Close to home or far doesn't really matter. Travels and Escapes is your site for weekend getaways, city trips, foodie suggestions, wine regions tips, lifetime adventures...and, everything in between.

I've always kept a travel journal. Everything made it into those journals when I was younger; from the color of dirt in Oklahoma, to seeing my first alligator, to life in the South in the 1960s, to making snowballs in July in Glacier National Park, to visiting Disneyland in the 1950s, to walking the Civil War battlefields, to how much money we spent on food and gas.

Insider spots, hideaways down some back road, information from the locals...after all, what better way to discover who makes the best blueberry pancakes in Maine or find the best route to get to the top of Mesa Verde?

As a freelance travel writer and editor, allow me to whet your appetite for adventure with a peek at some of the wonderful places I've visited, written about, and photographed. In addition, I’ll keep you up to date with everything from the latest TSA rules and regulations to current trends in traveling

Let's talk about passports. When do you need a passport and how do you get one?

Basically, a passport is a legal document issued by your home country telling other countries you are a citizen of that sovereign nation. When you are entering another country, it allows you legal permission to stay in that country for a certain amount of time.

Depending on a foreign government’s relationship with the United States, an American passport holder may be denied entry by the other nation as a matter of political prejudice. This is the case in North Korea, where a U.S. citizen will be denied entry. Or, when American border officials deny a Cuban national’s entry into the mainland U.S.

"If you are traveling internationally in less than two weeks, or need to obtain a foreign visa within four weeks, we recommend scheduling an appointment at a passport agency near you, the U.S. Department of State says. €œIf you have more time, we recommend submitting your application at an authorized passport acceptance facility."

If you need to travel soon, you can obtain a passport by making an appointment at your local State Department agency. If you are planning well ahead of time, more than six months before your trip, you can begin the process at home by going to the State Department website . Fill out the form, print it out and bring it to the Passport Acceptance Office. Check with your closest U.S. Post Office as many have passport offices. They may require an appointment, so be sure to check before you go.

But don't sign it yet!

"Passport applications must be signed in person in the presence of an approved agent at the Passport Acceptance Office," the City Clerk of Chicago says. "Signing a passport application outside of the presence of such agent will invalidate the entire application, requiring the applicant to complete the entire application again from scratch."

Find out more about passports on my travel blog.

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