Having just returned from a short backpacking trip throughout Cuba I know the despairs of solo travellers well. While I’m a firm believer in going out of my way to be social and meet others when I’m travelling by myself, I realize for some it’s a bit tougher to simply strike up conversation and meet new friends.
Those who travel by themselves get to make all their own decisions and they get to do whatever they want. But, at times it can be seriously lonely, particularly if one doesn’t possess the most socially adept personality.
London’s Brent Swallowell, a regular globe-roamer himself, decided to take this as a challenge. Along with an Australian cofounder who had the same vision, the pair is currently beta-testing a new iOS and Android app called Backpackr. “I’ve had for about two years and I’ve been working on it for about six months now. The main feature is where you type in your destination and the time you’re going, and you can see a list of who else is going there. It’s like a travel-buddy kind of app.”
He said currently there’s very little on the market for a mobile app geared specifically towards backpackers, enabling them to meet others in the same area. A colleague pointed out that Airbnb is trying to do something similar through their mobile app, while Where Are You Now offers a social network for travellers. But the fact remains that there lies big opportunity for a solely mobile traveller’s network (not to mention the chance to make money too).
The amount of backpackers who bring their iPhones with them is staggering, connecting to their hostel’s wifi at every chance, updating their Facebook statuses so everyone back home can see what’s up. Meanwhile, PhoCusRight estimates that by 2015, mobile will account for one-quarter of U.S. online travel sales, driving $US40 billion in revenue. In Europe mobile will account for one-fifth of bookings by 2015. There’s opportunity that awaits.
Swallowell, a Fanshaw College grad, emphasized that right now they’re just working towards a full release in a month or so, and monetization plans are the least of their worries.
He also mentioned some of the unfortunate inevitabilities that seem to follow any app that brings two humans together. Sites like CouchSurfing.com, a trust-based community where people offer travellers a place to crash for free, is a good example of this. Lately it seems that more guys are using the site as a tool to “engage in relations,” rather than using it for its actual intent.
He doesn’t want Backpackr to turn into a sleazy hook-up app, but rather as a tool for backpackers to meet new friends. ”We want this app to be for friends, because if you want a travel partner it doesn’t have to be someone of the opposite sex,” said Swallowell. “So we want to get away from that whole dating thing.”
The cofounders have also added some cool features to the app too. They actually collected about 200 authentic passport stamps from different countries and had them coded into a gamified “virtual passport” feature. There travellers can add new stamps every time they visit a new country, much like their actual passport, and once a certain number of stamps have been collected, users are eligible for rewards.
In terms of potential partnerships, they see collaboration with hostel booking sites like HostelWorld.com and budget airlines as a logical next step.
Anyone wishing to beta test the app should get in touch with the guys. In the meantime we’ll wait and see how the launch goes for the guys.