LOCATION: United Kingdom
PRINCIPALS: Sally Broom, Dot Pinkney, Liz Sutcliffe, Martin Dunford, Colin Hayhurst
LAUNCHED: Sept 2009
How many times have you traveled somewhere, especially internationally, and wished for a local connection? Someone there on the ground who could give you the up-to-date 4-1-1 in a place, before and maybe even after you got there. Someone to steer you away from the tourist traps and get you into the real, beating heart of a destination.
This is trip planning for the 21st century. Welcome to Tripbod.
The site offers you what it describes as a hand-picked list of “trusted locals,” whom you can choose by destination or a specific area of expertise. Enter your trip dates, pay for the service online and you’re underway.
You get a private planning page for your trip. You also get to talk directly to the local you’ve chosen, either via private message or via Skype.
Together, you work out a trip plan calendar, complete with Google Maps, which you get to print out and bring with you. Your very own personalized prepared travel guide, unique to you and your journey. There is no limit set on the amount of advice you may receive.
The advantages of such personalized prepared guides over traditional published guidebooks is their focus. They’re honed in on exactly what you have in mind for your trip, everything you want and need, and none of what you don’t.
(Back in prehistoric times — before laptops, smartphones and USB drives — I used to make up and print out my own travel guides, which I got bound and brought with me. Handy, and made for a unique souvenir when I came home.)
Further, since they’re based on the real-time knowledge you’re getting from a local, odds are your own travel guide is going to be a lot more current than that over-sized handbook you’ve been thumbing through at your local bookstore.
You need to start planning your trip at least seven days in advance, but since planning a trip is part of the fun, you’ll definitely want to start earlier than that. Tripbod has local contacts lined up in every major region of the world, and collectively have expertise in 41 different kinds of travel or subjects of interest, everything from adventure sports, archeology and art to walking, wine and yoga.
The fee for this service depends on the length of your stay, anywhere from 16 pounds for a day (well, they are British, after all!) to 350 GBP for six months. if you want their help for planning a trip longer than that, ring them up.
(My one quibble with the site itself is that it doesn’t spell out the payment mechanism up front. There’s a link saying that you “pay securely online,” but when you click on it, it doesn’t specify whether you pay via credit card, PayPal or something else. This is probably revealed once you’ve committed to a specific local. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d feel more comfortable knowing how the payment is going to work beforehand.)
All of this is intended to be a pre-departure service. Tripbod does not arrange meetings between you and your local contact, nor are the contacts set up to take you around or socialize with you once you arrive — but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. There’s nothing precluding you and your contact from getting together on your own.
Some Tripbod contacts also work as professional tour guides and would be more than happy to arrange their own tours for you. Others might just be willing to meet you for a drink or a bite to eat.
Tripbod says it screens their contacts through interviews, references and require a signed agreement of each of them. If you don’t like the service you got from your local, and can show a good reason why, they’ll refund your money.
All of this ties in with a theme I heard hammered pretty hard at the recent Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show:
For travel to really be meaningful, don’t just load yourself in a tour bus and bounce about, staring at “the sights.” If you really want to develop a sense of a place, you need to interact with some of the folks who call it home.
Theoretically at least, Tripbod enables you to do that before you even leave home.
I have no idea how this works in actual practice, but I love the concept. Fresh info and insight from folks who know your destination because they live there? You can’t beat local knowledge.
There’s also something inwardly satisfying about touching down in a place where you’ve never before set foot, knowing that you already know someone there, a contact which might lead lead to other contacts. After a few trips, you might well find yourself with an international circle of friends.
And how cool would that be?