and entitled to a US passport. For Americans born outside the country, the US consulate issues a Report of Birth Abroad that acts as an official birth certificate and proof of US citizenship. After a trip to the US to visit family and a vacation in Malta, Vera’s been in three countries before she reached three months of age and is rapidly racking up passport stamps.

As soon as we brought the baby home from the hospital, the first order of business on the road to getting her baby passport was getting her Turkish birth certificate. While not required by the US consulate, it is necessary in order to get her residence permit, required for anyone staying longer in Turkey than the 90-day tourist visa. I learned that I could obtain this at my local registry office with a letter stating that I had given birth at the American Hospital (this is provided in both Turkish and English by the hospital). I set out with my one-week old baby in her stroller, sleeping peacefully, assuming that the office would be a short walk from our apartment given the local address. An hour later, I had walked as far as one of Istanbul’s busy highways, dripping sweat, in tears, and definitely lost. Google Maps is generally a useful tool for many city addresses, but for some parts of Istanbul, you may as well be mapping a jungle. I enlisted the help of some Turkish friends who found a satellite image of the office online and emailed it to me. In true Turkish fashion, the registry office is actually two streets away from the mailing address and no one in the area can give you an exact street number when you are frantically seeking directions.When we finally got to the registry office, I took a number, left my stroller downstairs (in Turkey, you can trust that no one will steal it, but I did take the baby out first) and went in search of the counter for birth certificates. Naturally, Vera chose the moment I was filling out a form to launch into her first meltdown. As I struggled to write down my contact information and covertly feed her, I was ushered behind the counter and installed at a random guy’s desk, with an old Turkish lady practically forcing me to sit down and nurse the baby. Once the baby was content, I returned to the birth certificate lady but was met with a new obstacle in the form of a major language barrier. Fortunately, another man waiting at the registry office was able to translate for me – I would need to come back with all of our passports, residence permits, and marriage certificate from the US. The next day I returned armed with every possible bit of documentation and while every woman in the office gathered around Vera, exclaiming over her cuteness and wondering why the crazy foreigner was taking her baby out in public so early, I provided information for the birth certificate. I needed more translation help, as you are asked questions about your education level and religion (Islam is the default in Turkey, so many non-religious Turks are still considered Muslim even if they are non-practicing), which I couldn’t answer in Turkish but there is generally always someone around who can speak English. A few more rubber stamps and Maşallahs and I had her birth certificate.

Next step was a passport photo, a seemingly easy task that is particularly challenging the younger the baby you have. The US State Department requires that the baby look at the camera with eyes open, and that the photo be taken with a white background and nothing in the photo such as your hand or a baby seat. Newborns tend to sleep a lot and their vision is quite hazy, so getting them to be alert and somewhat focused on something is easier said than done. While some parents might opt to take the photo themselves, I decided to go to a professional rather than try to mess with the correct measurements and angles myself. One afternoon when Vera was barely two weeks old, I waited until she seemed awake and took her down the street in her carrier. The five-minute walk immediately put her back to sleep, so the photographer and I tried everything we could think of to wake her and get her attention. Somehow a half hour of tickling and a Turkish man yelling “kız bebek!” (baby girl) only made her sleep more deeply. Finally, we managed to get the photo you see above, which will remain her passport photo and primary means of identification until she’s five years old. Though some online information led me to believe they may not accept the picture due to her open mouth, the US consulate approved it for use.

Passport photo in hand at last, we made an appointment with the US consulate to apply for her US passport and Report of Birth Abroad, which will serve as her official birth certificate. The paperwork for this report turned out to be slightly more complex than anticipated, as it requires precise dates of presence both in the United States and abroad for each parent. If you keep good records, this could be simple and straightforward. As I’ve traveled frequently for the past decade and have been living in Istanbul for over a year, this took a lot of time to estimate using passport stamps, old travel confirmations in my email, photo date stamps, and anything else that could give me an idea of dates I spent outside of America. You are also required to provide documentation of the parents’ citizenship (my husband is Russian-born, so we needed the approximate date and place of naturalization), marriage (if applicable, it’s a whole other can of worms if the parents are not married), and dissolution of any previous marriages, which can result in some frantic emails to friends back home and calls to US registry offices if you don’t travel with all your paperwork.

The US consulate in Istanbul is far from the city center (you can take Metro to İTÜ Ayazağa and then a quick taxi ride) and resembles a fortress on a hill, with American-style maximum security. Most places in Istanbul with metal detectors, including the entrance to the airport, allowed me to skip security while pregnant (I got a cursory pat down at the airport) and often with the baby, and often ignore metal objects that cause the detectors to beep. At the consulate, I forgot to remove my camera from my purse and was yelled at when I attempted to remove it myself (“Ma’am! Step away from the bag!”). After clearing security, we waited in the US Citizen’s Services room to present the baby and our paperwork. There was another couple waiting with their month-old baby which turned out to be their sixth child, and they were fairly blasé about the fact that they had come from Iraq to have the baby in Istanbul (we guessed military family) and planned to return home to the US only two weeks after applying for the passport. Presenting our own paperwork turned out to be easier than expected, as they only needed to see that we had in fact lived in the US before, but it’s a good idea to have all of your travel dates on hand in case you are questioned. Finally, we paid our $205 for the report and passport, and had them both delivered to our home one week later (compare that to the weeks it usually takes to get a passport at home!).

We planned our first trip out of Turkey for when Vera would be six weeks old, which was just enough time to get all of our paperwork in order and feel competent enough as parents to travel. She will receive her Turkish residency next month after she is four months old. When we went through passport control leaving Istanbul, there was some confusion as she had no visa or residence permit and we were prepared to pay a fee to leave the country, but we were eventually allowed to pass through free and only purchase a tourist visa when we re-entered Turkey that will cover her until her residency is established. Now the adventure would really begin: actually traveling with a baby.

Stay tuned for tips on traveling with a baby and destination guides for foreign travel with a baby. Waiting for baby to arrive? Check out past Knocked Up Abroad articles on traveling while pregnant and what to expect when you’re expecting in Turkey.

Tomorrow is Passport Day in the USA

Tomorrow is Passport Day in the USA!Tomorrow the U.S. Department of State will hold its third annual Passport Day, giving Americans an opportunity to apply for their first passport, or renew their current one. To commemorate the event, all regional passport agencies, along with most application acceptance facilities, including post offices, will be open and no appointments will be necessary.

These agencies are rarely open on a Saturday, which makes this a perfect time to apply for that passport you’ve been meaning to get or renew your old one, particularly if you have an international trip on the horizon. Remember, it takes approximately 4-6 weeks to process a passport application, although for an extra $60 you can expedite the process, getting your documents in about half the time.

If you are planning on participating in Passport Day, you may want to get to your facility early. Due to the fact that many travelers often can’t visit their nearest facility during regular hours, and since no appointment is needed, there is the possibility of long lines. Before you go, you’ll also want to make sure you have all the necessary forms, and a proper photo, with you as well. First time applicants will find everything they need by clicking here and information on renewals can be found here.

The number of Americans who hold a passport has increased steadily over the past few years, but if you still haven’t gotten around to getting yours yet, now is the time. Haven’t you always wanted to visit Paris or Rome or some other wonderful destination? The first step in making that trip a reality is getting your passport.

For more information on Passport Day in the USA and to find the nearest passport agency to you, click here.