Being spontaneous is great, but being unprepared isn't. I mentioned that I'll be going on a little holiday and it turns out it will be in Jamaica! Because I didn't want to chance missing my renewed passport in the mail, I made an appointment at the local passport agency in San Francisco.
If you're traveling within 14 days, you can make an appointment at your regional agency and they will issue your passport to you on the spot or you can pick it up the next day or whenever they tell you it'll be ready. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to pick mine up yesterday, so I told them to send it to me. Then, I panicked and wondered if it would make it to me at all because the mail gets mixed up at my complex at times, so I tried to get them to change my delivery preference. The woman on the phone this morning assured me it would be in my mailbox by Tuesday, so if it's not there by Wednesday, I'll be going back to SF on Thursday for them to issue me one right then. Overall, a minor hiccup in the grand scheme of things and nothing that can't be handled. Unlike a couple I met yesterday morning, I wasn't trying to get mine renewed on the same morning I was traveling. Now THAT is being unprepared. Not to mention they also had to go retake their photos. Even though you could feel their sense of urgency, they were surprisingly calm through their whole ordeal. Hopefully they were able to make their flight to Cabo.
The lesson to be learned? BE PREPARED! If you are making an appointment at the agency, make sure you have everything you need. It will make the process easy and painless.
Fill out the application online, print it out, and bring it with you. Or print it out and fill in the blanks while you stand in line. Whatever suits your fancy. The hours on the door of the agency say they open at 9AM, but they opened earlier and I was done by 830.
If you have a confirmation number, have it handy because they will ask you for it as soon as you make your way to the window.
Make sure you get your photos taken at a place that does passport photos (I took mine at Costco), so your face is the proper size - not too small, not too big. You don't want to have to retake them if you don't have to. Also, even though you're stapling one to your application, bring the extras because they will need an additional one.
Bring in your old passport if you have it. They'll take it from you, but rest assured, you will get it back. If you don't have it, bring in your birth certificate.
Also, bring a photo ID, like your driver's license. They didn't ask me for mine, but you should have it just in case.
Some agencies don't require you to show proof of international travel within 2 weeks, but San Francisco does. So, bring a print out of your itinerary. You can bring your actual ticket if you have it, but I just assume bring the itinerary so you don't have to worry about misplacing your ticket during the process.
Currently, the price to renew your passport is $110 and it's an additional $60 for the expedited fee. There isn't any difference in price if you expedite it by mail or at the agency, so it really just depends on how soon you're traveling and if you can wait the 2-3 weeks if you go the mail route. I wrote out a check, but you can pay with a credit/debit card or a money order. The choice is yours.
For me, any excuse to go to San Francisco is a good one. I love the city. So, taking a few hours in the morning to ride BART, get a Chai latte, renew my passport, and people-watch is fun for me.