For travel outside the United States, a passport is always necessary. Even within the United States, a passport constitutes a federally issued form of personal identification and provides the bearer with the Secretary of State's express written request that she or he be allowed to pass all ports unhindered. Getting a US Passport requires that you bring appropriate identification and photographs to a local passport or postal office. Some offices also have camera equipment to take the photographs when you apply for the passport. There's a fee for processing an application and it is usually possible to pay a further fee to 'expedite' or speed up the application in cases where the intended travel is coming up soon. In any case, you don't want to wait too late to apply for your passport if you're planning a trip that requires it. You can find out more about getting a US passport by visiting the Department of State's website.
What to Pack
What to pack depends concretely on some identifiable factors: where are you going? How long will you be there? What time of year is it? Nonetheless, there are some intuitive and individualistic factors involved in picking out the right stuff for a trip as well. The folks at tauck.com have put together a nice set of pointers and things to remember.
Depending on where you're traveling to, a lot of times it's safer and easier to use a major credit card company as a way to access your funds while on the go. The advantages of a credit card as opposed to cash are numerous in terms of security, but there are some places where cash is required. Be careful with your cash. Here are some further tips for safe spending.
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There are some great sites which provide travel guides for what seems like every visitable place on the planet. Here are some links to the best of these: