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Why You Should Renew Your Expiring Passport Now

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If you’re one of the millions of Americans whose current passport is set to expire in 2016, the State Department urges you to renew it as soon as you can. Procrastination never ends well, and this year, resisting the temptation will be especially crucial: Officials are anticipating a surge of 10-year passport renewals that might end up complicating travel plans for many unlucky citizens. 

A decade ago, the State Department became overwhelmed by a flood of applications from Americans hoping to receive passports for the first time. The influx was the result of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which began requiring passports for citizens flying back to the U.S. from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda in 2007. In an effort to better handle the same level of congestion this time around, officials are recommending Americans renew their passports as soon as possible. 

First-time applications for passports have also been on the rise, thanks in part to citizens from states that have not yet complied with the Real ID Act. When the law—which set stricter standards for photo IDs—goes into effect in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Washington, and America Samoa, people from those parts of the country will be required to show an alternative form of identification to their license (like a passport) for flights within the U.S. The act doesn’t go into effect until January 22, 2018, but many seem to think the deadline is just around the corner and are taking action now. 

Another good reason to renew your passport sooner rather than later is that many countries don’t recognize passports that are less than six months from expiring. This year's holiday season may seem like a ways off, but taking care of your passport situation now will ensure smoother travel plans at the end of the year. Most U.S. citizens can renew their passports by mail for a $110 fee, and should expect the process to take up to six weeks. Those seeking a first-time passport must visit a designated agency and submit the application in person. 

[h/t: The New York Times]

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Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
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Inside the German Town Where Advent Is the Main Attraction
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

The German town of Gengenbach takes Christmas very seriously. So seriously that it counts down to the holiday with one of the biggest Advent calendars in the world.

Two decades ago, the town of 11,000 people on the edge of the Black Forest set out to bring in more tourists during the holiday season. So to make its holiday market unique, Gengenbach began turning its town hall into a building-sized Advent calendar.

Now one by one, every night from November 30 to December 23, the windows of Gengenbach’s Baroque city hall light up with artistic creations inspired by a yearly theme. At 6 p.m. each evening, the lights of city hall go up, and a spotlight trains on one window. Then, the window shade pulls up to reveal the new window. By December 23, all the windows are open and on display, and will stay that way until January 6.

Gengenbach's city hall lit up for Christmas
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

Each year, the windows are decorated according to a theme, like children’s books or the work of famous artists like Marc Chagall. For 2017, all the Advent calendar windows are filled with illustrations by Andy Warhol.

According to Guinness World Records, it’s not the absolute biggest Advent calendar in the world. That record belongs to a roughly 233-foot-high, 75-foot-wide calendar built in London’s St Pancras railway station in 2007. Still, Gengenbach’s may be the biggest Advent calendar that comes back year after year. And as a tourist attraction, it has become a huge success in the last 20 years. The town currently gets upwards of 100,000 visitors every year during the holiday season, according to the local tourist bureau.

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A New Roller Coaster is Whizzing Through Colorado's Rocky Mountains
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There are plenty of ways to explore the majestic Rocky Mountains, but few offer the adrenaline rush of the Rocky Mountain Coaster, a brand-new roller coaster that sends riders soaring along the range’s natural twists and turns.

As Urban Daddy reports, the Rocky Mountain Coaster recently opened at Copper Mountain, a mountain and ski resort that’s located near the tiny town of Frisco, about 75 miles west of Denver. Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, the vacation spot is ideal for hikers, skiers, and mountain bikers. Now, visitors looking to enjoy the surrounding scenery without breaking a sweat can cruise for roughly a mile down to the resort’s high alpine Center Village.

The ride’s raised track “runs along the natural curvature of the mountain, with zigs, zags, dips, and 360-degree turns for guaranteed thrills,” according to a press release. Each personal car is equipped with manual hand brakes to control the ride’s pace, but the coaster does feature a 430-foot drop, so be careful with your phones while Instagramming the view.

The Rocky Mountain Coaster is open-year round, though it will initially mostly only be open on weekends. Solo rides cost $25, and a two-ride pass can be purchased for $35. (Resort guests get an exclusive discount.)

[h/t Urban Daddy]

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