What gave you the idea for Tripbod?
I went to an international school so I had good friends all over the world. When I travelled to places where I knew people already, it made such a difference; I saw the local way of life and got off the beaten track. I thought I'd start a website that would connect travellers to trusted locals in the places they want to visit.
How does it work?
Our Tripbods are people who are passionate about where they live and about helping people to see a different side of their country. They are mostly in off-the-beaten-track places – Rwanda, Colombia – places that maybe don't get the best press in the world. But there are also people in, say, Rome, who get frustrated by travellers always going to the same places and want to help them see something different.
The pricing [the service costs £10.99 for "trip inspiration", £35 for a week's itinerary and £150 for a six-month itinerary] is tailored around the kind of information you need. The actual trip-planning page that you get is private to you and your Tripbod, so together you collaborate on your trip plan, which relates to a personalised Google map with all sorts of pointers on it.
You've only got around 40 'Tripbods' covering the whole world. Surely that isn't enough?
When we launched, we thought we were going to have to aim for tens of thousands of people working worldwide, but we launched with 15 of our best contacts in core hubs from Mumbai to Sydney. We've grown to about 40-50 people across 35 countries. We have one woman who covers India – and if you'd asked me two years ago if that was possible, I would have said that there was no chance. Yet this woman is so knowledgeable that every traveller who ever used her said she has revolutionised their trip.
Given the vast territory they are covering, couldn't the advisors just as usefully be based in the UK?
I think the key is that they are there and they are plugged into what's happening on the ground. If you're trying to book a train trip through India it's impossible from the UK, because you can't get access to the websites and there's a language barrier.
Can your Tripod book travel for you?
They can't transact on your behalf but they can direct you to where you need to book. In the future we will have people booking accommodation and tours.
How does the vetting procedure work?
We're trying to find people who are the natural ambassadors for where they live. Depending on the country we'll get a police check or a lawyer's character reference. We have a global network of very plugged-in and passionate local people who have fantastic networks of their own.
Doesn't this take the magic out of discovering a new country for yourself?
I love exploring and adventuring but Tripbod only adds to the adventure. You hit the ground running with this wealth of information. I think Tripbod is going to help travellers make such a meaningful connection with the grassroots of a country that they will never want to travel alone again.
Tripbod.com launches this Thursday