News for the traveler: passports

The State Department ''cautiously optimistic'' that this year will not bring a repeat of last year's well-publicized passport crunch, according to spokesman Robert Lane.

The reason for this hesitancy: Requests for passports are up 30 to 40 percent from last year, when passport agencies struggled with a 16 percent increase of requests over the year before. But Mr. Lane says last year's delays were caused largely by the installation of a new automated passport system in Chicago, the ''bugs'' of which were worked out during the agency's busiest time. Miami has been automated just this year, but system problems were resolved during the quiet winter season.

To relieve the strain on the passport agencies, a passport for an adult is now good for 10 years instead of five. Those under 18 must still renew every five years.

The passport fee had not been increased since 1968, which explains the jump in price to $35. Another change: Everyone must have his own passport regardless of age; an infant can no longer be included on an adult's passport.

The peak season for passport requests is in April; to facilitate processing, if you are in a city that has a passport agency, try applying in person. If applying by mail, do so as early as possible, Mr. Lane recommends. At this time of year, he says, expect the process to take three to four weeks.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs prints a free booklet called ''Your Trip Abroad.'' You may request it with your application or send to the Superintendent of Documents, the US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. Ask for the revised 1983 edition.

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