I havent been to Vegas in years but recent events have brought me back to town solo.

Of course I came during the hottest week of the year so far. Afternoon high temps were 115 F with 5% humidity. That 5% doesn’t mean a whole lot when that 115 hits you in the face like a furnace every time you step outside.

The one free day I did have I tried to pack in as much as I could.

I started off the morning with a 5AM wakeup call to get picked up for a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon from Papilion. Traveled about 25 minutes to the Boulder City Airport by bus from Vegas. The helicopter ride was smooth as a car ride. The lack of rain or clouds meant there was no turbulent air. The helicopters have special clearance to fly through the Grand Canyon and then land 4000 feet deep into it. The tour company then provides a Champagne “breakfast”. Don’t get too excited though. Breakfast consists of an indidual wicker picnic basket with an apple, cherry or cheese danish, a piece of fruit and a piece of peppermint candy and a bottle of water. They did deliver on the promise of Champagne though. You could take the Champagne straight or have a little orange juice to make a mimosa.

To drive to the Grand Canyon on a bus or by car from Las Vegas is about 5 hours. By helicopter flying across the desert from Nevada into Arizona is 30 minutes. To me that is a no brainer decision, but it is not cheap. My tour cost about $300. If you drive you are devoting an entire day to the Grand Canyon. Take the first flight on a helicopter like I did at 7AM and you’re back at the airport by 930AM ready to do something else.

Next up was shooting some real guns. Nevada is the only state where it is legal to shoot automatic weapons. Seems only fitting. There were a number of places that offered packages of different weapons you can fire, accompanied and coached by a trained firearms expert. I choose Machine Guns Vegas for the simple reason that they gave you the chance to fire a RPG (rocket propelled grenade).

For anyone who has played Duck Hunt on Nintendo all the way up to Doom, Quake or Call of Duty on your computer or console system, the chance to fire a real automatic weapon is something you may have thought about but didn’t know how to do. One word: Vegas.

Machine Gun Vegas has a cool modern club feel to it as soon as you walk in, with pretty women who get you to sign the standard disclaimer and waiver in case anything goes wrong. Then you get to pick your package of weapons to fire, with names like Seal Team 6, Femme Fatale, World War II and MOB. The packages include guns from that era or would be used by that group. In my case I chose the Seal Team 6 package, firing guns actually used by US Special Forces.

I had never fired a gun before and was surprised to not nervous before getting my hands on my first gun. My instrcutor told me exactly how to hold the gun and directed me to shoot at the target in the gun range. Squeeze the trigger and POW! It was amazing and scary at the same time. Play out your Rambo fantasies in safety and comfort.

Next up was something a little more educational. The National Atomic Testing Museum details America’s nuclear history, from the Manhattan Project, the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan during World War II and the use of nuclear power as an energy alternative.

There is another exhibit in the same building for an additional fee called Area 51. It goes into the whole history of the secret military installation in Roswell, New Mexico that many believe hold evidence of aliens that have visited Earth. Whether you believe or not, it’s pretty interesting.

Being in Vegas for the first time in 7 years, I came to some realizations:

Vegas is an “adult city”
As much as you hear Vegas is a family destination, I don’t think it is. There are things to do for kids, but the major forms for fun are made for 21 and up. Gambling, drinking, shotgun weddings, firing shotguns and strippers, among other things. I still fail to understand bringing kids to Vegas unless parents can’t get a babysitter. It’s probably cheaper to keep them at home too.

There is such a thing as UNDERpacking
This is for Vegas or anywhere really. In an effort to lighten my load I didn’t bring any dress shoes. Mistake! I found out about one of my favorite hip hop artists was going to be performing at a club on the Strip. I got in line to get in my last night in Vegas and was told by the bouncer: No sneakers allowed! I had not brought any decent shoes and wasn’t going to buy some at that late hour. Lesson learned. Bring some dress shoes/non-sneakers, and maybe even a nice shirt with a collar even if you don’t think you’ll be out partying. You never know what you might discover is happening that you’ll want to go to.

Transportation around Las Vegas sucks
Along with your hotel and airfare budget, you better have a budget for taxi cabs. The Strip has the monorail but it only goes down one side of Strip and does not go all the way to the end. If you start at the Sahara at the north end of the Strip and want to get to Mandalay Bay, you’ll have to get out at the end of line of the monorail, cross the street and get on another monorail. I’m not exaggerating when I say crossing Las Vegas Blvd could take you a good 10 minutes. If you hate walking this may not be your destination spot. Cabs are plentiful but they will add up if you need to travel much beyond your hotel. If you’re off the Strip you must make sure you have a regularly running shuttle bus to the Strip.

So Vegas continues to be one of most popular destinations in the world, and with good reason. There is so much to do that you’ll try to pack it all in a few days but probably won’t get it all in. With the few disadvantages listed, you have to really plan before you get there or you’ll be paying for extras you may have been able to avoid.

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This is about as much as I can show you… or else I’d have to kill you…

IMG 1447 Behind the Scenes with the State Department at Passport Day 2012

Tracey Friley of The Passport Project got me in touch with the State Department who wanted to bring travel bloggers and other interested parties in for Passport Day. I eagerly signed up for the chance.

All the equipment is in the back to actually produce the passports and passport books. That is actually not the most interesting part of the tour, but the question and answer with Kathryn, a State Department employee and our guide for the day.

