Why I started whimsy, a travel platform that aims to inspire us to venture off the beaten path.
I’ve always loved to travel. I guess it started growing up in Singapore, a small island guaranteed to give you cabin fever if you don’t get out at least 6 times a year. Coming from a multi-cultural background, my parents thought it was important to expose us to other customs and would often drag us (no child enjoys ‘cultural’ activities) to temples, ruins, museums and much more. Highlights included visting temples in Hampi, funeral processions in Bali and a camper-van trip from Auckland to Christchurch. Our schools did an equally good job of broadening our horizons with school trips to the jungles of Borneo, hiking up Mt Kinabulu, snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef and more. It was only natural that I would grow up with a real thirst for wanderlust.
Whilst I was at university I was cursed with the luxury of time but without the money to enjoy it. I would therefore look for exciting places to travel to and most importantly, cheap ways to get there. As I started ‘crossing off’ destinations on my bucket list, I would be constantly searching for inspiration to find new places to discover. This was when I realised that the world of online travel was broken.
Let me explain. I would read about a place that sounded interesting to visit and would then search for flights online. The ticket prices were never cheap. Never. So I would continue my research or glance back to my aforementioned list and try different destinations, always inputing (somewhat randomly) the compulsory travel dates and never seeing reasonably priced tickets. It came to the point where I would be staring at my screen frustrated that I didn’t have enough money to go anywhere. (I now know this wasn’t true.) I would find myself wishing that I could leave criteria like dates and destination empty, and let their algorithms do the work for me. This was the beginning of the seed for whimsy.
Fast forward a couple of years and with a developer on board we decide to start testing initial assumptions. The first step was to find a travel meta search company that would grant us access to their API. That part actually wasn’t too difficult. Once we had access we started playing around with it, trying uncover its full potential and essentially seeing if there was a way of producing results based on little to no criteria. Guess what? There is.
We discovered that these meta search engines can actually be configured to produce results with very little initial criteria. As we’re based in London, we decided to use it as our departure point and once our algorithm was in place, we were presented with a list of all the countries in the world we could fly to. Words cannot describe how exciting this discovery was for me. We then reorganised the information to actually make it useful to search through and were astounded at the prices we were seeing: £250 to Mexico, £300 to Tanzania and £350 to the Philippines. These were prices that I’d never seen before. So what was the catch? Well, each price was attached to a specific outbound/inbound itinerary. This meant that in order to get that price to Mexico, you would need to fly out on say, the 26th March and return on the 2nd April. You can’t choose your dates. But so what? I was no longer at university constrained to travel during holiday periods and was now an adult, graced with a whopping 25 days a year to use as I pleased. In theory, if I saw a destination that excited me, I could book off those specific dates and buy the ticket.
Since my days at uni, the travel scene has improved somewhat. A few of the big players have finally understood that people are looking for inspration and may not know where they want to go. Skyscanner has created a way for users to search ‘Everywhere’ and be presented with a list of results. Similarly Kayak launched an ‘Explore’ feature where users can look at a map of the world and see flight prices. The problem is that whilst its a great start, neither of these soluions are particularly inspiring. Looking at a list of countries won’t push you to discover somewhere new, and a map, though interesting, is too intangible and won’t give you a flavour of the experience you can get if you go there . We’re humans, we need more than that. We need to see, read or hear something compelling that will really fuel our wanderlust.
So how is whimsy any different?
Well, to start with we don’t just showcase the cheapest destinations from our system. We curate. We handpick every destination, aiming to encourage people to discover somewhere new and exciting. If you’ve never heard of it, even better. We also take into account factors such as weather and seasonality so that you’re always in the right place at the right time. Have you been to Bali during the monsoon season? It’s not fun. And finally price. For all those who assumed you need to be well off to visit the most exotic places (and for the frustrated student in me), we make price our number 1 criteria.
Another way we differentiate ourselves is the way we talk about our destinations. There are a few ‘inspirational’ travel websites around today but they all make the mistake of showcasing the city as the destination (ie. Bangkok). In fact, this is wrong. Few people will take a 10 hour flight to spend 1 week in a city (okay New York, you’re the exception). The city is your arrival point, but you then venture off to discover another area. The destination names we choose are specific areas or regions that are large enough to visit for a 5–15 day trip.
We’re trying to achieve something big here. Not only by finding cheap flights all over the world, but by creating a platform where travel bloggers, writers and photographers can share their content — their stories and experiences with the rest of the world. For every destination we showcase, we want photos and stories to go with them. After all, there is nothing more compelling than to read about and see someone’s experience in an offbeat location. We believe that this combination of price, curation and content will differentiate ourselves from others, and will (hopefully) encourage you to venture off the beaten track on your next holiday.
And to finish, a beautiful quote by the great Mark Twain which perfectly encapsulates our belief:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the things you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Ps. We’re hiring! If you’re a front/back end developer, designer, content creator or more and you like what we’re doing please get in touch by emailing: email@example.com