Did you know that only 30% of Americans have a passport? And that abysmally low number is an increase from previous years, what with a passport recently required for Mexico and Canada travel.
I say 'abysmally low' because I am a firm believer in the power of travel to change people in radical ways. Mark Twain famously remarked, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." It's not just the travel itself; it's exposure to different cultures, beliefs, ways of living, religions and traditions — which are all so very different around the world, yet at the same time the traveler is often struck by how similar people are at the core.
We all have the same fears, needs, desires and dreams, no matter who we are.
Enter Tracey Friley and her initiative called The Passport Party Project, which aims to help change that by gifting young girls aged 11-15 with their very first passports, effectively opening up the world to them. The goal of The Passport Party Project is to give passports to 100 underserved young women by April 2013. Each passport party held in a different U.S. city brings 10 girls together for a fun day of travel-themed activities, learning about passports, getting photos made and applications ready.
The goal of The Passport Party Project is to give passports to 100 underserved young women by April 2013.
"The Passport Party Project encourages girls to think globally and act locally by challenging them to — among other things — master the English language, learn a new language, and to befriend a fellow classmate from a culture other than their own, all in preparation for travel," Friley says.
"Travel is another form of education that cannot be duplicated in a classroom whether that travel takes place on a global or local level. Learning about new places, new people, new traditions and making new friends outside of a girl’s day-to-day experience and sometimes even without parents is life changing stuff…even if those changes cannot be visibly seen for years later."
After a pilot passport party in Oakland, CA and another party in Los Angeles, a huge announcement was made. Expedia became the official sponsor of The Passport Party Project. And the very first official party with Expedia's sponsorship was right here in Austin, on March 10.
“International travel is a formative experience, especially for young adults. Experiencing life beyond our local boundaries is the ideal way to gain perspective not only on other cultures, but on our own as well,” says Joe Megibow, Vice President and General Manager, Expedia.com.
“We are inspired by the passion of Tracey Friley and the challenge that the Passport Party Project has undertaken. Helping young women obtain their passports literally opens up a world of opportunity to them, many of whom may not have had the means or knowledge to consider traveling abroad.”
Partnering with the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, which I profiled in CultureMap back in November, 10 students were selected from the school to attend the passport party and receive their very first passports. The party was held at the colorful offices of Miracle Foundation, which was perfect with its walls filled with photos from the non-profit organization's volunteer trips to India.
Along with Friley, the founder of The Passport Party Project, I assisted as a volunteer along with Angela Pettit, Julie George and Melissa Sustaita of the Ann Richards School. As the excited girls began arriving that morning, they were directed to the first project: creating their Travel Vision Boards.
Friley supplied cardboard rectangles and clever, real leather luggage handles that were attached to the cardboard, on which the girls pasted cut-outs from travel magazines, stickers, their own drawings and other things to create their own travel visions and dreams. The resulting boards looked like real miniature suitcases, with all their global dreams attached.
Along the way, all of us volunteers shared stories of our own travel experiences, and tested the girls on passport facts such as how many years would their passport be good for, and what department issues passports. Once they were finished, a vote was held amongst the girls for the best Travel Vision Board (they were not allowed to vote for their own). Yesenia was the winner, for her beautiful and creative board with its backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, and her prize was a brand-new HD flip camera.
The photo booth was the runaway hit — suddenly all these adolescent young ladies reverted back to younger children who still delighted in playing dress-up.
After lunch, it was time to take passport photos. To make it more interesting while the 10 young ladies waited their turn, we also set up another fun photo booth with travel-themed props, from Indian and Middle Eastern scarves, belly-dancing skirts and jewelry to Mardi Gras masks, clown-sized sunglasses and white boards where the girls could write fun messages.
I think the photo booth was the runaway hit — suddenly all these adolescent young ladies reverted back to younger children who still delighted in playing dress-up. A few of them loved the masks and scarves so much that it was only with great reluctance that they took them off at the end of the day, when their parents came to pick them up.
Another contest was held with the girls voting on the best passport photo; the winner was Apolonia, who received a custom-made destination necklace from Paper & Place, featuring her dream destination: Mexico.
Once all the photos were done, we ended the day with custom cupcakes and a fun “flags around the world” contest, where global flags were presented and the girls had to name which country each flag represented. The winner, Victoria, received the cool book The Bamboo Dance from HartlynKids, which introduces children to the way other children live around the world.
And if all that wasn’t enough, Expedia has announced that it will be giving away some trips for Passport Party participants and a chaperone; within the next year, each young woman who attends a Passport Party will be eligible to enter to win a trip!
The entire day was successful, the girls and us volunteers all had so much fun, and at the end of the day 10 young girls have had the world opened up for them.