At the Hudson Street Passport Office, they process about about 1500 passports a week. During the summer months this number jumps to about 2000 as school and work vacations has everyone wanting to jump on a place when they have the opportunity.

Once submitted the passport takes about 4-6 weeks to be returned to you. 2-3 weeks if you choose to expedite. Which brings up a good point. Plan ahead if you want on taking a trip out the country. If you have less than 6 months before the passport expires, get it renewed. Many countries won’t allow you to enter when you have six months or less left on your passport.

During the yearly Passport Day event, the Hudson Street office will accept 200-300 passport applications.

If you don’t know the requirements for a US passport, they are here along with other important answers. But I had a more interesting questions for our host Kathryn.

Can a convicted felon get a passport?
The answer is yes, as long as the all the requirements of incareceration are fulfilled and there is no probation. BUT many countries don’t allow convicted felons to enter their countries anyway so this could be a moot point, but not all countries have that regulation. Our neighbors to the north, Canada, has a no felon rule. You cannot enter Canada if you’ve been convicted of a felony

With all of that said, 99% of passport applications get accepted.

Typical passports need to be renewed every 10 years. Children under 16 need to have their passports renewed every five years. This takes into account how much the looks, height, weight of a child can change over the course of a few years.

There are about 110 million US passports in circulation today, but the there were only half that amount in 2000. The reason for the sudden rise: The rule that passports were needed for travel to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Many people complain about the rise in passport price renewals in 2010. Why is adding passport pages $82 when it used to be free? Why is a new passport $135 when it used to be $100 The answer is that the State Department does more than just issue you the blue book. All the embassies in countries around the world have to be maintained, as well as all the support staff.

RFID or radio frequency identification chips are installed in all new passports. This should make it harder to forge passports and well as make the information harder to steal if lost or stolen. The US passport is part of an international standard that covers security and encryption. This should stop thieves from pulling information out of the air off your passport as you walk by.

The Smarter Traveler app for iPhone is a great resource, surprisingly so. In fact I talked about how shocked I was that this useful app came from the US Government.

So what did we learn from Passport Day?

Getting a passport is easy.
Getting a passport is an almost automatic proposition.
Getting a passport is the key to seeing the world.

So why don’t you have a passport?

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New York Times Travel Show 2012 – Resources For You To Use

March 5, 2012

Tweet Another NY Times Travel Show has come and gone and there is always good info to soak up in breakout sessions hosted by some of the big names in travel. Those folks include Samantha Brown, Arthur and Pauline Frommer, and the travel writers at the New York Times. I could not attend every session, [...]

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Can Smartphone Travel Apps Really Replace a Tour Guide?

February 28, 2012

Tweet Today’s guest post is from Tia of National Geographic’s ExploretheCanyon.com I may not be the most tech savvy person around and sometimes take an almost zealous pride in resisting change – took me awhile to box up my collection of audio tapes , and even longer to replace my trusty old film camera with [...]

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Passport Day 2012 in the USA – Just Take a Little Step Forward

February 20, 2012

Tweet Hopefully it will be on time this year. Passport Day 2011 was delayed by SIX months when the US federal government budget was approved, but it was awful close to the Saturday date, so they decided to preemptively cancel. Passport Day 2012 in the USA is Saturday, March 10, and it provides the opportunity [...]

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5 Warning Signs That You’ve Chosen the Wrong Tour Guide

January 11, 2012

Tweet Today’s guest post is from Tia of National Geographic’s ExploretheCanyon.com Most of us love to travel by ourselves, unfettered by the constraints of time and schedules. When traveling by ourselves or with a set of close friends, we are free to wander around, discover new places and restaurants purely by serendipity. Chance encounters lead [...]

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Best Travel Deals and News – December 27, 2011 – Two Videos, No Reading

January 5, 2012

Tweet This is a short one this week. No reading today. Doubling the pleasure with two videos. Touched by a Wild Mountain Gorilla Traveler gets groomed by wild mountain gorillas. How he got himself into this situation, I do not know…. Soul Flyers – FreeFly BASE 2011 Not necessarily travel related but looks like a [...]

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Happy Holidays 2011!

December 25, 2011

Tweet Thank you all for continuing to read NoDebtWorldTravel!   Merry Christmas – Happy Chanukah – Blessed Kwanzaa to all – even if you don’t celebrate any of these holidays. I wish us all healthy minds and bodies, and the vision and courage to follow our passions, travel or otherwise. It’s the best gift we [...]

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Best Travel Deals and News – December 21, 2011 – How To Tip When Traveling, Keeping Kids Under Control On Planes, Turning Off Devices When Flying, What Not To Do On A Tour, What To Do When You Lose Your Passport

December 21, 2011

Tweet Travel news and deals of interest to YOU from around the Web compiled and edited by NoDebtWorldTravel.com If you know any great travel stories or tips we all should read, please send it to me and I will put an acknowledgment of your contribution in the posting. TSA launches toll-free help line for travelers [...]

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Best Travel Deals and News – December 13, 2011 – Airports for Tech Travelers, Type of Suitcase You Should Get, Midtown Manhattan on the Cheap, Best Days of the Week to Fly

December 13, 2011

Tweet Travel news and deals of interest to YOU from around the Web compiled and edited by NoDebtWorldTravel.com If you know any great travel stories or tips we all should read, please send it to me and I will put an acknowledgment of your contribution in the posting. How I Worked My Way Around The [...]

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