Replacing My Full Passport and the Lessons Learned

As I child I dreamt of filling my passport with an eclectic assortment of stamps from a myriad of countries.   Never had I considered that one day I’d have to order another, since it would be so saturated with stamps.  Even though I appreciated my prized predicament,  it caused some significant time impediments.  But in the end replacing my full passport also taught me some valuables lesson.

Replacing My Full Passport and the Lessons Learned

Replacing my full US passport. My new passport is only a year old, but it's already half-filled!
Replacing my full US passport. My new passport is only a year old, but it’s already half-filled!

1 – The Background of My Passport Fiasco

Last April Allan and I spent a wonderful week driving around southern Florida visiting family.  Between beach visits and reconnecting with relatives, we simultaneously planned our summer trip to China and Tibet.   On the last day of our Floridian fling, I suddenly realized only two pages remained in my US passport.

Regrettably we hadn’t yet applied for our Chinese visas.  Alone they would occupy two pages rendering my book inoperably crammed with countries.  Perhaps under normal circumstances such a situation wouldn’t inhibit my itinerary.  Even though I live abroad in Mexico, I could easily order a new US passport at the consulate office in Playa del Carmen.  And in within a matter of weeks it would arrive back in my hands without me ever having to step stateside.

Unfortunately I couldn’t afford to wait weeks.  Our Chinese tour company called and required our visa in no later than two weeks, or we couldn’t go to China.  Although the visa agency could turn them around in two weeks, they couldn’t do it any faster.  Since I needed a new passport, now our entire prepaid Asian adventure was in jeopardy because I am an idiot.

First I neglected to check my passport beforehand ensuring enough pages remained.  Second I failed to heed the bold red print from our tour agency demanding our Chinese visa 45 days prior to departure.  I had to find a solution quickly.

Replacing my full passport. Reconnecting with Allan's extended family in Florida. Unfortunately decades passed between the last time he saw them.
Replacing my full passport. Reconnecting with Allan’s extended family in Florida. Unfortunately decades have passed between the last time he saw them.

2 – How I Saved our Expedition to China and Tibet

First I managed to move back the dates of our tour by two weeks.  This provided us with valuable time to acquire the necessary documents.  Particularly I have to applaud Viking Cruises for accommodating our alterations at no additional cost.

Next Allan and I returned to Mexico as planned the following day.   Then I purchased a flight back to my hometown of Boston.  I knew Beantown’s passport facility processed urgent requests in a matter of days.

As expected within three days my new passport arrived back in my possession.  With document in hand I returned home to Mexico.  This is so Allan and I could then courier our passports and visa applications via international overnight courier to Generations Visa Service.

After all, if I had mailed these items from the USA I would be stuck stateside without the ability to return to Mexico until my passport was returned two weeks later.  Since I needed to work at my vacation rental company in Playa del Carmen, it was imperative I originated the transaction in Mexico.

Ultimately, after two weeks our visas and passports arrived back in Playa del Carmen, in time to send them off to Viking.  Although I averted a crisis, it cost more financially and emotionally.  The stress also created unnecessary complications.

Replacing my full passport. Our tour group to Tibet in front of the Potala Palce in Lhasa. Thankfully I recovered from altitude sickness.
Replacing my full passport. Our tour group to Tibet in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Thankfully I recovered from altitude sickness.

3 – What I Would do Next Time

Only after I chatted with fellow travelers did I learn of a faster and less expensive way to fix my fiasco. Instead of flying to Boston, I should have jetted to New York with Allan.  I could have then applied for an expedited passport like I did in Beantown.  But unlike Boston, the Empire City hosts a Chinese embassy which turns around visas in days.  So I could have applied for my visa in person instead of using an expensive expedited service.

Essentially through this alternative scenario we would have saved a week of waiting and stress.  Plus, the cost compared to our original plan, considering we saved in courier and application costs while spending a bit more in travel expenditures.  Furthermore we could have enjoyed a short expedition to the Big Apple.

4 – Lessons Learned

Lesson one:

Always consider applying online or in person at an embassy instead of using a passport agency.  It can be faster and less expensive.

Lesson two:

Take seriously visa deadlines.  Don’t foolishly assume like I did that deadlines are requests rather than requirements.

Lesson three:

Always check your passport’s validity. This includes the expiration date as well as the number of pages.  Also make sure to ensure no pages are ripped or torn.

Do you have any interesting passport stories?

Please let me know in the comments!

Happy travels,

Matt Weatherbee

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Matt Weatherbee
Matt Weatherbee

Hi, I’m Matt.  In 2008 I quit my job, sold everything and drove from Boston to Mexico to start a business.  Now I live and work in the Carribean, and spend my free time traveling the globe.  Learn more.

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