Everything You Need to Know About U.S. Passport Photos

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Getting a passport is a good thing!  It means lot’s of fun in the future, but dealing with the technicalities of passport photos can be a little confusing.  We’ve put together this guide to help answer all your passport photo related questions.  If you are looking for a quick way to make sure your passport photo is okay check out the State Department’s examples of acceptable passport photos.

General Passport Photo Requirements and Information

How many passport photos do I need?
You only need to submit one passport photo with your application.  

It’s a good idea to get extra passport photos taken to bring with you on your trip.  If you lose your passport while traveling, you will need passport photos to apply for a replacement passport and having them on hand will simplify the process.

How old can my passport photo be?
You should take or have your photo taken within 6 months of your application submission.  The reason for this is to ensure that your appearance in the photo reflects your current appearance.

Do I need a new passport photo if my appearance has changed?
You only need to get a new passport photo taken if the change is significant.  If you can still be identified in the photo you should be fine. 
Examples of significant changes would be undergoing extensive facial surgery, losing or gaining a lot  of weight or transitioning in  gender.

Where can I get my passport photo taken?
Many national drugstore changes like Walgreens  and CVS take passport photos. You may also get your passport photo taken at the post office or at a Fed Ex Office.

For more options check out this great guide.

Clothing and Accessory Related Requirements for Passport Photos

Can I wear sunglasses or eyeglasses in my passport photo?
If you wear eyeglasses on a daily basis you can wear those in the passport photo as long as they don’t obscure your eyes.  You may only wear tinted glasses if you have a medical reason for wearing them and you will have to supply a medical certificate to verify this.

Are there any requirements to how I pose on a passport photo?
Yes, you must be facing the camera, your eyes must be open and your expression should not be unusual.

Can I wear a hat in my passport photo?
The only time you can wear a hat or head covering is if you already wear it daily for religious purposes.  Your face must still be visible and you must be able to see your hairline.

Passport Photo Technical Requirements

What size does my passport photo have to be?
Passport photos must be 2 X 2 inches.  You can use the State Department’s passport photo cropping application if you have a photo that is larger.

Can I take and print my passport photos myself?

You can, you just need to make sure you adhere to the State Department’s requirements for passport photos.
What type of paper does my passport photo need to be printed on?
Your passport photo should be printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper.

What type of background should my passport photo have?
Your passport photo should be taken in front of a plain white  or off-white background.

Can my passport be black and white or does it have to be color?
Only color photos are accepted on passport applications.

How large should my head be in the passport photo?
Your head should be between 1 inch and 1 3/8th inches (think 50% to 69% of the images total height).  The State Department’s passport photo cropping application can help you if you are having trouble visualizing these dimensions.

Passport Photos For Children

Does my child have to appear alone in their passport photo or can I hold them?
The child must appear alone and no signs of support (such as the hands of a parent holding a child) can be visible in their passport photo.

I can’t get a picture of my baby with their eyes open.  Is it okay for my child’s eyes to be closed in their passport photo?
It is okay for a newborn or infant to have their eyes closed.  All other children must have their eyes open and also must be looking directly at the camera.

An easy way to take a passport photo of your infant is to cover a car seat in a plain white sheet and take a picture of them in the car seat.

My child’s appearance has changed a lot due to getting older.  Do I need to get a new passport photo for my child?
If the appearance changes are due to the normal aging process, you do not need to get a new passport photo for them.

Hotel Tipping Etiquette – When & How Much to Tip For Hotel Services in the United States

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Hotel tipping is something that can confuse even the most experienced travelers. While tipping at hotels is not mandatory In the United States,  it typically is a good idea to tip if you are happy with the quality of service.  So how do you know what to tip?

The amount you tip for services really depends on the level of the hotel. For self-service hotels where travelers typically bring their own suitcases up to their rooms tipping is less of an expectation.  At more upscale hotels, it is customary to tip for certain services. If you want great service it never hurts to be generous, especially if you plan on coming back and we are a big fan of including a tip budget when you are doing your travel planning.

Here is a guide to give you a baseline idea of how much to tip and to whom.

dollarShuttle Driver
$1-2 per person or $4-5 per party
$2-5 (go higher in bad weather) Tipping when your car is parked is optional.
$1-4 for hailing a cab and helping with your luggage
$1-5 per bag. If your bags are heavy tip in the higher range. Also tip if you request their service when checking out.
No tip is needed for simple questions like directions or restaurant recommendations. Tip $3-5 for show tickets or restaurant reservations and $15 – $20 for tickets to sold-out events or hard-to-get restaurant reservations.
dollarRoom Service
15% of the bill or at least $2 if the gratuity is not already included in the bill
$2-5 per night – Note: Housekeepers at hotels can change assigned rooms frequently. To ensure your housekeeper gets their tip, tip your housekeeper daily instead of at the end of your stay.
dollarCoat Check
dollarPool Towel Attendant
$1 if towel is brought to you
dollarSpa Personnel
15% – 20% of bill if gratuity is not included in the bill
$1 per drink
dollarWaiter/Waitress at In-Hotel Restaurant
15%-20% of bill
dollarWaiter at Buffet Meal
10%-15% of total cost
dollarWine Steward
10%-15% of wine bill
dollarFront Desk Agent
No tip is needed
dollarDelivery of extra towel or other requested item
$2 for one item $1 per item for anymore
dollarDelivery of laundered/ironed clothing
$1 – 3 per item
Pro tip: Carry $1 bills on you to have ready for unexpected circumstances

50 Essential Phrases and Words You Need to Know When Traveling Abroad

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photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

A few key words and phrases are all you need to learn in order to travel easily in a foreign country.  We’ve always thought that you could get by with just the words hello, this, and sorry, but that  would be taking the hard road and we don’t want that for you! 

