Here’s How I Turned My Passport Renewal Into a Mini Beach Trip

Lemons to (tropical) lemonade in a few easy steps.

It's time to stow your tray tables and secure your luggage in the overhead bins—travel is back in full swing. Introducing Return Ticket, a collection of first-person stories, thoughtful guides, and clever hacks designed to help aspiring globetrotters navigate our new normal as safely and smoothly as possible. Buckle up and prepare for liftoff.

Before the pandemic began, I was a meticulous planner. My trips had excel sheets organized by day, neighborhood, and price. Yet, after pandemic restrictions began to lift and travel became an option, my Type A personality seemed to disappear. No amount of planning could’ve prepared me for a world so unpredictable. Eventually, my state ID expired. I started carrying my passport everywhere in 2021, feeling no need to rush and get my ID renewed—my passport wouldn’t be expiring until May 2022. I had time.

Then, suddenly, it was March 2022. I had a trip planned in April, and based on my own reporting, I knew I wouldn’t have time to renew my passport beforehand. I figured I could get it taken care of in April when I got back. Except I suddenly needed to be in Rome on May 11 for a work trip. Scrambling, I began calling expedited renewal services all over New York City, searching for appointments at acceptance facilities in the Northeast. I had three weeks, and I naively hoped that it would be enough time to get the task done.

One woman at a commercial expediting service laughed at me over the phone. Yet another tried to console me and talked me through the tedious process of calling the Department of State’s appointment hotline. She recommended just calling over and over again, until I could make one at an acceptance facility near me. I qualified for an Urgent Renewal appointment, which meant I could get a same day renewal within 14 days of my planned travel.

people in line at the post office
Joni Hanebutt/Shutterstock

I called the number. But—and again this came as no surprise to me because of my own reporting about the delays in renewing passports—there weren’t any available appointments in the tri-state area. There weren’t even any on the East Coast. My two closest options were in New Orleans, Louisiana and Little Rock, Arkansas. Both would require me taking a flight the night before my trip to Rome and praying to the airport gods that Newark International Airport would have no delays.

At the edge of lunacy, I made an appointment for 8 am in New Orleans on the day of my flight from NYC to Rome. I’d need to be back in New York by 4 pm. Even if the entire American air travel infrastructure weren’t in shambles, this was an impossible timeline.

So I kept calling. By the third day, I had 1-877-487-2778 memorized. I was surprised the Department of State hadn’t blocked my number and felt fortunate that being annoying wasn’t a criminal offense. The 23rd time I called, I was at the point of tears. I was begging: “Please, are there any appointments anywhere in the country that are earlier than May 11?” For the umpteenth time, the answering operator took pity on me. This woman gave a new suggestion. It was further away than Little Rock or New Orleans, but there were openings a full week earlier. I’d just need to get to Puerto Rico.

old wall in san juan on the water
Maremagnum/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

The operator explained that the acceptance facility in San Juan almost always had available appointments for same day passport renewal. I would be able to book a slot five days before my trip. I did the math, and it was the only equation in which I would have a valid passport and be able to make my flight. So what did I decide to do with my hectic bureaucratic nightmare of my own making? I turned it into a 24 hour beach getaway.

I found a hostel that was only a 15 minute walk from the acceptance facility. It was also only a 15 minute walk to the beach. I booked a flight that would arrive on Tuesday night and depart on Wednesday night. My appointment was at 8 am on Wednesday morning. I got in on Tuesday at 11:30 pm, set my alarm, and immediately went to sleep in my little private room at the hostel.

The next morning, I got up at 7 am, picked up a coffee, and made the quick walk to the acceptance facility. It was on the 15th floor of a stately government building. I had all of my necessary documents and checked in. There were only about 10 people in front of me, so dropping off my paperwork, paying the renewal fee, and getting a 3 pm pickup appointment was seamless. I was walking back to my hostel at 8:30 am. With several hours to kill, I grabbed my work laptop and headed to the beach.

people on the beach

I used my cell phone hotspot to log on from the beach and laid out to tan while I filed my first story of the day. Then I strolled over to a beach-front restaurant, where I ordered a salad, connected to the wifi, and got more work done. By 2:30 pm, I was fed, tanned, and actually ahead on my workload. Despite the fact that I was taking an entirely last minute trip to Puerto Rico to get my passport renewed in urgent circumstances, I felt pretty relaxed.

I walked 30 minutes back to the acceptance facility, picked up my passport, and finished my work day at the hostel bar with a slice of pizza and some guava juice. At 5 pm, I was loading myself into a taxi towards the airport. I was home with my new, valid-for-10-years passport by 11:30 pm that night. And compared to paying for an expediting service, which was quoted to be about $650 before taxes and government fees, my trip to Puerto Rico cost just $500. That amount included my flight, my hostel, the $175 renewal fee, my taxi fees, and the food I ate while I was there. Not a bad deal any day, but especially given the circumstances.

My advice here is two fold. First off, avoid the hassle entirely by making sure you give yourself plenty of time to renew your passport before your next international trip. (And keep in mind some countries won’t let you visit if the expiration date is in less than six months.) There is currently a pilot program that will allow you to apply for renewal online, saving you the hassle of having to go into any office. Or, if you like living on the edge, turn an urgent renewal process into a mini vacation if you find yourself crunched for time. You’re likely to find a better appointment slot than on the East and West Coast, and it's a chance to explore a new city—even if it's just for 24 hours.

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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.