June 2010


If you’re thinking of getting/renewing/adding pages to a US passport, now’s the time to do it. Passport fees go up July 13th. To get a new passport book, the fee goes from $100 to $135. For renewals, it goes from $75 to $110. The passport card goes from $45 to $55 and it looks like the discount to get one in conjunction with the book is gone. And to add pages, it goes from $0 to a whopping $82!

The State Department says the increase is needed to “cover actual operating expenses for the 301 overseas consular posts, 23 domestic passport agencies and other centers that provide these consular services to U.S. and foreign citizens.”

That’s reasonable enough. The fee that seems a bit absurd is the $82 to add pages to a passport. Granted, only the most frequent international travellers have to deal with that problem, but a fee that’s more like $35 would have been more in line with the other increases. At least the option to get additional pages when ordering a new book won’t incur any additional costs. If you need new pages, you may be better off just renewing your passport instead since the fee difference is $32.

As for getting a passport card, it seems to only make sense for people who live near the Canadian or Mexican border and cross frequently by either land or sea. It can’t be used for air travel, which really limits its usefulness.

In the end I hope the new fees don’t discourage Americans from getting a passport and getting out in the world. In some ways, a passport is a great deal. Even at the new rates, a new passport costs $13.50 a year. A small fee indeed for freedom.

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If you’re thinking of getting/renewing/adding pages to a US passport, now’s the time to do it. Passport fees go up July 13th. To get a new passport book, the fee goes from $100 to $135. For renewals, it goes from $75 to $110. The passport card goes from $45 to $55 and it looks like the discount to get one in conjunction with the book is gone. And to add pages, it goes from $0 to a whopping $82!

The State Department says the increase is needed to “cover actual operating expenses for the 301 overseas consular posts, 23 domestic passport agencies and other centers that provide these consular services to U.S. and foreign citizens.”

That’s reasonable enough. The fee that seems a bit absurd is the $82 to add pages to a passport. Granted, only the most frequent international travellers have to deal with that problem, but a fee that’s more like $35 would have been more in line with the other increases. At least the option to get additional pages when ordering a new book won’t incur any additional costs. If you need new pages, you may be better off just renewing your passport instead since the fee difference is $32.

As for getting a passport card, it seems to only make sense for people who live near the Canadian or Mexican border and cross frequently by either land or sea. It can’t be used for air travel, which really limits its usefulness.

In the end I hope the new fees don’t discourage Americans from getting a passport and getting out in the world. In some ways, a passport is a great deal. Even at the new rates, a new passport costs $13.50 a year. A small fee indeed for freedom.

I came across this nifty project on Flickr last week. It shows where tourists and locals are taking pictures at in major cities around the world. In my hometown of Orlando, for example, it shows that mostly tourists are snapping photos around Disney World, while the locals are taking pictures in the downtown area. The data is based off the pictures that people are posting on Flickr. It’s a fun way to see a city beyond just a tourist map or Google Earth.

The maps have various landmarks marked out on them, so it’s easy to see where people are taking photos. It’s fun to look at cities like Chicago and figure out how my picture-taking matched up with the map and see if I ventured out of tourist territory or not. It’s also useful to find where the local hangouts are and see if there’s a fun place out there that’s missing from all the tourist guides.

Orlando- Locals Vs. Tourists. Map by Eric Fischer.

Orlando. Red indicates tourist photos and blue local ones. Yellow indicates it could be either. Map by Eric Fischer

As I mentioned in a post last week, I’m going to Kenya next month. Saying I’m excited about the trip is an understatement. It will be my first time in Africa and to get there I’ll be flying over the Atlantic for the first time. I love that I’m going somewhere that so few people dare to go to.

But getting there poses a number of challenges. The culture there is unlike anything I’ve experienced up to this point. Much of my time will be spend in a remote village with no running water or electricity. Communication with people in the country won’t be easy, since many people there speak only Swahili or a tribal language. Raising the funds needed for the trip has been challenging, especially with the current state of the US economy.

So why go through all this trouble to visit Kenya when there are far easier places to get to? Part of it is because I want to see the world- and not just the pretty parts. I also want to get out of my comfort zone. I like to travel precisely because it’s a challenge and it puts me into difficult or awkward situations. If I can handle those, then I feel more confident tackling challenges at home.

I also look forward to spending time and learning more about a culture so different from my own. The team I’m travelling with has been having meetings for the last couple of months where we’ve been discussing the differences between the US and Kenyan cultures. In the US, for example, we usually have a “time-is-money” mentality. Schedules must be made and kept and the calendar is king. In Kenya, people have a much more relaxed view of time. Schedules are more of a suggestion then an actual guideline for their lives. They take the time to stop and talk with neighbors and friends, even if it means being late for something else. The relationships, not productivity, are the priority.

