Passports 101: A Guide for Applying and Renewing Your Passport in 2020

Applying for a passport - or renewing an expired passport - may seem daunting, but we're here to walk you through it. The good news: it's easier than ever today, so don't let passport woes stop you from traveling outside of the United States! Timing is everything, so it's best to apply for a passport (even if you are just renewing it) several months in advance to ensure that you receive it in time for your trip. Here is the Explore Up Close guide to applying for a passport - happy globetrotting!


If you are applying for a first-time passport, you can apply in person at many post offices. Post office locations can be found here. While the closest location may be the most convenient, sometimes wait times are much less in post offices just outside of the city. For example, I live in Spartanburg and there is a post office not far from my house, but I went to the post office in Moore to renew my passport and was served almost immediately after walking in the door. Whatever post office you choose, it is best to make an appointment. Before your appointment, you will need to fill out the DS-11 form, which can be found online here. Proof of citizenship and identification will be required at the appointment, as well as a photocopy of each. Your evidence of citizenship must be an original or certified copy. In addition, you will need to bring one 2" by 2" color photo.


If you need to renew an expiring/expired passport, you can do this easily by mail. You will need to fill out the DS-82 form, which can be found online here. Then you will mail in the form as well as your most recent U.S. passport, one 2" by 2" color photo, necessary fees, and any other required documents. If you have urgent international travel within 14 days, you can make an appointment at a post office, or other passport center, and pay an additional $60 expedite fee.


Photo Tips. You can take your own photo, but it is best to get photos made at places like CVS, Walgreens, or FedEx stores. If you have a Costco membership, this will be the cheapest place to get a photo made. Photo requirements can be found here.


For more complicated situations, or additional information, take a look at the State Department’s website, found here.

Posted on February 11th in International Travel

The Small Joys of Travel: Bielefeld, Germany

Finding home in Germany, through the sharp eyes of Explore Up Close intern, Olivia Reichwald!

Bielefeld, Germany is a second home for me; I have spent entire summers there with my family and have watched little things in the city change over the years - things that only a local would notice. Bielefeld is one of the largest cities in Germany, despite its relative anonymity, but seems small due to its lack of skyscrapers. In fact, there is even a conspiracy theory that Bielefeld does not exist, once alluded to by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel! 

One of the fun things about returning to the same home-away-from-home so frequently is that I am able to revisit to my favorite spots while also discovering new hidden gems. Every time I visit, I make sure to go to the nearby Tierpark (zoo) and spend a few hours meandering through the wooded landscape watching bears, reindeer, and an enormous collection of birds. All of the animals are meant to represent local species, and visitors can interact with the habitats: you can hand-feed deer, walk on a bridge over the wolves, and even enter into the goats’ enclosure (my personal favorite). Memories of playing with the goats are some of the best memories I have of going to Germany as a young child, and the goats are always a source of comfort for me: I know that they will always be there when I return. 


Not far from the Tierpark is the Sparrenburg—an old castle-turned-fortress, dating back to the medieval period. As a child, I visited this site for a Renaissance festival, during which the locals celebrated the history of their town and its origins. Over the years, I’ve seen several new excavations expand the site and enhance its history. I learn more about the fortress each time, while enjoying panoramic views of Bielefeld just below.  


Even seemingly mundane places take on a new shine when they are so deeply rooted in memories. For example, visiting the grocery store is another must-do when I visit Bielefeld. The chocolate aisle - or should I say aisles - has some of the best chocolate (if you believe that Germany chocolate is the best, like I do) for much cheaper prices than in any other country. Consequently, we stock up for the next year. The meat and cheese sections are also beyond ordinary. Germans eat Abendbrot most days, which translates to “evening bread.” They eat their warm, heavy meal at midday and have a light meal in the evening - Abendbrot. Typically, there will be assortments of breads, meats, cheeses, and vegetables for people to create their own open-faced sandwiches. Therefore, Germans care deeply about good quality cheeses and meats…and also bread. Some of my favorite memories in Germany are at the dinner table enjoying Abendbrot together with my German family. 

Downtown Bielefeld is the backdrop to many of my childhood afternoons in Germany. It’s just a short walk away from where my family stays, and I can begin to smell the sweet scents of breads and pastry (mixed with a hint of cigarette smoke) as soon as I enter onto the cobblestone streets. The downtown is divided into two sections: the newer section which contains popular clothing stores, department stores, and other major brand-name shops; and the “Altstadt” (old city) which houses boutiques, the best gelaterias, and old buildings that have been standing for generations. After a day of visiting our favorite stores, my sister and I always find our way to one particular gelateria and walk back with a fresh cone of gelato in our hands. If there’s anything that I’ve learned from traveling, it’s that the small joys are always the most memorable.    




Text and photos by Olivia Reichwald


Posted on August 1st in International Travel

Summer Adventure in the Bavarian Alps

A glimpse into summer in the Bavarian Alps, through the sharp eyes of Explore Up Close intern, Olivia Reichwald!


The Alps host some of the most scenic views in all of Europe and are known for their towering snow-covered peaks. Although the Alps are most commonly accessed through Switzerland or Austria, I had the pleasure of enjoying the Alps from a quaint town in Bavaria, the southernmost region of Germany. The town of Jachenau is a prime tourist destination during ski season due to its proximity to the Alps, but it offers a unique look into the day-to-day German lifestyle during the summer months.



