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There’s a new interesting concept in the travel world where you don’t just travel to a destination, but rather you enrich that experience by connecting with locals. JoeyTravel.com, co-founded by Ashley Hanson, is the newest player on the scene, and I recently had the chance to try them out, so I can offer you this review. It was a fun experience, but first some backstory.
Grant met Ashley at a San Francisco travel networking meeting and they got to talking about Ashley’s business concept: Joey. Ashley mentioned that she was looking for travel bloggers, particularly women, to try out Joey and see what they thought. Naturally, Grant thought of me! And naturally I had an international trip planned to Argentina and Chile where I could meet with local Joeys and see what the service was all about. So he put me in contact with Ashley.
Ashley was responsive and quick to reply to emails and put me in contact with local Joeys in both Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Santiago, Chile. Unfortunately the Buenos Aires Joey wasn’t around during my Buenos Aires stay, but my Santiago Joey turned out to be a great, fun, wonderful guy!
First you connect with your Joey and share a bit about what you might be interested in as far as meeting up. We decided on a leisurely lunch-time visit. My Joey, Diego, was immediately easy to contact and connect with and showed a great sense of enthusiasm and humor. That’s a big plus in my book because travel requires a sense of humor!
I’ve never done anything like this before, I don’t use couch surfing or other types of “meet locals” kind of businesses, so I decided not to do too much research on both JoeyTravel.com or my Joey because I really wanted to go into this experience with no expectations.
I met Diego at his office and we went to a restaurant of his choice. He explained that he wanted to meet up at a place that a visitor wouldn’t know to give them an experience they wouldn’t otherwise have. His choice was excellent and the food was great, but it quickly became apparent that meeting a Joey was much more than food. And if you know me at all, you know that’s a big statement because travel is ALWAYS about the food and coffee :)
Diego and I had a warm, good rapport right from the start so I didn’t hesitate talking with him about how Joey works and of course about life in Chile. As an aside, my cousins have lived in Chile for 20 years already so it’s not that I don’t know about life in Chile, but Diego’s perspective, as a young businessman and new father, were different from the perspectives my cousins share, and I welcomed the conversation and all the new things I was learning about Chile.
Naturally, I wondered why someone would sign up to be a Joey. Diego, whose English was very good, having taken some of his education in the states, expressed that it was fun for him to practice his English. As a traveler himself, it was great to meet other travelers from all over the world. If you’re not someone who can spend their time leading tour groups or offering couch surfing or some such concept for meeting people, becoming a Joey seemed ideal for him.
Since JoeyTravel.com is a relatively new business I was his first meet-up, so it was too soon to know what his typical meet-ups would be like. We talked about all kinds of topics like the cost of living and traveling costs to different countries in South America, the educational system in Chile and whether he’d send his kids to public schools, and hiring a nanny in Chile. We also spoke about the history of Chile, his own upbringing (he’s the oldest of 7), places we had both traveled to, and of course coffee and the “coffee with legs” places in Santiago. If you haven’t heard of coffee with legs, let me know!
I fully appreciated Diego’s openness and willingness to let the conversation flow in the directions that interested me the most. I put Diego on the spot and asked him for his suggestions if a person only has 1 day in Santiago. Here’s what he suggested:
- Walk the city center and take in the architecture
- El Golf neighborhood park
- Cable car – Funicula in the Metropolitan Park
- Costenera Center, the top for views of Santiago
- W Hotel bar for views
- Bella Vista area, which is the trendy artsy area
I might add that while this seems like a lot for one day, the metro in Santiago is excellent, which makes all areas in the city easily accessible. I’m sure you’re wondering, as did I, how Ashley checks out her Joey wanna-bes, so I asked her. Here’s what she told me:
JoeyTravel.com uses a written application plus a Skype interview. When selecting locals, they look for people who are passionate and knowledgeable about their hometowns and excited to welcome travelers from around the world. They also ensure that they are safe and reliable. They currently only accept English-speaking locals, but plan to offer additional languages in the future. Most of the locals are referred to them by current Joey locals, which makes the global network of locals feel like a close-knit community.
I also asked Ashley who she thinks her customers will be. She replied that Joey travelers tend to be those who crave “authenticity” – a sense that you’re experiencing life as locals know it – but find that meeting locals can be “hit or miss.” Sometimes you strike up a great conversation with a stranger in a café; sometimes you just pass locals in the streets and never get a chance to connect. They aim to provide the perfect balance between consistent, trusted access to local communities and unguided, unencumbered discovery. In terms of demographics, their travelers tend to be millennials or retirees from the US and Europe traveling solo or with a companion, and increasingly their travelers are becoming Joey locals and vice versa. Diego certainly fit the profile as someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about his hometown and home country!
OK, let’s get to the bottom line because while Ashley was generous enough to offer me a complimentary meet-up with a Joey, and Diego knew I’d be writing a blog post about the Joey concept, you’re probably wondering if I would have paid for this experience! You’ll notice from the website that the Joeys charge different fees, which might be based on their location.
Looking back at my time and conversation with Diego, I would for sure have paid for this out of pocket. The meal was excellent and the conversation was totally fun and memorable. Was it beginner’s luck on my part that it was a first rate experience? Who knows, but with travel experiences like this you just have to give them a try and see how they feel and whether or not they work for you. Certainly the one-on-one part of the experience lends itself to a feeling of having had a special time with a new friend!
Have you ever tried anything like a Joey experience before, and how did you like it? If not, hoping you’ll try one going forward! Check out JoeyTravel.com for more information.