Which leads to another cultural difference- the ease in which friendships are formed. In the US, it’s pretty easy to make friends- it can even be done with the click of a button on Facebook. But many of those relationships are shallow ones- they formed because I worked with them on a project together or happened to be at some event together. In many cases, relationships end when people move, change jobs or just “get too busy” to keep the relationship up.

In contrast, relationships are much more highly valued in the Kenyan culture. They are harder to form and take much more time, but the relationships that result are much deeper ones that can last a lifetime.

Of course these aren’t the only issues. I suspect that I will learn as much- if not more- by spending a week in the Kenyan culture then I will ever be able to teach them.

As for helping out the village, I’m not pretending that what the team and I do there will have some profound, permanent impact on the community. It will take a lot more then ten people and a week to do that. I’m not going to “fix” a village or solve all their problems. Those living there are the only ones who can really do that.

But what we’re doing is more like laying down a brick on a wall. Other teams are going in before us, and others will follow after us. Hopefully our efforts might help those in Kenya to change their lives for the better. And this isn’t a one-shot trip. My church has partnered with Food for the Hungry, which works in poor communities around the world to help communities develop food and water supplies; safe sanitary practices; HIV/AIDS prevention and much more. One of their programs involves sponsoring a child so they can get medical care and education. My church sent one team two years ago to the same village we’re going to now, and as a result over 30 children were sponsored. That’s one reason I was willing to sign on for this trip. It’s not just one trip- it’s one more element in building a relationship with the village. I’ve already been trading letters with a girl in the village and I look forward to meeting her.

In the end, I don’t know what will come out of this trip. It is so far beyond anything I’ve done before. It will be an adventure either way.

Everyone likes travel sounviers. Except the tiny bacteria and viruses that might kill them. So in the interest of not killing off all my family and friends by some deadly disease that I might bring back from my trip to Kenya next month, I went to a travel clinic last month.

A travel clinic specializes in knowing what infectious diseases are prevalent in which parts of the world and having the

My yellow card that I got at the end of my visit.

My yellow card that I got at the end of my visit.

medications and vaccinations needed to prevent getting them. They set themselves apart from regular doctors in that they stock things like yellow fever shots, malaria pills and other items a normal doctor’s office isn’t going to have.

Most travel clinics are also authorized yellow fever centers in that they can give you both the yellow fever shot and the “yellow card”- a paper that shows that you’ve been immunized against yellow fever. Many countries in which yellow fever is prevalent require proof of vaccinations from travellers before letting them in. Other countries want proof of vaccination if you’ve been in a yellow fever country before visiting their country. The yellow card serves as that proof, so you’ll have to carry it around with you during your trip. I’ve paper clipped mine to the back of my passport.

My visit to the travel clinic took me about 45 minutes. It mostly involved the nurse walking me through what the health risks are in visiting Kenya; looking over my immunization history and giving me several shots for various things. I can’t say it was a completely painless visit. I hadn’t gotten any vaccinations since high school so I needed a lot of booster shots along with more exotic ones like yellow fever and Hepatitis A. I have no fear of needles, but by the fourth of five shots, my upper arm was really starting to feel a bit sore from all the shots. At least I didn’t experience any side effects beyond a bruise for a few days.

Going to a travel clinic isn’t difficult to do, but there’s some steps you can take to make the process smoother.

1. Do some research.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) is a fantastic resource for finding out what diseases are breaking out where and what the current yellow fever entry requirements are for each country. They also have a travel clinic finder for locating a clinic in the US. Also, knowing what you need before going into a clinic makes it easier to ask questions and prevent surprises during the visit.

2. Know where you’re going and what you’re doing.

It sounds obvious, but where you go and what you do will affect what you need. Recommendations on what you’ll need will vary depending if you’re staying in a major city or going out in the countryside or if you’ll be in close contact with animals. Other countries may have health requirements you may need to meet, even if you’re just in transit through them.

3. Have a copy of your immunization records.

It’s a bit difficult to figure out what you need if you don’t know what you already have. Also knowing the dates that you received your immunizations is helpful as some like tetanus need a booster shot every 10 years.

4. Check your health insurance.

Things like yellow fever shots are generally not covered by insurance. But if you’re behind on your regular immunizations, your health insurance may cover some or all of the cost.

5. Schedule an appointment at least a month before your trip.

Some malaria drugs need to be started a week or two in advance of entering a malaria zone. Some vaccinations may need to be given in a series over a couple of weeks or the body needs a couple of weeks to build up immunity first. Going in at least a month in advance ensures that you’ll have enough time to get everything you need. Even if you’re going on a last-minute trip, a stop to a clinic is still important as there are some drugs that can help you right away.

In the end, visiting the travel clinic was both necessary and reassuring for me. While I’ll still need to follow a lot of health precautions like not drinking the water while I’m there, I’m probably not going to come down with any major deadly diseases and more importantly not bring anything back with me that can infect others.