Passport Party Project Hits Austin

Last Saturday, March 3, I was thrilled to be part of a new movement that is gifting girls aged 11 to 15 with their very first passports. The Passport Party Project, brainchild of Tracey Friley, came to Austin – and did we ever have a blast with the 10 girls from the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders!

I first learned about the concept for the Passport Party Project last July, at the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) conference in Vancouver. During one session in which the travel bloggers in attendance could make pitches to corporate sponsors that included American Express and Expedia. Tracey Friley, who writes the blog OneBrownGirl.com, stood up and made her pitch.

Only 30% of Americans have a passport – and the idea for the Passport Party Project is to help change that by making international travel more reachable, and inspiring in young people the learning and curiosity about the world that all of us world travelers have found to be so enriching in our own lives.

The Passport Party Project™ is a philanthropic initiative that will gift 100 underserved girls with their very first passports during a nationwide campaign that began September 2011 and will end in April 2013 with a travel-themed wrap party.

Tracey Friley, aka One Brown Girl

Tracey received a huge round of applause to her idea; it seemed that most everyone in the room was inspired by what she wanted to accomplish, and I was definitely one of them. I know first-hand the worlds and experiences that owning a passport, and visiting different parts of the globe and its people and cultures, has opened up in my life. I wrote about it on the blog for How to Travel for Free, a book on next-to-nothing travel that my partner Keith and I wrote.

I contacted Tracey within weeks of TBEX, telling her that I would like to partner with her to bring the Passport Party Project to Austin. From last summer we have been coordinating and planning, ultimately partnering with the Ann Richards School to recruit the 10 young women for the project, and The Miracle Foundation (with whom I have made several life-changing trips to India) to host the party.

Just weeks before the Austin party was scheduled, in February 2012 some big news came down the pipeline. Tracey told me that she had gotten confirmed word that Expedia had signed on to be the official sponsor of the Passport Party Project. This was HUGE! As one of the largest travel planning websites and brands in the world, Expedia will greatly enable the goals of PPP, and enable more girls than ever to receive their first passports.

“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,” said 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.”

AustinWoman magazine, which I regularly contribute to, also ran an item about the Austin passport party. Finally, after months of planning, the day of the party arrived on March 3. Well before the start time of 11 a.m., girls began showing up. They were talkative and excited, and immediately set to work on the first project of the day: creating their Travel Vision Boards.

Tracey 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, us volunteers (besides Tracey and myself there was Angela Pettit of SabbaticalScapes and Julie George of American Odyssey) 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!

We then took a break for a delicious lunch, provided to us courtesy of Blake’s on 6th Street, which gave us a generous discount and delivered.

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. Tracey and I each brought a supply of 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 – 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.

Thank you, Tracey Friley and the Passport Party Project, for giving them this opportunity!

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