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Travel Tips

9 Passport Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Trip



May 9, 2024

6 min read

Walking down your high school hallway and realizing you don’t have any clothes on. Trying to talk, but your teeth keep falling out. When it comes to recurring nightmares, losing your passport right before a dream trip is right up there with the worst of them. 

But a lost passport isn’t the only passport-related issue that could get you turned away at the airport or cause issues while you’re on your trip. Here are nine other passport mistakes that could seriously mess up your travel plans. 

Waiting too long to apply

As travelers, we all know we need to be acutely aware of when our passports expire (RIGHT? Please tell me you’re nodding). If you don’t know when yours expires, go look now. We’ll wait. 

If your passport expires in 2024 and you plan on traveling this year, make a plan now for when you’ll renew. Unless you want to pay extra to have it expedited, you’ll need to get your application in at least 6–8 weeks before you need to use your passport again (based on the State Department’s current estimated processing times), but applying 10–12 weeks in advance will make things less stressful. 

If you realize too late that your passport expiration date is approaching, you can make an appointment at a passport agency. You must be traveling within 14 days, and there are only about two dozen agencies in the US, so you may have to travel far to reach one. Don’t risk it; check your passport expiration date, and set a calendar reminder to renew it far in advance. 

Trying to use a damaged passport

Did you know you may not be able to travel if your passport is considered damaged? While what is damaged enough to cause an issue is a bit up to the discretion of the gate agent or immigration officer, the US State Department says you should replace your passport if there is “water damage, a significant tear, unofficial markings on the data page, missing visa pages (torn out), or a hole punch.” 

It also says you don’t have to replace your passport if it shows “normal wear and tear, which includes the bend of a passport after being carried in your back pocket or fanning of the visa pages after lots of opening and closing.”

If your dog chews it or it goes through the wash, though? Probably better to get it replaced than risk getting turned away at the airport. 

passport open to stamped pages.

Not having enough validity beyond the dates of your trip

Maybe you’ve heard this story. A person shows up at the airport ready to take the trip of a lifetime, and they get told, “Sorry, your passport expires too soon.” 

“What do you mean?” they ask. “I return to the US on June 30, and my passport doesn’t expire until July 15!”

The catch is many countries require that your passport be valid not only for the duration of your trip but also for a certain period of time after it ends. For example, Spain requires your passport to be valid for three months after your trip, while Vietnam requires it to be valid for at least six months after.

A good rule of thumb is to make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the dates of any trip. 

Not having enough empty pages

Additionally, some countries require that your passport have at least two to four blank pages, so if you’re running low, check the requirements of the places you’re planning to visit soon to see if you need to renew early. 

Previously, it was possible to add extra pages if your passport was starting to fill up, but now you’ll need to get a new passport. However, when you order your next passport, you can select the option for a "large book," which will give you a version with additional pages. 

Assuming your passport is all you need to enter a country 

US passport holders are lucky; we hold one of the “stronger” passports in the world in that we are welcome into a lot of countries (189 currently) without a visa. But not every country. 

Brazil, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Jordan, New Zealand, Rwanda, and Vietnam are just a few of the places that require US citizens to have a visa. For some countries, visas are free and can be obtained on arrival, while others require a (sometimes costly) application in advance. Additionally, depending on where you are coming from, some countries require vaccines for things like yellow fever, while others require proof of a return ticket or onward travel. The US State Department also recommends that if a child is traveling without both parents or with only one parent, they have a notarized consent form giving them permission to travel. 

Always check the requirements of the country you’re traveling to, as well as any countries you will be transiting through. 

Not matching your ticket name to the name on your passport

This happens most often with people who change their name, book a ticket in that new name, but then try to use the passport that still lists their old name. 

For example, if your last name is Smith, but you get married and change your last name to Brown, you have two choices: 1) Get your passport updated to Brown before you use that last name on any tickets, or 2) continue to use your old passport with the name Smith, but make sure you book your tickets under that name as well. 

If the names on your passport and ticket don’t match, you’ll likely be denied boarding. While we’re on the subject, make sure when you enter your information that you take it slow and ensure accuracy. Typing in your passport number, passport expiration date, or birthday wrong when buying your ticket could lead to a lot of unnecessary hassle at the airport or even getting turned away. 

travelers holding up passports

Putting a souvenir stamp in your passport

Some of the world’s most interesting places—Macchu Picchu, Antarctica, and Korea’s DMZ, for example—sell novelty souvenir “passport stamps” to commemorate your visit. While these may be fun to put in a notebook or on a postcard, do not stamp them in your actual passport. As reported by Travel + Leisure, these novelty stamps could be considered damage, rendering your passport invalid. 

Carrying your original passport around with you every day 

Okay, this one is gonna be controversial. We know there are folks out there who think the safest thing they can do is keep their passport on their person at all times while in a foreign country, but hear us out. 

Most countries do require you to have an ID on you, but that doesn’t have to be a passport, and while it might be annoying to lose your driver’s license or other ID while traveling, it’s a relatively minor inconvenience compared to the pain of losing your passport. 

Keep the passport locked up in a safe place while you’re out and about. That way, if you do have the misfortune of being pickpocketed or simply losing your ID somewhere, you don’t have to rush to the nearest embassy to get an emergency passport in order to fly home. 

It’s also wise to have copies of your passport—both physical printed copies and digital copies saved in the cloud or in your email. 

Putting your passport in your checked luggage or carry-on

Never put your passport in your checked luggage or your carry-on (in case it has to be gate-checked); keep it in your personal item that stays in the cabin with you. 

If your passport accidentally gets put into luggage that gets checked, you may get lucky and have a friendly customs agent who is willing to escort you to baggage claim to pick it up so you can enter the country. However, the worst-case scenario is that you may be denied entry for not having proper identification, in which case you’ll be put on the next available flight back home. 

Published May 9, 2024

Last updated May 9, 2024

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