Visiting Belize with brand new passports during Phase One of the project. (Photo: Tracey Friley)
When Tracey Friley first learned the staggering statistic that less than 38% of Americans have passports she began to wonder about another statistic—how many of that 38% included underserved communities, in particular young American girls?
She learned the answer in 2010 when she led a travel camp to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands with a group of young women. Instead of passports, the majority of the girls on that trip were traveling with their birth certificates.
Friley is a frequent traveler that holds an MBA in Global Management and identifies herself as a culturalista and Francophile. She has spent years hosting and planning trips to France for women and teens via One Brown Girl in Paris and is a former blogger turned popular social media butterfly. She doesn’t take no for an answer and when she sees something she believes is a problem she tries to find a way to solve it.
Passport Party trip to Toronto earlier this year. Taking in Niagara Falls. (Photo: Tracey Friley)
In 2011, she reached out to families in her own community in Oakland, California, mostly families that she knew wanted to send their children on trips but didn’t have passports and she bought their girls passports with her own money ($105 for minors) and spent the day with them talking about their travel dreams at what she called a “passport party.”
Since then, Friley has been called the “Pied Piper of Passports,” and she has created The Passport Party Project, a grassroots initiative dedicated to getting passports in the hands of underrepresented young women. She has garnered awards from National Geographic, American Express and the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs and gained support from companies like Expedia, HomeAway and Heys Luggage, and since that first “passport party” has gotten passports for more than 150 girls aged 11 to 16. Once the young women have their passports, Friley organizes trips that will allow some of them to travel out of the country for the first time; so far to places like Belize, Paris and Toronto.
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There have been plenty of challenges along the way, including finding funding and sponsors, but particularly overcoming the fear that many parents have about international travel without the parents in tow.
Jazmyne is now a lead Teen Travel Ambassador for the Passport Party Project. (Photo: Tracey Friley)
“In the beginning I thought this would be so easy,” Friley said. “I thought everyone would want a passport. But I learned that there is a generational fear. Some parents helicopter, some worry that their daughter might leave the country and they will never see her again. Parents who haven’t traveled much themselves or have trust issues are often afraid or simply disinterested.”
Five years after its inception this award-winning project is in Phase Three and Friley has recruited 15 volunteer travel bloggers to be travel mentors for the girls her organization gives passports to. The online mentors help facilitate the passport application process and global awareness training, talk to the young women about their own lives and travels, encourage them to move outside of their comfort zones, and reiterate the importance of giving back.
The joy of having a brand new passport. (Photo: Tracey Friley)
What we love the most about this project is that beyond getting passports to the young women who want them, Friley inspires these girls to “travel with heart,” as she says.
Volunteering at Liberty Children’s Home in Belize, Central America. The girls each fundraised $100. (Photo: Tracey Friley)
“It is important to me to plant that seed early,” Friley said. “That travel is just as much about sightseeing and exploration as it is about traveling with heart and doing some good along the way; it’s about learning to see the world with interest and with care.”
Check out our original adventure travel series A Broad Abroad.