Actually Listen to Your Community

… and you will find your path

When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is to get lost in local neighborhoods where I’m completely unfamiliar, where tourists are few and the language spoken isn’t my own. It’s in these moments that I find the most fulfillment as a story seeker and traveler.

A quick story: I went to Hanoi, Vietnam a couple of years ago. There were a few tourists here and there, mostly college kids I think. At any rate, I found myself in this Jazz club where the singer beautifully sang English songs, but the language spoken in the club was Vietnamese. I sat down in the back of the club and within a minute a waiter brought over a glass of champagne. In my head, I said, “How did he know?” Then he caught my eyes and pointed behind me to a table of ‘fancy’ folks smoking cigars with a spread of caviar and bottles of open champagne spread about. The main guy held up his glass to mine in the distance and we sipped. Then he waved me over.

Like any cautious brainwashed American woman, for a split second all these thoughts flooded my mind: “Should I? What if I come up missing? But I’m pretty strong, I could fight if I needed to. Should I text my location to my family? What if they’re like the Vietnamese mafia? What if they recruit me for something illegal? How are we going to communicate? They might be these super-rich upper-class people who might ask me to be a part of their empire. Girl, you’re being a narrow-minded American. Stop. Ah, f*ck it! This is going to be an amazing story.”

When I sat with this group of people my whole Southeast Asia trip was made perfect, not that it wasn’t already amazing. We laughed, talked, smoked Cuban cigars, ate lavishly and talked about jazz all night. They even took me to a local Pho spot that was actually a motorbike repair shop in the day. In the group was the singer, one of the most famous Vietnamese jazz musicians and his band. I have pictures. I am still in contact with the English speaker of the group. Buddies for life.

Pho after Jazz in Hanoi, Vietnam — selfie by Brittney M. Walker

That short (long) story to say, immersive local experiences can truly broaden people’s perception of the world and reform the way we belong in the world. These moments in globetrotting are the substance many travelers desire.

While here at the Tow Knight Center at CUNY, attempting to build a start-up, I’ve iterated for the umpteenth time on my project only to basically circle almost all the way back to the original idea. But more refined, thanks to my community.

When I spoke to my community of black travelers, singles and women, the most common theme among them was local. People either wanted to have unconventional, off the beaten path experiences or had the best travel memories doing these types of things. Most of the these instances weren’t exactly intentional or were a result of knowing a local.

Before, I thought my community wanted a travel dating thing. After actually listening, my community wants to have a genuinely local experiences, globally. But creating a local experience isn’t exactly easy for the typical traveler. I can help with that.

Through Beyonder, I want to make it easier—make the world local.

Beyonder’s users will be able to book beautifully curated itineraries that immerse travelers into the local community off the beaten path with stops at exceptional black businesses and projects. Travelers will have the chance to get to know the hosts, the neighborhoods, and get a few local VIP extras along the way.

How it works

Travelers will visit the website, find an itinerary in the city they’re visiting, book and receive a self-guided itinerary via email in a PDF downloadable document, along with a special mini-mag of their trip and any tickets in hard-copy form delivered to their lodging destination.

While there are several travel platforms out there, none are focused on curating experiences around the black experience.

For this product, we plan to charge for the itineraries. The price will include any accommodations, tickets, classes or entry fees. Further, we plan to host events in the future — monthly happy hours, quarterly retreats and yearly week-long trips. Finally we plan to launch podcast interviews to accompany the itineraries.

In the next three months, we’ll launch the website, solidify the brand, launch our first set of New York City — based itineraries, launch our content arm and a marketing campaign.

While I ramp up my energy and forward motion on this idea, check out the landing page and sign up for updates! When we officially launch, you’ll be the first to know and the first invited to go on one of our trips.

Lessons Learned

Since we’re at the halfway mark of the fellowship program, these are the main lessons I’ve learned — I’ll expand upon this in a another article:

  1. Don’t be married to your idea.
  2. It’s not a business without a revenue model.
  3. Keep it simple.
  4. Your idea isn’t unique. But figure out what differentiates you from the others.
  5. Share your idea with everyone — it’s great for feedback, validation and iteration.