The State Department's new passport cards, which are wallet-sized identification cards designed to speed border crossings by U.S. citizens to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, are proving popular already.
More than 350,000 Americans have pre-ordered the passport cards, according to the State Department.
The card is not valid for any type of air travel. It can only be used for land and sea crossings between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean.
Beginning in June 2009, travelers will be required to present documents proving both citizenship and identity when entering the U.S. through a land or sea border. For Americans who drive to Canada or Mexico or cruise regularly to the Caribbean, but who do not expect to fly abroad, the passport card is a cheaper, smaller, more portable alternative to a conventional passport book.
It is the size of a credit card or driver's license, and has a photo and identification information printed on it, like a driver's license. It also contains a chip with a random number that allows border officials to instantly retrieve your data.
"When you come to the border, hold your card up to your window and, on the border patrol screen, up will pop your name, your picture, the fact that you are a U.S. citizen and the number of your card. They'll peek in to see if you're the same person, and speed you on your way," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Passport Services Brenda Sprague in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
"If you live in a border community and you regularly go back and forth across the border, whether it's many times a week or many times a month or several times a year, the passport card makes sense," she added.
Passport cards are good for 10 years and cost $45 ($35 for children under 16). Applications can be made at any passport-processing site. If you already have a passport but want the card anyway because of the convenient size or quick scanning, it's only $20 and can be ordered by mail.
For details on how and where to get a passport card, visit travel.state.gov. More than 7,600 cards have already been mailed out to customers who pre-ordered the cards. All existing orders are expected to be filled by Sept. 30. New applications will take about four weeks to process.
Top 10 'ethical destinations'
In an effort to get travelers off the beaten path and support destinations in developing countries, a group called Ethical Traveler has published a list of the "10 best ethical destinations."
The organization said in a statement that many countries "are making noble attempts to preserve their natural assets, create a user-friendly infrastructure, and build an economy where their citizens share the benefits of tourist revenue. By bringing our commerce to such places we encourage their efforts, and inspire neighboring countries to support these values as well."
To create the list, Ethical Traveler looked at environmental protection, social welfare and human rights in the world's developing nations. The honorees on the Ethical Traveler's list, in alphabetical order, are Argentina, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Estonia, Namibia, Nicaragua and South Africa.
The organization used various resources to make the determinations, including data collected by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network; progress made by countries in reducing infant mortality rates as measured by UNICEF; and reports on civil liberties and human rights from sources like Amnesty International and Freedom House.
For more details, visit ethicaltraveler.org.
For kids at airports
Stuck in an airport with kids? Your wait time might not be as dreadful as you fear.
Cheapflights.com has compiled the Kids' Airport Diversion Guide, listing play areas and onsite aviation museums to keep your children occupied until boarding time. To find the complete list, go to Cheapflights.com and scroll down the right-hand side to the section titled 2008 Kids' Airport Diversion Guide, then click on the link. Here are some highlights: