Where can I find additional help?
For advice or a status report on your application, contact the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778. For the State Department: travel.state.gov/passport/index.html.
Any other tips?
Be sure to fill out the emergency page of the passport. Then, make copies of your passport and pack at least one in your carry-on, along with two passport photos for emergencies. Also, jot down the contact numbers and addresses of the U.S. embassies or consulates in your foreign destinations -- you never know when you'll need an American friend abroad. And finally, be sure your passport is machine-readable; look for a series of numbers and/or letters and some unintelligible squiggles beneath your bio data.
When do I need a passport?
You're leaving the United States, so pack your passport, right? Not always. Some countries don't require a passport, even though they're technically foreign destinations. (It never hurts to have your passport handy, though, to make border crossings or getting through customs easier.)
The areas in question are Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico.
Canada: Proof of citizenship is required, including a government-issued birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or naturalization certificate, as well as a valid photo ID, such as a driver's license.
Caribbean: The following islands require only an original or official birth certificate and a valid driver's license or official picture ID: Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Bonaire, Curacao, Puerto Rico, Montserrat, St. Maarten/St. Martin, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Granada, the French Government Islands (St. Barts, St. Martin, Guadeloupe, Martinique), Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, and St. Eustatius.
Barbados, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago do require a passport. For other islands, contact the Caribbean Tourism Organization (212-625-9530, www.doitcaribbean.com) or the tourism office of a specific island.
Mexico: For all parts of the country, an original birth certificate and a valid photo ID will suffice. Driving to Tijuana, you can cross the border with only a U.S. driver's license, but Mexico's tourism office suggests bringing your passport and/or birth certificate -- just in case.