Thousands pack Raleigh’s International Festival

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – You don’t need to spend big bucks or even leave the Triangle to travel the world this weekend.

The 32nd International Festival of Raleigh promises to be the biggest in its history, with more than 60 countries represented.

More than 4,000 students from across Central North Carolina packed the Raleigh Convention Center Friday morning, getting – what was for most of them – their first passport.

Sort of.

“I want to see Mexico!” 8-year-old Andrea shouted, clutching her passport.

“I have been to a lot (of countries),” 14-year-old Lanie said, as she flipped through her passport while surrounded by her classmates from Franklin Academy.

The passports aren’t real, but the U.S. State Department did issue them at their booth on the festival floor. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Brenda Sprague sat down with CBS North Carolina evening anchor Sean Maroney and said she hopes it won’t be their last passport.

Even though historically most Americans don’t have a passport, Sprague said that’s changing.

“If you go back to 1989, only 7.9 million Americans had passports,” Sprague explained. “Today, 136 million Americans or roughly 42-percent of the population have a passport.”

And that number is going up every year.

It can take as little as two weeks to get your own, and they’ve made the process more convenient, especially with new “walk-in welcome” facilities popping up in the Triangle.

One of those places is the new Westgate Passport Facility at 1 Floretta Place in Raleigh.

In the meantime, why search online for your next destination, when you can sample dozens this weekend at the International Festival?

It’s just the first day of the festival, but 10-year-old Diego and his friends excitedly show off their passports full of visas.

CBS North Carolina is a sponsor of the event, which lasts through Sunday. For ticket information, click here.

International Focus Inc. is in charge of the festival. For more information on the group, click here. (DISCLAIMER: Sean Maroney is a board member.)

U.S. State Department tips for getting your passport.

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