Last May, I made a 20-hour stopover in Latvia on my way to Ukraine, where I was headed to visit Kiev and the Chernobyl exclusion zone As luck would have it, I arrived in Riga on the one night each year called the ""Night of Museums," when all of Latvia's 94 museums stay open until 1 a.m. and feature special musical performances. (It's scheduled for May 17 this year.) At about 11 p.m., I stood at the center of Riga's Old Town and queued up to enter a beautiful German guild hall that is regrettably known as the "House of the Blackheads".
As I stood in the still chilly May evening, I wished that I had plans to meet up with other travelers in Riga for later that night. Over the years, I've been a frequent traveler and have often undertaken journeys on my own. Whether I'm traveling solo or with others, however, I've learned that one of the joys of travel is meeting new people along the way. In the past, I've been able to meet new people by sheer luck or thanks to common friends.
I had no such connections in Riga.
Was there no way to harness technology to meet fellow travelers in Riga? Suddenly, an idea popped into my head. There had to be some way of creating a place on the Internet where travelers would be able to make connections whether they were traveling to Riga or Richmond or Rio. For the next several hours I brainstormed and tried to figure out a workable business model. It needed to be global, transparent, safe, community-driven, and fun. Also, it needed to be a viable business, i.e. revenues, cash flow, profits.
I didn't think much more about my kernel of a business idea after that night, but apparently I wasn't the only one who had recognized the role that technology can play in bringing travelers together. In fact, there's a small but growing set of new businesses that focus on what is now known as the "social travel" segment. There are sites that help you to plan a trip based on your friends' recommendations (trippy.com), and KLM lauched a program called "Meet & Seat" that allows travelers to pick who will set next to them based on social media profiles. Of course, with the advent of social travel comes of the birth of "anti-social" travel. Air Asia X has introduced an "empty seat option" that allows travelers to ensure that neighboring seats are empty.
These services, while interesting, didn't address the problem I was trying to solve that night in Riga. Then I discovered a company called inBed.me. Inbed.me is founded on the principal that "travel is not about the places you visit but about the people you meet along the way." Basically, InBed.me is a social booking site for hostels, beds, and couches that allows travelers to connect and interact with other travelers in advance of their trip. It strikes me like the kind of business that can only have been created by people who have been globetrotters themselves and have actually stayed in hostels. The introductory video on their site explains the concept:
Two things occurred to me when I watched the introductory video. First, I wished that this type of businesses had existed for all of the multi-week and multi-city trips that I took in college and graduate school. Second, I decided that I'd give inBed.me a try for my upcoming trip to visit the Ciudad Perdida in Colombia. So, if you're going to be in Northern Colombia in the next couple months, now you know how to find me.
(Full disclosure: After this article was published, I met with the founders of Inbed.Me and decided to invest in their business.)