Upon arriving in Jachenau, I was immediately captivated by the rolling hills of green pastures and farms, and the crisp air was certainly a nice break from the humidity of South Carolina. The house where we stayed was situated in a small neighborhood backed by sheep pastures, in which we were able to watch farmers herd the sheep every morning and evening. The town itself has only one grocery store and one restaurant, allowing us to truly immerse ourselves in Bavarian village culture.


On our first full day in Jachenau, we went on an eight-mile hike up one of the nearby mountains. Although the locals rated the hike as “super easy,” it proved to be quite strenuous as we hiked continuously uphill until we reached the peak. However, the challenge was worth the view. As we began to near the top, we turned around and saw an incredible panoramic scene of crystal clear lakes nestled between majestic alpine hills. From the top, the Alps would have been visible had it not been a foggy day, but the view of the surrounding lakes was absolutely breathtaking. The Walchensee, the alpine lake situated next to Jachenau, has a turquoise hue that rivals the waters of the Caribbean and is surrounded by snowy hills and forests. AHgFSRPYaD0eVrZyvELBTd9G2calUwJzDjuCHj5O


My father, who was on the trip with us and was born and raised in northern Germany, reminisced on his boyhood years of camping with his family by the Walchensee; these anecdotes made the experience especially meaningful for us. The view, however, was only one of the most rewarding parts of the hike. Just below the peak of the mountain sat a small restaurant frequented only by hikers or nearby loggers. The restaurant seemed to be the dining room of a woman’s house as it only held two large tables and lots of outdoor seating. The limited menu held only variations of meat and cheese boards and soup, but it was warm and homemade, which is exactly what we needed after the steep climb.





After a couple days of exploring Jachenau, we spent a day in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a popular destination for skiers from around the world. At the edge of town sits the Zugspitze, the tallest alpine mountain in Germany. It can be hiked up, or viewed by ascending in a cable car. Still sore from the hike the day before, we opted for the cable car. Once we boarded the suspended metal lift, we launched toward the mountain in our ascent. During the five-minute trip, the landscape around us quickly transformed from lush forest into beautiful contrasts of alpine rock and glistening snow. We could see the Austrian Alps in the distance, and the Zugspitze was magnificently situated in the forefront. 



The next day, we drove north through Germany to visit family in Bielefeld, near Hamburg, and I was amazed by the variety of scenery that we saw, as we left behind the quiet alpine landscapes for the lush rolling hills of central Germany.


Text and photos by Olivia Reichwald


Posted on July 23rd in International Travel

Gone North for the Summer: Quebec's Eastern Townships

Our adventure into Quebec's Cantons-de-l'Est, or Eastern Townships region, began in North Hatley at the stunning Manoir Hovey. This lovely, upscale inn is the former lakeside estate of Harry Atkinson, founder of Georgia Power - just one of the many surprising stories that we uncovered during this trip.

One of the most memorable aspects of our trip were the meals. Decadent breakfasts of blueberry pancakes and pecan-encrusted French toast, fresh cheeses and breads, and the unforgettable multi-course dinner that was beautifully presented to us on our first night - it was immediately clear that we were in the heart of Quebec’s farming region. 

We enjoyed lovely scenic drives through the pastoral countryside, stopping often to admire beautifully preserved Anglican churches, covered bridges, and charming towns. We sampled lavender lemonade at the Blue Lavande lavender farm, and enjoyed an evening boat ride on Lake Massawippi. While it was too chilly for these Southerners to swim, some of our group tested the water for us when our boat hit a wave! 

We also spotted a few of the traditional round barns in this area. This style of barn was once common in the Eastern Townships, and now only a handful remain. We were admiring one rather weathered round barn from the road, when the farmer approached our vehicle and invited us to come and see it up close – by driving our van into his barn! Thanks to some expert driving by Chumley, we made it up the steep ramp into the barn and circled the interior, led by the smiling farmer. He told us that his great-grandfather built the barn in the 1800s, and that his family has farmed on the land ever since. This style of barn was imported from New England, and was once believed to prevent the devil or ghosts from entering and hiding in the corners. We loved spotting these unique structures throughout our trip.

En route to Lac Megantic, we drove through the town of Stanstead – a place that nearly straddles the border of Canada and Vermont. Memorably, one street was lined with cars bearing Vermont license plates and American flags on one side, while the other side of the street had Canadian plates and flags. In the Lac Megantic region, we enjoyed exploring tiny lakeside towns, pretty churches, and the area’s dark skies. Just across the lake is Mont Megantic, an International Dark Sky Preserve, and home to an observatory and the largest telescope on the east coast. We visited the remote observatory, and pondered some existential questions about our place in the universe.

Finally, we spent our last few days in the idyllic area surrounding Lac-Brome. One highlight in this area is the lovely Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, with its striking geometric interior. We listened to the Gregorian chant, and sampled cider and cheeses produced by the monks. Delightful dining, beautiful drives, and our stay in a 19th century manor home turned bed-and-breakfast made it hard to say au revoir to this lovely region of Quebec. A la prochaine...


Posted on July 31st in International Travel

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