“I started traveling with teen girls in the Spring of 2010. I was SO excited. It had been a dream of mine to expose teen girls to the world, so I started off by taking that first group to St. John in the United States Virgin Islands for what I called CampCaribe with a little money from me and a little money from them. It was a travel experience and an outdoor water camp experience all rolled into one. I had 8 girls and 2 lifeguard staff in tow. And because you don’t need a passport to get into the USVIs, I had a bunch of original birth certificates with me. At the time, I remember thinking about how important it was for the girls to have passports, and I even had a conversation about it with a U.S. Customs Agent. Funny how seeds get planted and how those seeds ultimately bloom.
On our way to St. Thomas, a guy on the airplane asked what kind of team we were. “Do you play basketball?” he asked. Stunned, but rarely shaken, I smiled and responded “What makes you ask?” forcing him to re-frame the question. I told him we were a group of girls on a trip. He looked puzzled.
On our way to catch the ferry from St. Thomas to St. John, a local islander asked me the same question: “You’re all athletes, aren’t you?” he poked. “No, we aren’t athletes,” I told him. “What makes you ask?” It would become my mantra. Again, question re-framed. And then we headed to St. John. I still remember the birds flying closely overhead and zig zagging back and forth as we sat on top of the open air ferry as if they were a part of the group.
A few nights later, I sat down at my staff table for dinner where my husband (who provided security for my first island adventure) seemed perturbed. An easy-going man, it takes A LOT to get under his skin. Later, I learned that a table of 3 women sitting nearby started asking questions and making random, clearly thoughtless statements: “These girls must be at-risk. Who paid for them to be here? They certainly are well-behaved.” Clearly, I thought, a group of Brown children traveling can’t be that much of an anomaly, can they?
After instructing my staff about how to respond to these types of questions with our new mantra and a smile, I cozied up to those same 3 women whose cabins weren’t that far from ours on the beach. It ends up they were teacher-friends from the mid-West on a vacation together. They were super curious about the girls. And so every day, I would see them and the girls and I would wave and they would smile and wave back, and every night I would stop by and say hello and chatter about the day’s events, totally unaffected by their earlier ignorance.
You see, some people live in a very small space and often have a very narrow view, even when they don’t mean to. This idea that travel (along with open conversation and a little kindness) can change perspectives can be true in many cases. It just depends on who’s involved, right? Before they ended their vacation, those 3 teachers understood enough for them to open their view a bit and dubbed me an Honorary Teacher for the way I ran the program and the way the girls responded. Three years later, National Geographic dubbed me a Travel Educator. The truth is that travel is an education for everyone: the group traveling, the staff, the group leader and, as in this particular case and many others, the people watching.
We are all Citizen Diplomats and travel ambassadors when we move about the world, and the truth is: people are watching. Travel with Brown children from various cultural backgrounds is a very special gift and the truth is, a lot of people aren’t used to seeing it. My suggestion is that they get used to it. Because it is what it is. And I mean that in the nicest possible way…with a smile.”
– Tracey Friley // @traceyfriley #PassportPartyProject
073/100 of #100DaysofConfessions Instagram Project
Photo Credit: Fat Tire Bike Tours, Teen Trip in Paris, 2014 (Footer image)