It goes without saying that your passport is the most important item to have with you as you travel. It’s your key to the rest of the world, and without one, you’ll get nowhere. I say this because there are Pre-9/11 stories of people being able to jump on an international flight without a passport (in certain conditions). If you’re flying domestic in the States and you have your ID stolen or you lost it at some point during your vacation, you can still get on your flight as long as you show a police report stating you lost your ID. (I don’t think this will work if you’re leaving your hometown, only returning to it.)
Passports don’t and won’t work like that. If you lose it, or have it stolen while abroad, it’s up to you to contact the consulate, and to apply for a new one, before returning home. This can be a hefty financial cost, and you can, in theory, get in trouble for overstaying your tourist visa, even if it’s because you lost your passport.
[anecdote: Some people will attempt to overstay their Schengen Zone visa by ‘losing’ their passport and applying for a new one, near the end of their 90-day limit. When the new passport arrives at the consulate, they’ll ask you when you arrived into the country, and you can tell them a later date then the date you entered, giving you extra time in the Schengen Zone. Although this can work, it can also backfire and end up with your exile from the Schengen Zone for a certain period of time.]
If you’re planning on traveling indefinitely, and you have a passport, check the expiry date. Most countries will only allow you in with 6-months to 1-year left of validity on the passport.
[information: A passport is valid for 5 years for anyone under 16, and 10 years if you’re over 16.]
If you’re near that 6-month to 1-year expiration date, I recommend renewing your passport. Similarly, if you no longer look like the person in the photo (Weight gain/loss, change of hair color, extreme haircut (dreads/long hair to bald), etc.) then I would also suggest renewing your passport. The most important thing to keep in mind is: foreign Passport Control has no obligation to let you into their country. It doesn’t matter if you already have a trip booked, or a flight in and out. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2am, and you’re exhausted, if the Passport Control decides not to let you in, then you’re not getting in. Traveling to a foreign country is a privilege, not a right.
Renewing a passport costs $110, and a new one costs $145. Please do this well before your trip. Receiving your passport usually takes anywhere from a few weeks, to a few months. The closer it is to summer, generally speaking, the longer it will take. More people traveling means more people getting a passport.
If you’re American, here’s the State Government website for applying for a passport. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/apply-renew-passport/how-to-apply.html
It’s a fairly simple process. Print out and fill in the form. Get picture taken (I do it at the Post Office only because I trust them to know exactly what is needed). Send in the form, pictures, proof of citizenship and proof of identity. Wait 3-12 weeks. Receive your brand new passport. (They will mail you back your birth certificate in a separate package from your passport. If you get one of them a day before or after the other, don’t panic.)
A quick word about passport sleeves: I wouldn’t bother. My passport is in pretty beat up condition and that has never affected me getting into a country. Not to mention, you’ll have to remove the passport from any protective sleeve before handing it to the Passport Control Officer.