By age thirty, most everyone should have a passport. If you are over thirty and don't have one, I won't waste any time criticizing (triflin...). I'll just say that there's no better time than now to start the process, and I've tried to make the process a little easier by sifting through the US State Department's travel site - travel.state.gov - for information on obtaining a US passport. I'll also say that the folks thinking they can pop down to Mexico or the Bahamas with their driver's licenses these days are in for a rude awakening at the border.
The State Department operates several passport agencies, located in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Norwalk (CT), Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington (click the city name for info on that particular agency). Lastly, passport applications can be picked up and submitted at almost all US Post Offices.
You can also download and print a first-time passport application: here.
The total cost (in United States Dollars) for a first-time passport is $100 for anyone aged 16 and over and $85 for anyone under 16. The charge is broken down into the passport fee ($75 for 16 and over/$60 for under 16) and the execution fee ($25 for both). If you apply for your passport directly through the State Department at a passport agency, the total cost may be made in one payment and in several methods. If applying through the post office, the application fee must be made payable to the US Department of State, while the execution fee must be made payable to the US Postal Service (check or money order only).
Additional requirements include a copy of your birth certificate as proof of United States citizenship and a state- or federal government-issued photo ID for proof of identity, along with two 2x2-inch passport photos that can be taken at any FedEx-Kinko's or certain stores and pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS, or Wal-Mart. A list of other acceptable documents and forms of ID can be found here.
Passports can take up to 6 weeks to arrive, but can be expedited by visiting a passport agency, or requesting rush service with the application at the post office, for an additional $60. More information on an expedited passport can be found here.
You can also check on the status of your passport application here.
Passports for adults are usually valid for 10 years. Passports for children are valid for less time and require a different application procedure (check here).
Most foreign governments require that a US passport be valid for at least another six months after the conclusion of the trip. An adult renewal passport costs $75, and more information can be found here.
For international ballers who are running out of room in their still-valid passports, extra pages can be ordered, or you can get a newer, thicker passport here.
September 11 has, of course, caused a tightening in travel documentation requirements, hence the establishment of the WHTI - Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Essentially, all the formerly passport-free areas for road trips and cruises - Canada, Mexico, and much of the Caribbean - will by 2009 require either a passport; a newfangled device called a passport card, good for border crossings by land or sea; or other "WHTI-compliant document." The cards cost $45 for a first-time adult applicant, $35 for a first-time child applicant, and $20 for current valid passport holders. All air travel to these regions will continue to require a traditional passport book.
Any other information you might want, need, or forgot to ask...check the website, because, hell, the State Department ain't payin' a brother.