Traveler of the Year: Tracey Friley
Giving needy girls a passport to the world
THE TICKET MASTER
A passport is the ultimate ticket to ride, the key to unlocking the world and engaging with new ideas. But securing one can be a hurdle. Little more than a third of Americans have passports—compare that with 67 percent of Canadians who hold one—and it’s not just the price ($135 for adults, $105 for minors) that holds would-be travelers back but also the uncertainty of how to travel. This challenge is even more pronounced in poor urban areas.
Tracey Friley decided to do something about it. She launched Passport Party Project, a grassroots initiative to provide underserved girls the tools they need to obtain their first passports. When the program’s first phase wrapped up this summer, 100 girls had received passports and six young travelers made their debut international journey to Belize. Funded by Expedia.com, the program proved such a success that Friley is busy plotting her next steps.
“To struggling families, international travel is a luxury, an unattainable goal,” says Friley. “So passports aren’t a priority because they don’t feel they can travel internationally anyway. But I think travel should be available to everyone, particularly children. The sooner they explore, the better for the world.”
The Oakland-based Friley caught the travel bug early, and her youthful journeys made a lasting impact. “Travel is important for kids because they get a chance to see for themselves that the world is bigger than their neighborhood, their state, or their country,” says Friley. “I want kids to know that the world’s borders are meant to be crossed, that it’s cool and interesting to meet people from other countries and cultures, and that they themselves are cool and interesting, too.”
—By George W. Stone
National Geographic Traveler: What’s your goal?
TF: To create a nationwide global awareness initiative that empowers and encourages young girls from underserved communities to travel with heart.
NGT: What does it mean to travel with passion and purpose?
TF: To travel with care and concern and interest. To think and absorb and dig in.
NGT: When did you start traveling?
TF: I got my start early, as I come from a family that traveled (even before you needed a passport to get to the Caribbean) and then when I got the travel bug as a young adult, I started going places my family had not even been to.
NGT: How did you get the courage to launch the Passport Party Project?
TF: I never considered myself to be courageous. I've always just been a doer. What I can say is that it never dawned on me not to pursue anything I've ever wanted and I have never considered travel or the Passport Party Project or any other travel projects as a dream. I just think of them as Things I'm Going To Do.
NGT: How did phase one of the Passport Party Project go?
TF: It was a huge success. One hundred girls have their first passports and I got to be a part of six girls' first international journey to Belize. We got up early every day and packed in loads of activities. I cried like a baby when we left. Fueling girls' travel dreams is my legacy. But more importantly, I want them to consider the world around them, consider what their place is, and consider where they fit. I want them to tap into their empathic natures and make a change.
NGT: How do you define “underserved” in the context of travel?
TF: For me "underserved" isn't always about the exact amount of money a family does nor does not make or about what cultural background they come from (although, the folks getting the least can often have the least amount of money and often come from culturally diverse backgrounds). But it’s more about what is and is not a priority in that household. Many families in underserved communities think of travel as something too big or costly for them to indulge in. Fear of the unknown (particularly when parents and family members aren't travelers) and general lack of trust also keep some families from traveling internationally as well.
NGT: How does your own experience inform your work?
TF: I consider myself underserved because as a double minority (woman of color), the playing field is not even. In spite of this, the idea is to foster an attitude in children (and the adults who are listening) that even if that is so, anything that I want—including a life of travel—is available for me.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
NGT: How does travel change kids?
TF: It shows that it’s possible to live and work and study abroad, that there are no limits, and that the world's borders are meant to be crossed and explored. I believe that kids will find their place in this world once they see more of it, that another country's problems are the world's problems, and that they can be a part of world change if they want to be. They can't get any of these things or become global citizens by staying at home.
NGT: Where are you headed next?
TF: Back to the drawing board. I just pitched phase two of the Passport Party Project and since then I’ve been fund-raising to keep it going. I still haven't processed everything, but there's one thing I know for sure: I want to do this again. And again. And again. I want girls that don't typically get a fair shake to get one. I want them to rethink what travel is and what it isn't. I want them to be shining examples to others so that they might travel too. It will change their lives.
NGT: What’s your best travel advice?