Travel means currency, education, and most importantly, personal growth. Yet, it’s not part of the life equation for many who work full time jobs and have mundane responsibilities. What if we told you that you could quit all of it, grab a journal, and book a one-way trip around the world? Sounds too good to be true, right?
Zach Houghton, Founder of Passion Passport, did exactly that. A man of many talents, including photography, fluency in foreign languages, and creative writing, Zach found himself stuck in a corporate job. The only exciting thing about his everyday role as a trader back in 2009 was that he was based in Hong Kong!
Born in Montreal to a father who was a travel writer and a mother who worked as a professor, Zach had an innate need to explore the world. (Fun fact: his parents met on a bus in Guatemala while his father was writing his first travel book.) However, for Zach, the idea of packing his bags and traveling to faraway lands helped him become a better person and a satisfied professional.
“There was only one type of travel story that was emerging–travel is perfect, go here and all your problems will disappear. There was something very interesting of showing the ups and downs of exploration. We wanted to showcase that through Passion Passport.”
We’ve all heard of companies and cruise lines offering coupons and giveaways. Most of us even enter in these contests (you know who you are!) but what we fail to realize is that the companies never showcase the winner’s experience beyond a simple winner announcement. Why is that? Zach tells us, “Travel is a gift that keeps on giving. At Passion Passport, we do something called The Bucket List Initiative (TBLI) several times each year, where people submit an application of where they would like to travel and why. We then have a jury that whittles down to the finalists. Lastly, our community votes for the winner. The “why” behind this application is very important because it gives us the opportunity to provide meaningful travel.”
“We wanted to personalize people and travel.”
Passion Passport may have begun as a personal project where Zach documented his Wanderlust Year but today, the company has helped thousands of people share their travel stories. With a team of photographers, planners, and creative minds, their mission is to help others travel with a purpose. “For me, purpose is dictated by our thoughts. If we want food, we go to a place with great cuisine; if you want architecture, you pick a place with long lasting history. As with anything, you really are the master of your destiny.”
“Travel is a driving force for positive change. I wanted to find a place to build a community around meaningful travel and storytelling.”
The heart pin that is the emblem of Passion Passport supports the notion of doing things that you love. Take your passion to unknown places! A common thread with all of Passion Passport’s initiatives is providing unforgettable experiences that change people’s lives. Recently, Zach and his team curated a mobile conference for 40 people through Passport Express (inspired by Polar Express and Hogwarts Express). “This train trip from Washington DC to San Francisco captured people’s imaginations and got them to think creatively through onboard seminars and workshops. It was also free of charge.” Continuing with the idea of giving back to the Passion Passport community, Passion Passport also launched Passport to Creativity. A recent engagement with Adobe gave six students unprecedented access to three of the world’s most remarkable protected landscapes. Passion Passport also runs a boutique creative agency that provides services along with photo/video/content production for brands and tourism boards.
Today, with over 681,700 followers on Instagram and a personal following of close to 300,000 on Instagram, Zach has built a serious community around the love for travel on social media. Most of the images shown on Passion Passport’s account are sourced by the community. A few images are also shot by Zach himself through his SLR camera or iPhone (have we convinced you to switch over to Apple yet?).
The Turning Point
Zach is a Columbia University graduate in Economics and a fluent speaker in five languages: English, French, Italian, Mandarin, and Spanish, with conversational knowledge of Cantonese and Japanese. While his career started in finance working for a trading company in Hong Kong, he quickly understood that he wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life there. “I remember being at dinner with my colleagues and each one of them was on their Blackberry phones. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to become that person. At a crossroad, I spoke to my parents who suggested I fight it out and learn the basic macro skills. Then, India happened.”
While overseeing his company's trading operations in India, Zach traveled to India quite often. He was stimulated by the people, culture, and food. Yet, as a business professional, he was never allowed to leave the hotel compound and explore the locality. Till one day, in 2011, his friend decided to stay with him in Mumbai. “I felt very trapped not being able to leave my hotel so my friend planned for us to leave at 6 am on a Sunday morning. We took the train to Churchgate and walked around for a couple of hours. I shot some beautiful photos that day and had an epiphany that I couldn’t be doing what I was doing at the trading company– that was not life! This was one of several aha moments of that year until I finally quit my job.”
The Everybody Project
When Zach left finance, he had no idea what he wanted to do (join the club!). With a sense of having lost himself in the cutthroat corporate world, he decided to take a few months off and travel. “I didn’t really have an itinerary but what I knew back then was that you are the average of the five people you spend your time with. At my job, I was surrounded by people who weren’t creative so I actively wanted to replace these people with those who inspired me. Hence, I planned my travels that way–one of them was a friend who had quit her job as a lawyer to pursue a career as a pastry chef, another was a college friend who worked in the Peace Corps, others were people who had started incredible businesses. The underlying theme was that they were people who had all chased their dreams.
I created a card with their portraits on it and scheduled meetings with them in their cities. This personal project became The Everybody Project–the idea that the people who you seek advice from are the most important people in your life. It helped change my thought process completely–one of confidence and creativity from what was previously anxious and misaligned with my own passions.” After traveling on and off for nine months, Zach returned to the U.S. and Passion Passport officially launched in 2013. FYI, out of the 50-ish countries he has visited so far, his favorite travel spots are Cape Town, Morocco and Porto in Portugal!
Do you have a travel bug? Would you like to help others find their true purpose? Zach has some exciting things in the works and we’d be happy to connect you. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and in the meantime, keep calm and wander away!
Photo courtesy of Zach Houghton + Passion Passport where credit isn't given.