Nat Geo Announces First Travelers Of The Year

To win a prestigious travel-oriented award from National Geographic in the past, you might have to sky dive from outer space, like Felix Baumgartner, or summit a previously unclimbed peak in the Himalayas just months after a traumatic head and spine injury, like Renan Ozturk (who also made a film about the experience).

But now National Geographic has unveiled its Travelers of the Year—an honor for the not-so-common common folk among us.

According to the competition website, "Travelers of the Year is our inaugural celebration of individuals who explore the world with passion and purpose."

The list of winners this year includes seven individuals, one cross-cultural partnership, a couple and a family. And they've all used their travels for more than just sightseeing.

Diana Gross, for instance, took a sabbatical from teaching in Maryland to bring technology and training to underserved communities in Southeast Asia. Her goal is to digitally connect students and teachers through "Tell Your Own Story" workshops that teach photo, video and blogging skills. In 2011, she worked in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia, but she is currently raising funds to take the program to Africa and the Middle East.

Then there's Paula Busey and Samwel Melami who established a cultural exchange that brought a bit of African culture to Littleton, CO., and helped build a kitchen for a school near Arusha, Tanzania. The 55-year-old librarian and Maasai warrior met in 2009 when Busey was on safari in Africa. Melami guided the trip and impressed Busey with his knowledge of wildlife, conservation, tribal traditions and ethnobotany. Upon her return to the states, Busey raised money to bring Melami to her school to teach the students. The students then raised money to help build infrastructure in Melami's hometown. The cross-cultural program is now in its third year.

To read about all of the recipients of the Traveler of the Year, check out the National Geographic website.