WHERE to go is only part of the equation


As a traveler and digital nomad, there is a problem with travel research that I’m facing over and over again.

It started with this exact (dumb) spreadsheet from 3 years ago when I was planning my one year nomadic adventures through Southeast Asia.

Just like many other travelers, I find gathering knowledge about new places and preparing for the journey as exciting as the moments of serendipitous discovery on the road. It’s the preparation that gets my imagination flowing and my heart beating faster in anticipation of new adventures.

While there were hundreds of sources of inspiration about WHERE to go and what to see, the situation was different with the question of WHEN to go. I had to dig through tons of online climate data resources, blog posts and travel forums to gather bits and pieces of information for my spreadsheet. Needless to say, it was exhausting and often what I was looking for simply was not there. The fact that the available information about WHERE to go outweighed WHEN to go so dramatically seemed unreasonable to me. After all, WHERE to go is only part of the equation.

A year later, the same thing happened with planning my 10 months in South America. There was ridiculous imbalance between the amount of quality insights: WHERE to go kept outweighing WHEN to go.

Back then most of my own knowledge about WHEN to go I got from fellow travelers on the road. I learned that December to March is a good time for seeing rock formations in El Nido, Philippines, that Bolivia salt flats turn into a huge natural mirror towards the end of the wet season and that learning to surf on Colombia’s Caribbean coast in December is not a very good idea. Over the years of traveling I heard numerous fellow travelers sharing with me their own luck and frustrations:

“I wish I knew there was this festival happening in August!”

“Bummer, we missed the blooming of the world’s largest flower by one freakin’ month!!!”

“I couldn’t believe my luck — I got to see whale sharks which happens only once a year!”

Absence of reliable, meaningful and easily discoverable information about WHEN to go seemed like a genuine problem to solve. I wanted to fix this annoying blind spot in travel research.

But how would I cover the entire world — country by country? How would I share the knowledge about WHEN to go with others — blog posts? What would be the basis of my suggestions about when to go — just climate data? This was not good enough to become truly useful and meaningful. I had to think harder.

It was January 2014 on Colombia’s Caribbean coast when thinking harder led to the first paper sketches of What’s It Like — research platform that helps travelers figure out WHEN to go.

Tayrona, Colombia

Now, the team behind What’s It Like has product designers and strategists, technology experts, writers and editors. Currently everyone on the team is bootstrapping and I’m thoroughly impressed and grateful beyond words to everyone who believed in this ambitious idea and decided to put in their time, skills and enthusiasm to develop this platform with me.

Further are the principles upon which we are building What’s It Like. There’s nothing to sell and nothing to buy here, when launch the platform will be free for everyone to use.

To make the platform truly useful, we aim to answer variety of questions.

We’re overlaying different types of data in one interactive interface: specific interests (travel photography, surfing, wildlife watching, natural phenomena, etc.), climate data and editorial/user contributed insights. This allows us to answer timing questions from variety of angles:

- What’s it like: [Mountain Biking] in [June] in [South America]?

- What [Mountain biking] is like in [Colombia] in [June]?

- I have time off in [June] — what is this timing good for in [South America]?

- I have time off in [November] — should I aim to go and see [Northern Lights]?

- I plan to go to [Scotland] in [March], is [March] the best for me based on my interests?

- I am a surfing enthusiast — [when] and [where] other surfers like to surf?

Besides creating an interactive exploration tool, we aim to solve one of the biggest problems with blogs that publish “February: where to go” type of posts and QA forums. These posts and insights gain temporary visibility and then they die in the archives. Unique expertise gets lost and next year the authors sit down to write the same content and the same questions pop up in forums over and over again. We aim to accumulate, not lose this knowledge.

We rely on expert travelers to share their insights about when and where to go.

Why share? We believe in the inborn human desire to help others to succeed. Every single one of us knows unique insights about places and we have the power to help others to have the best time of their lives. If you decide not to share — sure, there will be others who will share, but it makes it a little bit harder for us to bring you the good stuff. Give to receive — it’s that simple.

Think about it — someone somewhere is likely to be searching for the exact piece of knowledge you possess.

Being meaningful is what we aim for.

One of the most annoying mistakes big travel publishers make is being too generic about the question of WHEN to go. For them, the best time to go mostly means sunny weather and comfortable temperature.

This only proves that these platforms have limited understanding of travel motivations. Best time to go depends on the purpose of your travel. If you’re after seeing the Northern Lights — you will be ok with extreme temperatures. The wet season on Socotra island is the worst time for beach lovers, but it’s the best time for pro surfers. Making WHEN to go all about sunny weather and comfortable temperature is too primitive to be truly meaningful. We intend to fix that.

If what I just described sounds exciting, important, or just got you curious — the initial three interest categories are now open for early contributions. We’d be truly grateful for yours: Travel Photography, Surfing, Natural Phenomena.

You’re also welcome to vote on the next categories in line: Interest categories to cover next.

Help us help you to amplify your travel experiences by putting in place the missing part of the equation.

Follow our updates on Twitter and signup for the early access to the upcoming beta version on What’s It Like site.

Happy travels!

Mui Ne, Vietnam