Earlier this year I spent some time interviewing people about their travel habits.
I wanted to understand why they were travelling, what they were hoping to find or experience and what was really important to people when they travel. What did a trip have to involve for it to feel ‘successful’ and was success in travel a goal? This is where Share My Local
I’ll start by admitting that in my late 20’s, when the Facebook post went around challenging us to do ‘30 things before you’re 30’, like many others, I picked visiting 30 countries. I pulled out my map of the world, wrote a list of where I’d been and realized I wouldn’t be revisiting some of my favourite countries for a while. My goal now was to tick off new countries. Trips to Italy, South Africa and Belgium passed in a blur. Family in Canada would have to wait. I couldn’t afford to repeat countries until the challenge was complete. I even put my hand up for a work trip to Finland (in winter) to get the numbers up.
And so finally in the weeks before my 30th birthday, it was during a freezing cold weekend in Prague, huddled over a stein of beer with two long-serving friends, that I toasted my ‘success’.
I had done it. I had ticked off 30 countries. I was a successful traveller. And most importantly, I wanted the world to know. And so I turned back to Facebook and updated my status.
As a generation living through the Digital Revolution, we’re playing out our lives through an endless stream of status updates, posts, hashtags and check-in’s. We create an online profile of ourselves that we want to share with the world and then go about crafting a story about our exciting lives. Announcing our successes and achievements to people we call ‘friends’ has become a kind of competition and nowhere does this manifest itself more than in documenting our travel exploits.
But in the years that have followed my declaration of travel ‘success’, I’ve noticed how holiday updates have moved on from announcements of where we’ve been to what we have discovered. It seems that it’s no longer enough to just go somewhere. We need to have found the local coffee shop serving the best sacher torte or climbed up to the hidden viewpoint for stunning views of the city at sunset (clutching a bottle of local wine only available in that region of Italy). ‘Where I’ve been’ has been replaced by ‘What I’ve done’. The goal posts have moved and ‘successful’ travel (at least for the majority of my interviewees) is now defined as doing as much as possible in the places we visit so that we don’t miss out on what’s on offer.
For the majority of travellers I questioned, a fear of missing out or FOMO was the single biggest problem they said they faced in recent trips abroad. Overcome in part by reading blogs and guide books, tapping up hotel staff, collecting tips from friends who had recently visited and even meeting with locals through Tinder, their quest to uncovering hidden gems that no other regular traveller might have found, was essential for ensuring their trip was a success. But it was the small number of people I spoke to that talked of success in travel as being beyond where they had visited and what they had seen or done that interested me most. They described success in travel as returning from somewhere and knowing how it felt to live in a place or to belong there. Experiencing how life went on in a place, the conversations local people were having, how they travelled around, the music they listened to. Not just the food they ate but the way they prepared it, and how they interacted with each other. Imagine if when we returned from holiday we were asked how it felt to have experienced somewhere rather than just what we saw or did? How we connected with a place. I wonder if the FOMO would disappear because how somewhere feels is much more personal than what we did or saw and in a way incomparable between us. Fatigued by the need to report on the sights they had seen or uncovered, these travellers, who were typically more well-travelled in terms of the number of places they had visited and most often travelled alone so they felt unconstrained by the expectations of others, talked more about how they connected with a place most importantly its people. Their choice of accommodation (Airbnb, couchsurfing) often put them directly in touch with locals or in local surroundings and sites like Vayable or Lokafy enabled them to spend time with a ‘real local’ person to experience the place through someone else’s eyes.
But as someone who finds themselves caught between wanting to scope out the secrets of a city and wanting to know how it feels to really live somewhere, I’ve found a bit of a gap in how I can do that. Without quite having the confidence to spend a full day with a stranger, what if when I visited a city I could meet with a local just for a coffee and get local insights and tips on how they might spend their weekend? I’d jump at the chance and throughout my research I’ve gotten the sense that others would too. Even better, as we’re all locals to somewhere, what if we exchanged insights on our home cities and each went away a bit more ready to experience how it feels to be somewhere when we travel?
So here’s the idea. Starting in London, I want to make it possible for visitors looking to experience the city like a local to meet with a London local for coffee and get recommendations in person. And likewise for locals who love to meet new people to share their favourite parts of London.
It’s called Share My Local
and we're only just getting started but I’d love to know what you think. Have you already overcome FOMO when you travel and how have you done it?