In 2012, I sat in a plain grey cubicle on the 55th floor of a Hong Kong office building at sunset. I looked out at the smoggy Hong Kong harbor, knowing that the 80-hour workweeks were going to break me if something in my life didn’t change soon.
I felt stuck. At 25 years old, I wasn’t living the life I had hoped for.
A few weeks later, I handed in my resignation.
With the money I’d been setting aside for three years, I traveled around the world to meet friends, strangers, and creative-types whose personal journeys inspired me. In Hong Kong, I hadn’t been doing something I loved and I wanted to understand how other people found their calling and how they were trying to better the world. For nine months, I explored the world and gave myself a crash course in photography and travel storytelling.
Along the way, I quietly noticed two things.
First, travel media didn’t seem to capture the emotional side of these experiences. I saw top 10 lists and city guides, but I wasn’t hearing about how these experiences and locations had changed the people who were writing and sharing them. I wanted to hear about who these people had met, what moments tugged at their heartstrings, where they had faced difficulties, and what they had learned. I wanted to hear about the beautiful side of travel and the side that was less glamorous.
Second, I noticed during those months that, in the travel industry, collaborations with brands and tourism boards didn’t seem to empower travel communities in any meaningful way. I saw plenty of blog posts telling me seven reasons to stay at a five-star hotel in Dubai (that, no doubt, came with a free hotel stay or a hefty amount of compensation for the author) but never read about someone whose perspective had changed after their visit to Dubai. I noticed plenty of contests where individuals could win cash or cool prizes to keep traveling, but never saw follow-up stories about what those free trips had meant to the winners. The stories that emerged from these opportunities weren’t being told. It was a missed opportunity to engage and inspire travel communities.
Fast forward again, this time to the winter of 2013.
I found myself in Cape Town, South Africa, at the end of a journey that had left me a different person than the commodities trader I’d been less than a year earlier. I’d ventured to parts of the earth I had little or no familiarity with, encountering cultures, languages, and environments that were far from my Canadian upbringing and the experiences I’d had to that point. I’d shared moments with so many different people — I summited Mount Kilimanjaro with a group of Australians who were strangers six months before, I climbed to the top of Asinelli Tower in Bologna with an Italian mother of three, I met with people in London and South Africa who had left behind careers in advertising and finance to pursue more creative endeavors, and photographed friends and strangers across five continents. Travel had given me so much. It shaped my outlook on life and taught me to slow down and spend time alone. Along the way, I learned how to capture a moment and how to effectively tell a story.
I decided to create a blog where people could come together and share transformative moments of travel with one another.
Passion Passport was named as such because it was, quite literally, my passion project. It began as something I could work on while I figured out if I would pursue another job in finance or consulting. For months, I told myself that Passion Passport was simply a stepping stone while I figured out ‘what was next.’
The process was simple. I would share one story per week about an individual whose life had been shaped by travel, someone who had met their significant other, found their calling or faced a tough moment while abroad. I felt like I was helping bring stories to life that weren’t being told elsewhere in travel media—that both a college student and a professional photographer had equally important stories to tell.
While delaying the decision to step back into the corporate world, I worked odd jobs as a photographer and lived with family friends for nearly six months to save money. What I did make from photography I put right back into Passion Passport. I huddled in coffee shops on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and, slowly, tried to turn this little idea into something bigger. I found several other people who shared the same beliefs and wanted to work on a feel-good side project for a few hours a week.
We took no outside funding and, to this day, we have yet to receive a single round of investment. Our site and team members are powered by creative partnerships we undertake with travel brands and tourism boards, all of which are created as opportunities to teach, unite, and empower the Passion Passport community. We don’t want to consume content that isn’t inspiring, and we don’t want you to either.
We still live and breathe these values today, even though our offering is more significant and our community reaches far more people. We’ve continued to send people on purpose-driven adventures through The Bucket List Initiative and have strived to tell those stories on our site and on social media.In the same spirit, we’ve developed creative travel opportunities for our community to travel and collaborate with one another. In 2015, we hosted a two week cross-country train journey through the United States. And in 2016, we put together a creative residency in Hong Kong and a student-focused project on climate change that took place in three remote locations around the world.
For those who can’t join us on those adventures, we host weekly community activities on social media to foster discussion and encourage creative engagement. We also collaborate with our community members on a variety of travel stories for our website, just like the profiles I wrote in those first weeks of Passion Passport.
We believe that travel has the capacity to change the course of one’s life. We want to hear those stories, and we’re on a mission to tell better, more impactful stories about travel. At the end of the day, for us, it always comes back to the story.