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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker

MY TRAVEL SNAFU By Ellen Donker

Updated: Jun 17

It was still worth it



When it comes to travel, I like to be organized and on time. I research my destinations far in advance, have a packing list and make sure I get to the airport early. I don’t want any drama. Yet that’s what I got the day my husband and I were scheduled to fly to Portugal.

Three of my girlfriends and I had been planning to take this trip with our husbands since 2019, but it had gotten sidelined by life and the pandemic. Now, at last, all the conversation and planning were becoming a reality. At 11 p.m. on May 10 we’d be off to Portugal for a week, followed by a week in Provence.


But at 7:30 that morning, something didn’t seem right after I downloaded our boarding passes. I rabbit-holed my way into the restrictions link on the Air Portugal site. That’s when I saw the “three-month rule,” which stated that to gain entry to most of the European Union, one’s passport must be valid 90 days after departure. I knew full well that my passport was expiring in July, 62 days later, and was planning to renew it after the trip.


Standing in my kitchen with the realization that I might not be able to fly out that night, I could barely find the words to tell my husband. I may have even stopped breathing as my predicament seemed unsolvable.


I knew I had to figure out how to get my new passport renewed within the day but had no idea who to contact. In a daze, I walked upstairs and got on my computer. I soon found a phone number for the U.S. Department of State and waited until the phone lines opened up at 8 a.m. I got through right away and somberly told the representative my problem.


With no appointments available online, she looked for extra slots that they save internally for emergencies. New York? No appointments. Philadelphia? A few. The rep signed me up for a slot at noon. Although she couldn’t say whether I’d get my passport within the day, she mentioned that the Philadelphia office could print them onsite. I appreciated her empathy and detailed instructions to make sure I had everything in hand when I got there.


After filling out the paperwork the rep had emailed me, I drove to the Maplewood CVS for my passport pictures, praying that someone would be there who knew how to operate its camera. After solving some coupon issues for a customer (didn’t they know I was having a travel emergency?), the cashier took my photo – certainly not my best picture day, but good enough. One gas stop later I was flying down the NJ Turnpike on my way to Philadelphia.


At 11:45, I stepped into the passport office. By noon I was telling my story to the agent. He kindly asked me about my travel plans, told me about his upcoming trip to Italy and then processed my paperwork. He said a lot of people had told him that morning that they had never heard of the three-month rule. Still wondering whether I would really get my passport that day, he told me to come back at 3 p.m., the magic hour by which all passports for the day would have been printed.

And that’s what happened. At 3:05 I walked back to the parking garage, thanking God that I would indeed be able to get on my 11 p.m. flight but asking for smooth sailing on the Turnpike. I walked in my door at 5:30 with just enough time to take a shower, make a final check of my luggage (good thing I packed ahead!), and grab some dinner before heading to Newark Liberty International Airport.


When I showed the Air Portugal agent my passport, she couldn’t believe that I had gotten it in one day. She confirmed that she would’ve had to send me home if I had presented the old one.

Finally able to relax, the stress melted away and my husband and I spent a magical two weeks away with our friends. In the process, I also gained a good story to tell and an opportunity to use this column as a PSA. Planning to travel internationally? Check your passport before you go and observe the three-or six-month rule depending on your destination. It’s a thing.

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