Until 20 years ago, getting the necessary paperwork for a trip to our most popular European holiday destinations was easy. If you noticed at the last minute that your passport had expired, you just went to the Post Office for an on-the-spot British Visitor's Passport. For a time, you could even use one to get into the US.
In these security-aware days, it is trickier, especially if you are going to one of the many remaining non-EU countries that require a certain amount of validity; search online for "FCO entry (name of country)" to find out from the Foreign Office. You may also have a passport stamp that may cause you a headache (usually from Israel, though Cuba has also caused problems in the past). Either way, you will need to attend a passport office, located in London, Liverpool, Belfast, Durham, Glasgow, Newport or Peterborough. Call 0300 222 0000 to book an appointment.
Before you do, decide whether you need a passport on the same day as your appointment – costing £128 for the Premium service – or can allow a week for it to arrive for a Fast Track fee of £103 (compared with the normal £72.50). Be prepared to be flexible as the Passport Agency warns: "Your appointment may be up to three weeks from the day you book it." To accelerate the process, it helps to be prepared to travel to whichever regional office has the shortest wait.
The best way to renew a passport, though, is not to be in a hurry. Early March is an excellent time to check when your passport expires. You have four weeks until Easter, which is easily long enough to get a straightforward renewal; recent correspondents to The Independent Traveller have bragged of getting the replacement in three working days, even though the official line is up to four weeks. And you get full credit for any unused time up to nine months; so, if you apply today for a passport that expires on 7 December 2015, the replacement document will be valid until 7 December 2025.