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TRAVEL Q&A

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By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Q. My husband and I received our passports last year, and he signed mine by mistake. I've called the government passport office seven times and have gotten seven different answers as to how to handle this. What should I do?

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Christine Sweeney, Huntingtown

A. Why, keep dialing the passport office, of course. No one should expect a consensus opinion from any government agency until at least 10 phone calls have been placed. But on the off chance that this extra effort will prove fruitless, we gave Florence Fultz a ring. She's the acting managing director of passport services at the Bureau of Consular Affairs ( http://travel.state.gov/passport), a title so long we couldn't help but take her advice.

"I think she should apply for a new passport," Fultz said bluntly, admitting that she'd never heard of spousal passport vandalism in the past. "There is no regulatory or legal prohibition against crossing out the name and having her sign it, but you never know what might happen in specific border control [instances]."

In other words, a passport marred by scratch-outs might give you no trouble whatsoever. Then again, let's say you're going through customs in Bali or some other exotic locale you decide to guilt-trip your ballpoint-happy husband into visiting. Border agents may well look askance at your passport, then look askance at you and your husband. Next thing you know, you're a "48 Hours Mystery."

"So, to be on the safe side, come into the passport agency," reiterated Fultz.

We plan on driving to Costa Rica from Virginia in October, as we have a 4-year-old Labrador retriever that we don't want to have fly in an airplane's cargo section. Will this drive be a fabulous adventure or a total nightmare?

Kathleen May, Charlottesville

The trip will likely be a fabulous nightmare. For one thing, Costa Rica is more than 4,000 miles from here, and the flawed genius that is the U.S. interstate highway system ends at the border.

For another, "it's definitely a dangerous trip," said Derek Dodds, proprietor of a Web site whose name -- DriveMeLoco.com ( http://www.drivemeloco.com) -- is as apt a description as any for such an excursion. Dodds, a California surfer not content with the waves of Malibu, began making the trek south in the '90s, whereupon he discovered "there wasn't any info on driving to Costa Rica." So he wrote "The Gringo's Guide to Driving Through Mexico & Central America," an e-book you can purchase on his site for $9.95.

There's also lots of free advice on driving to Central America at Dodds's site, by him and his fellow travelers, and to this free advice we'll add our own: Don't drive to Central America. Still, we understand that for some there is romance in the road less-graveled, that maybe you don't like to drive at night anyway ("That's when people start to run into dangerous situations," Dodds said), or in your garden-variety sedan ("You need a vehicle that is prepared for horrible roads"), or with insurance ("You can only actually get insurance in Costa Rica and Mexico").

No insurance? What if you're stopped by the police in, say, Honduras or Nicaragua?

"On my last trip, I carried a stack of Playboy magazines," Dodds said. "When you drive through a lot of the smaller villages, if the police see the U.S. plates, they will pull you over, thinking you have something valuable," at which point you should be ready to bribe them with cash or Hefner. ("They probably enjoyed that more than money, because the magazines are harder to get.")

As for your Lab, on the short list of things you can expect authorities to ask for along the way are a veterinary certificate attesting to the dog's health (Guatemala) and an on-site vet examination of your canine at the border (Honduras).

And then there's the little matter of the poor thing enduring what sounds like an interminable six-country road trip. It's a long time for humans, too. On the plus side, you'll really get to catch up on your Playboys.

Your Turn

Regarding family-friendly resorts in New England, Janet Giannotti of Arlington wrote to recommend a Canadian one, Elmhirst's Resort on Rice Lake, which is 90 minutes east of Toronto ( http://www.elmhirst.com, 800-461-1940). "We've been back the same week every year; this summer will be our sixth. An extra bonus for me is that Elmhirst attracts people from Europe and other parts of Canada, rather than the U.S., and that makes me feel farther from home and therefore more 'vacated.' "

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.


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