A much-feared backup of U.S passport applications has smashed into a wall of government bureaucracy as worldwide travel rebounds toward record pre-pandemic levels

The result, say aspiring travelers in the U.S. and around the world, is a maddening pre-travel purgatory defined, at best, by costly uncertainty.

So grim is the outlook that U.S. officials aren't even denying the problem or predicting when it will ease.

They're blaming the epic wait times on lingering pandemic -related staffing shortages and a pause of online processing this year

That’s left the passport agency flooded with a record-busting 500,000 applications a week.

The deluge is on-track to top last year’s 22 million passports issued, the State Department says. 📷

With family dreams and big money on the line, passport seekers describe a slow-motion agony of waiting, worrying, holding the line

Marni Larsen and her son, Damon Rasmussen of Holladay, Utah, wait their turn in line hoping to snag her son's passport outside the Los Angeles Passport Agency at the Federal Building in Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

Then the State Department upped the wait time for a regular passport to as much as 13 weeks.

So, 2023 traveler, if you still need a valid U.S. passport, prepare for an unplanned excursion into the nightmare zone.