If you want to travel better, learn this list of 50 key words and phrases that will help you travel with ease in a foreign country. 


  • Hello 
  • Goodbye

Basic Phrases

  • Thank You
  • I’m Sorry
  • Excuse me
  • I need help
  • I do not speak (language)
  • My name is _________
  • I am looking for _________ (restaurant, building, landmark, etc)
  • I want to go to __________
  • The bill please
  • I don’t understand
  • I don’t know
  • I need a doctor


  • Where is (the) ________?
  • When?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How do you say ______? (for use when pointing to objects)
  • Do you speak (language)?
  • What is your name?
  • Could you please repeat what you said?


  • good 
  • delicious


  • restroom
  • men and women (to recognize on restroom signs)
  • hotel
  • airport
  • train
  • bus
  • restaurant
  • food
  • food types: bread, fish, meat, chicken, water, soda, etc.


  • eat
  • go
  • want 


  • You 
  • he/she
  • they
  • this (for use when pointing)


  • now
  • later
  • tomorrow
  • please
  • yes
  • no
  • days of the week


  • numerals 1-15 and the multiples of 10s

Other Words

  • with
  • without

How to Accurately Estimate the Weight of Your Luggage

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photo credit: FulgentKlutz via photopin cc

photo credit: FulgentKlutz via photopin cc

Want to save money while traveling?  Make sure you don’t bring an overweight bag on your next trip!  Fees on airlines can be incredibly high if you go over the allowed weight limit for luggage.  As of writing this, your oversized bag could cost you between $100 to $200 dollars on an American or United flight and on Delta you are looking at $90 to $175.

So what is the best way to estimate the weight of your luggage?  Here are two options that can help:

1. The DIY Luggage Weighing Method

It might be tempting to just put your luggage on a scale, but depending on the size and structure of your luggage, you might end up with inaccurate results.  The best way to estimate the weight of your luggage using a personal scale is:
  1. Weigh yourself
  2. Weigh yourself holding your luggage
  3. Subtract your weight from your weight holding the luggage
The one con of this method is that it really only works before your trip.  Unless you have access to a scale while traveling, you will have to guess what your take home luggage weight is and depending on how much you bring back, this can vary a lot.

2. Use a Digital Luggage Scale

Digital luggage scales are a great way to prevent additional charges at the airport for overweight luggage.  To use a digital luggage scale you typically attach it to a handle on your luggage and just lift the luggage using the scale.  It’s simple and fast and typically pretty accurate.

Cons – if you travel with them, they will add to the weight of your luggage so look for a lightweight one!

Which Digital Luggage Scale Should You Buy?
Our favorite, the Eat Smart Digital Luggage Scale, a compact, lightweight and easy to use scale.

No matter what you use, be sure to leave a little room for error.

Master Travelers Tip: Always leave room in your luggage for souvenirs you buy while on your vacation.  Also be sure to compensate for the possible weight of things you may bring back. 

The Man Who Loved Snowflakes & Places To Visit If You Love Them Too

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Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated., When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.

– Wilson  Bentley

Magic. How could you describe snowflakes as anything else? Falling from winter skies they seem to bring a stillness and simplicity to the world.  Hush now, here they come, thousands upon thousands of little masterpieces, each wondrously unique and sublimely beautiful.


wbentleyIt is no wonder that a young Wilson Bentley, growing up in Jericho Vermont, where the annual snowfall is around 82 inches, became transfixed with snow crystals after receiving a microscope for his 15th birthday.  He tried drawing what he saw through the microscope but the snow always melted before he could finish.  This led to years of work trying to capture a snowflake through photography. Following many failed attempts, Wilson became the first person to successfully photograph snow crystals in 1885.

The day that I developed the first negative made by this method, and found it good, I felt almost like falling on my knees beside that apparatus and worshipping it! It was the greatest moment of my life. 

– Wilson  Bentley


Bentley spent over forty years photographing snowflakes and perfecting his techniques.   He took over 5000 photos of snowflakes. His passion, what Mary B. Mullet, writer for The American Magazine, called “a dream of beauty”, was remarkable.   

When Mary asked him when he became interested in snowflakes?  His answer was simple,

“Almost sixty years ago, I guess,” said Bentley, with a whimsical expression. “I was born in 1865, and I can’t remember the time I didn’t love the snow”

Vermont Edition interview with Wayne Howe, archivist for the Jericho Historical Society about Bentley’s imprint on history.

Places To Visit If You Love Snowflakes

The Bentley Snow Crystal Collection at the Buffalo Museum of Science

See Bently’s original glass-plate photomicrographs of snow crystals.


Jericho Historical Societies’ Snowflake Bentley Exhibit

See Bentley Snowflake photographs and artifacts including Bentley’s original photo-microscope.


The Snow Crystal Museum in Asahikawa Japan

 Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!



Northeastern Minnesota

Take a Dogsled Trip at the Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge



Stay in the Kirkenes Snow Hotel


New Zealand

Go on a glacier walk at the Fox glacier.  Snow falls at the top of the glacier year round!


Sapporo Snow Festival

Every winter, about two million people come to Sapporo to see a large number of splendid snow statues and ice sculptures which line Odori Park.