We recently had the pleasure to sit down and chat with National Geographic’s Traveler of the Year Award recipient, Tracey Friley. Tracey is the Founder and Executive Director of The Passport Party Project, OBG Adventures, and (one of these days) Teen Travel Summit & Extravaganza Weekend. She is a die hard advocate for passports and international youth travel, and received an award from the U.S. Department of Consular Affairs for her work. She is a serious giver and passionate about serving the underserved.
Her Passport Party project caught the eye of Expedia who sponsored passports for 100 girls, and a trip to Belize with 6 of those girls. There are a lot of great things Tracey is doing and plans to do, which she shares in this interview.
BMWK: How did you get your start with travel, and how did the Traveler of the Year award come about?
Tracey: I have no idea how the award came about. I just remember getting an e-mail saying I was being vetted. They had been watching me over the last couple of years, loved my work and needed more info. I was so excited about that initial e-mail, that winning was just that much more exciting. I don’t focus on awards. But the recognition adds a certain amount of exposure, which for me, can lead to more opportunities to help my girls. And I’m still stunned because it’s National Geographic! I’m honored in one of those surreal ways as I almost don’t believe it’s me. But I would love to leverage this so that I can get more for these kids.
BMWK: What is the Passport Party Project and what is the overall mission?
Tracey: It is a global awareness initiative that gifts underserved teen girls with their first passport. The ultimate goal is to play a role in creating global citizens that are responsible and responsive global travelers. No matter how big or small, or how many girls I’m serving, that is always the mission and the goal. Expedia funded phase one of the project.
For the last couple of years, I have been traveling the US hosting passport parties. We talked about travel, the girls made travel vision boards. They took photos in the travel booth of different items from different cultures. I had bloggers come in to volunteer and talk about their travels, so these girls could see people that looked like them.
Girls and volunteers creating travel vision boards shaped like suitcases at New York Passport Party.
The way I define ‘underserved’ for the work I do is: any girl that comes into this world without a fair shake, or not on a level playing field. That could be based on cultural background or socioeconomic background. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a family can’t afford a $105 passport. What it means is that there is this mindset that needs to be shifted and changed. There are a lot of families that when you start talking about travel and passports, in particular, their response is that they can’t afford it (traveling abroad). People think of travel as a luxury and not a lifestyle, and I look at travel as a lifestyle and not a luxury.
Global citizenship isn’t always about getting on a plane and leaving, although that’s where I think the growth occurs, but the growth can occur at home. It’s about acknowledging that there are other cultures that are interesting. Sometimes as Americans we get confused about what “exotic” means, and everywhere I’ve been in the world (with maybe the exception of Scandinavia), I look like people [there].
The idea is to teach these girls that they are as interesting as the people they are going to meet. But that these interesting people they want to meet when they travel, are also right in their own classroom, neighborhood, and parents’ jobs. Their responsibility is to meet these people and to talk to these people here at home and not to wait. So before they have an opportunity to take that global adventure, they still have an opportunity to become global citizens at home.
(L to R) Teen travelers Jazmyne, Daizia, Shannon, Soleil, Viviana and Lyanna show off their very first passports on their very first international adventure to Belize, Central America via The Passport Party Project