Lonely Planet Writer

Are you American? Now you *really* need a passport!

Thinking of a quick jump across the border? You may need to do a bit more homework.

The US government has changed its rules on passports for land travel. Our man on the ground, US Travel Editor Robert Reid, did the legwork. Here's his take on the situation:

Anyone remember the infamous WHTI (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative)? Don't worry. I didn't either.

Recommended by the 9/11 Commission, this legislation added passport or 'passport card' checks for Americans reentering the country by air from the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico. As of June 1, those rules finally extended to sea and land travel.

That means no more drunken visits to Tijuana on a Wyoming driver's license.

So far things are going pretty well. Customs officer Kevin Corsaro, stationed at the popular Niagara Falls crossing, told me yesterday, 'About 95%' of the 17,000 daily crossings are complying with new regulations.'

And what if you're not 'complying'?

'We give them tear sheets to let them know they're not complying. If we can establish citizenship quickly, we let them through.'

This 'informed compliance' policy is in place at other crossings too. However, it may end with little notice.

So what do you do if you don't have a passport?

One option is a 'US passport card'. Introduced in 2008, these wallet-sized suckers are cheaper than the real deal (US$45 for an adult, as opposed to US$100). But you can't use them for air travel.

If you really don't want to fork out the cash, your options are very limited.

You could take a cruise that originated and ended in the same US destination (though you might not be allowed off the boat overseas). Or you could try Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands - all US territories.

Want more? Head straight to North Dakota. The 2400-acre International Peace Garden, created seven years before WWII began, overlaps with the Manitoba border. You'll need no passport to enter the border-spanning garden, perhaps tinkle in a Canadian toilet, then 're-enter' the Lower 48.

(Several years ago, while researching the Great Plains chapter for Lonely Planet's USA guidebook, I crossed here to see Canada's largest turtle, 'Tommy' - the sixth image here.)

If you're aching to go beyond the peace garden and Puerto Rico, maybe it's about time to get a passport anyway. There's a whole world out there.

So what do you think? Will this affect your travel plans? Does it spur you to get a passport, or does it make you shrug your shoulders and plan that holiday in Vegas instead?