Where can you travel without a passport? Options for travelers amid backlog

▶ Watch Video: State Department faces backlog of passport applications

A passport can help you access the nearly 200 countries that make up the world, but even without that international document, United States travelers can still see some exciting parts of the globe.

Currently, passport applications are backed up and delayed, forcing people to wait between eight and 12 weeks to get their documents, limiting travel plans. 

However, there’s no need abandon all hope of exciting vacations: While you can’t get to any international destinations without a passport, there are some places that U.S. travelers can go to with just their state-issued ID. 

Where can I travel without a passport? 

The United States has five permanently inhabited territories: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. American Samoa requires a passport. However, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico are accessible to United States travelers even without a passport, according to the federal government

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, you can bask in the sun on the territory’s famous white-sand beaches on islands like St. Croix and St. Thomas and explore tropical reefs in clear blue waters. The Northern Mariana Islands offer a mix of relaxing beaches and exciting mountains perfect for hikers. In Puerto Rico, travelers can experience the history and culture of San Juan or adventure in the El Yunque tropical rainforest.  

According to entry and exit requirements published by the territory of Guam, U.S. citizens visiting are required to have a passport, but “on a case-by-case basis, photo I.D. and proof of citizenship may be accepted.” Guam also offers gorgeous beaches and interesting slices of World War II history. 

Are there cruises that don’t require a passport?

There are also unique travel opportunities, like closed-loop cruises, which can allow people to get out and explore. These are a little trickier, said Peter Greenberg, CBS News’ travel editor. They aren’t as great an option as they may sound, because few companies offer them. 

“How many of those are there? Very few. We’re talking about a cruise that leaves a port in the United States and goes to another port in the United States, and those don’t happen very often,” Greenberg said. This is because of a 1939 piece of legislation called the Jones Act, which said that any ship not registered in the U.S. could not sail between two U.S. ports without stopping in a foreign port first. Most cruise ships are not registered in the United States, Greenberg said, making them susceptible to this law. “Closed-loop cruises are really a misnomer, because while they’re technically possible, nobody does them.” 

Previously, Americans were able to travel between Canada and Mexico without a passport, but that has been changed and is no longer an option, Greenberg said. 

Miami Travel Tourism Rebound The Celebrity Summit cruise ship prepares to depart from PortMiami, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Miami. 

Lynne Sladky / AP

While delays are affecting passport wait times, Greenberg said the best advice he could give people who want to see the world is that they fill out their applications. 

Even if you already have a passport, the delays could still impact your travel plans. Most countries require passports to be active for at least six months after the length of your trip, so if you have plans that would not be viable with those requirements, it’s important to renew your passport as soon as possible. You should also check entry requirements — some countries may require as many as two blank pages in your passport, so if you don’t have that available, you’ll need a new passport. 

Still, Greenberg said, it’s worth the time and investment to have the international document. 

“The number of places you can travel without a U.S. passport is pretty small,” Greenberg said. “A passport is the best investment you could make.”

If getting a passport in time for your next trip isn’t an option at all, there are plenty of places in the United States worth taking a trip to. A U.S. News & World Report ranking looking at destinations for 2022-2023 found that the Grand Canyon was the best place to visit in the country, with spectators coming from all over the world to take in the gorgeous formations and visit other gems in Arizona’s desert. 

A TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Awards poll published in 2022 found some crowd-favorite destinations in the United States. At the top of the list is Las Vegas, beloved for its glittering nightlife. Next are Oahu and Maui in Hawaii, where travelers can soak in the sun and check out some adventurous island activities. Fourth is Florida’s Key West, the southernmost point of the United States. Other highly-ranked destinations included New York City, New Orleans and Nashville. 

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