Power to the Traveler!
After traveling for a year, Jochem Wijnands never really managed to get back to a normal life. He moved on to co-found TRVL, sold a company to Apple and now hopes to solve the biggest problem in travel bookings today. In this roots story he tries to answer the question why he is doing what he is doing.
It feels like my life only started when I was 24 years old. I had just graduated from university and decided to see the world before getting on with the rest of my life. I ended up traveling for a full year and it changed me profoundly.
One day I climbed a mountain in Patagonia. It was an attractive mountain, flat at the top, like Table Mountain. It seemed like an easy hike, but it took me a full day. Patagonia’s emptiness is legendary and the landscapes are breathtaking. I just sat there watching the lakes and the Andes Mountains. Condors rose with the thermal currents, right in front of me. After a while I picked up a funny looking stone lying at my feet. It turned out to be the fossil of a shell. I was standing on what was once the bottom of the sea.
I got robbed a few times and beaten up once, chased and bitten by dogs
In Peru I walked the Inca Trail. The guerrilla movement Sendore Luminoso (Shining Path) was killing foreigners, nobody was doing the trail but us. It was raining cats and dogs and every morning we started out in wet clothes. One night we heard some noise outside our tent. Scared shitless, sure to have my throat cut, I went to investigate, only to find two very hungry kids of about 12 years old, looking for something to eat. We gave them all the food we could spare.
I was traveling alone most of the time, but I only felt lonely a couple of times. There was always somebody or something to feel connected with. What is the opposite of loneliness? Hong Kong was hot and wet and loud and full and dirty. But the collective energy charged me like nothing else. It felt like I was feeding off of the city and I wasn’t sure I was ever going to go home, or what home was anymore. The energy never left me, I can still feel it today.
I got robbed a few times and beaten up once, chased and bitten by dogs. I was in an airplane that turned off its engines in mid-air to save fuel. But I’ve also had wild dolphins swim up to me, been invited to marriages, cremations and for more beers and food than I can remember. I saw a sky turned pink by flamingoes and I sand-boarded down dunes in the Gobi desert on a board made by a local carpenter. Yes, I also joined a full moon party on Koh Phangan, but hey, this was before Alex Garland’s “The Beach” was published. For all I know I am one of the characters in it 😉
One year of traveling made me more friends and memories than I had gained in my lifetime. It helped me to connect to the bigger community. It liberated me from expectations and empowered me to make my own choices and trust my intuition. It is interesting how traveling, even if it is just for a few weeks, has this effect on people.
I never really managed to get back to a normal life
Then my year of traveling was over. I never really managed to get back to a normal life. Instead of going after a corporate career, I decided to follow my passions: writing, photographing and traveling. I have never regretted this, in fact, it’s one of the top 3 decisions of my life.
At first it was tough, but once I got the hang of it everything fell into place. I ended up being my own boss, traveling the world, producing really awesome travel features, working for National Geographic and Nikon, publishing photo books and making a decent living.
The travel community I was a part of felt like the best community in the world, and it still does. Travelers tend to be open-minded, curious and relaxed. Travelers have a strong culture of helping each other, of sharing information without expecting anything in return. Lonely Planet was built on these premises. Remember how much we used to love Lonely Planet, when it was still a guidebook done by fellow travelers?
Prss was acquired by Apple and the team and I moved to California
Fast forward to 2010, the year the iPad was introduced. We figured that, for the first time, you could launch a digital magazine that would be as good as a print magazine, or even better. The images would be stunning! But my core motivation to start TRVL was my frustration with the travel magazines out there. Most publications were catering to the tourism industry, not to the traveler. And hey, here I had the chance to create my own travel magazine and try to get it right. It was the start of an amazing ride. TRVL is now inspiring and connecting with millions of travelers across the globe.
To make TRVL better, we developed a mobile publishing platform which we called Prss. Part of our dream was to turn it into a tool that every single person could use to create magazine quality publications online, but we never got to that. In 2014 Prss was acquired by Apple and the team and I moved to California to work on Apple News and the Apple News Format, which is now part of iOS.
When I returned to Europe a year and a half later there was no doubt I would be working on TRVL again. I had learned a thing or two about digital publishing and my first objective was to change TRVL from a publisher to a real online media company by creating new types of content, exploring new channels and finding new audiences. My second objective was to find a business model. Now here is where it becomes interesting.
I have never asked myself: how can TRVL make money? That is probably a good thing because it helps me to look beyond display ads and sponsored content and focus on the question that really matters: how can TRVL make a positive impact?
TRVL is reaching millions of people, active travelers most of them. I wondered if TRVL could help them “travel better” - if we could solve a problem for our readers, somewhere down the line? As it turned out, there was a problem, a massive one even. And it didn’t take me long to find out.
Today, most travel bookings are done online. It is really convenient. You can find all the information you need on the internet and you can book your whole trip from behind your laptop. So far so good. But the internet is also a low trust environment, finding reliable information is surprisingly difficult. It is common practice for websites to manipulate you into making a booking. Stress goes up as your confidence goes down.
Say you are going to Rome. Out of the 3656 hotels, which one are you going to choose? Which neighborhood are you going to stay in? Studies show we spend almost 40 hours on average researching our trips online, just to cut through the noise, narrow down our choice and build up enough confidence to make an actual booking.
You know what really blew my mind? Even after we book a trip we experience anxiety about our choice. Think about it! This is supposed to be fun, but often it isn’t.
As we were getting a deeper understanding of the problem, we also got more and more confident that we could solve it. We realized that personal recommendations go a long way, especially if they are coming from somebody you trust. Somebody who has your best interests at heart and whose only incentive is to book you the best trip, one that fits you like a glove. This person acts as your personal travel shopper and saves you shitloads of time.
I am realizing once again why I do what I am doing
To allow for this, our team has built a peer-to-peer travel booking platform. For the first time, anyone can act as a travel agent, helping other travelers book trips and earning up to 10% per booking. That’s some serious money by the way. All you need is time. And if you already happen to enjoy traveling and helping others you’ll be hitting it out of the park!
The platform is free, no fees or charges apply anywhere. You will find all hotels, flights, activities, transportation, etc on one single screen. TRVL already mapped out hundreds of destinations and handpicked hotels based on quality, location and our wow-factor. You will hit the ground running. And as a publisher, we will continue to publish amazing content and inspire you to go places.
So here I am, as excited as I have ever been, realizing once again why I do what I am doing. Traveling is great, we are about to make it even better by empowering travelers to help each other. Let’s hear it for the travelers!
The platform is in closed beta, if you want to be on the invite list for early access please request an invite here and we'll get you started as soon as possible.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you might have.