Founder/Owner of Passports Matter, LLC and Director of Equal Opportunity — 123rd Air Wing
Family: Husband Joshua, son Major, dog Bentley
By Carrie Vittitoe | Submitted photo
LaShonda Unseld-Hopkins knows that travel can be a real headache, but it is also so worthwhile. She herself travels between Louisville, where she is a commissioned officer of the 123rd Air Wing, and Houston, Texas, where she lives with her family. When she isn’t juggling her 14-year military career, she is tending to her infant son. And when she’s not doing either of those, she is working to help make people’s travel dreams a reality. While her specialty is in international group travel, she also coordinates travel for couples and small families. One of the most special parts of her travel planning is including a service project as part of her group travel experience.
What is your role in the Air National Guard?
I’m the director of equal opportunity. If there is any type of discrimination or anyone needs to file a complaint, I am the point of contact. Sometimes I have to drop everything and be on call for what the Air Wing needs.
How did Passports Matter begin?
It started as a blog and was a hobby that became a money maker for me. My travels inspired other people; [they] were reaching out to me to help them plan their trips. I went through a travel agent course, started working with different suppliers, and worked with a host of travel agencies to get my feet wet.
How do you add service to your group trip planning?
Our motto is “Travel, Service, Inspire.” It’s always great to go to countries and do all the touristy things. I wanted to make sure my group does some work somewhere. We’ve done beach cleanups, visited a school in Costa Rica and helped students do vision boards, [and] we’ve donated school supplies.
What triggered your travel bug?
In 2010, I was deployed to Iraq. I went back in 2012 on my own. I went to Abu Dhabi and Dubai [in the United Arab Emirates] and Doha, Qatar. I visited these places on my own because they were so different from how they were portrayed on television.
What have been the challenges with being an entrepreneur?
COVID. Just as I was learning how to be an entrepreneur, business stopped. It was a humbling process.
What have you learned from the experience?
Success takes failures. If you fall down five, get up six. You’ve got to have a good support system. My husband is awesome; he’s an entrepreneur himself.
How many countries have you visited?
I’ve been to about 21 countries and counting, several countries more than once. I’ve been to the deserts of Afghanistan [and] the beautiful islands of Seychelles. I’ve been to Iceland. Every location gives you something different.
If you could go back in time and do something differently, what would you do?
I would travel more. My dad passed away in 2018, and I wish I would have had the opportunity to take him to some of the places that I’ve been. He had gotten really ill and wasn’t able to travel as much.
What is in your travel survival bag?
An easy-to-fold versatile outfit, passport, copies of my passport, cash tucked away in a pocket, medication for three days, sanitizing wipes, a portable charger. Now my bag has grown a little bit because I have a child.
What is a souvenir you always pick up when you travel?
Patches. I have them all on a jean jacket. My military background gave me that idea. Everywhere I go, I get a patch and have the patch sewn on the jacket. If I’ve been to the country more than once, I’ll get one for the city or the province. I’ve been to Mexico so many times, I have a patch for Tulum, Riviera Maya, Mexico City.
What color makes you happy?
I’ve been wearing a lot of orange. It’s a good color on my skin tone. Orange is the color of liberation.
What is a guilty pleasure of yours?
Ratchet reality TV. The Real Housewives of Atlanta.