Travel Basics 100: Before You Go

As a frequent traveler, sometimes I jump the gun in my conversations about my trips. When someone asks me how I got to a particular place, I usually begin by telling them about the book or article I read that inspired my trip. Rarely do I start at the very beginning – getting a passport. And, I regularly skimp on the boring bits about standing in long lines to get my visas. However, following a conversation at the office with one of my colleagues, it seems I’ve skipped over a few crucial details unfamiliar to someone who travels less frequently. Traveling around the world to other countries is a relatively straightforward process, making sure you’re starting off on the right foot is an important part of helping it stay that way.

The following information is about obtaining a U.S. passport and visa requirements for U.S. passport holders.

  1. Passport Photos

These small and easy to lose snapshots will be important for getting a passport and for getting visas. On average two 2x2in printed photos cost around $10. Will you need both? Not necessarily, but you will have to pay for both regardless. You can take and purchase your passport photos at several places including: Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid.

  1. Passport

A passport is one of the best books anyone can invest in. A U.S. passport – gets you in and out of the States and, into and back out of foreign countries. For a nominal application fee of $110, your U.S. passport will be good for 10 years. The total cost of a passport can increase for a few reasons. There are additional fees for first-time applicants and for expedited service. Also, prices and expirations are different for children under 16. Currently, you cannot apply for a U.S. passport online however, you can find the help and information you need here.

  1. Visas

Going to a foreign country is not always as simple as grabbing your passport and booking your flight. Some countries require a permit of sorts before you can enter – also known as a visa. Every visa process is different and depends on the destination country. The requirements, expiration, and fees can also vary greatly from country to country. My visa to Ghana cost $60 and was valid for a single entry into the country within 90 days of being issued. Before I could apply for the visa I needed to get a $200 yellow fever vaccine and present proof of vaccination. My yellow fever vaccine is good for 10 years so if I wanted to return to Ghana, as long as I return within ten years, I won’t need to take the shot again for another visa. On the other hand, my visa to China cost $140 but only required a letter from my college describing the trip and it’s good for multiple entries into China for 10 years. When it comes to visas it’s better to be safe than sorry. Always check to see if you need a visa BEFORE you book a trip. The last thing you’d want is to be detained and have your trip ruined before it even begins. For the most part, a U.S. passport holder does not need a visa to enter Canada, Mexico and most Central American and Caribbean countries, with the exception of Cuba. To find out if you need a visa for the rest of the countries around the world click here for more information.


Once you have your passport and figure out if you need a visa or not, the world is now your oyster. In the Travel Basics that follow I’ll share my travel tips and help you figure out how to navigate your own travels.

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