Gone are the days when globetrotters would book their trips through tour operators, signing up to cookie-cutter tours that felt something like a herd of school children being shepherded from place to place, gazing through the windows of tour buses onto a world that they’d come to know only from the perspective of an outsider. These days, the conscious traveller seeks out the hidden gems, they pursue the essence of the town or city they’re visiting, they look to connect with local people through conversation, food, and experiences. “Getting off the beaten track” and blazing one’s own trail – in other words, experiential travel – have become the gold standard.
I, like many others, resent the long lines, scripted tour guides, and soulless itineraries that for many years came to define traveling abroad. For me, travel is about seeing a place through the eyes of those who live there, and know its very core. It’s about an authentic connection and meeting people who become friends for life. I guess I would consider myself an experiential traveler.
I was recently planning my next trip, browsing the internet in search of tools and apps that could connect me with local communities abroad. I came across a new travel startup called Chumaround, and after browsing their site and reading their users manual, it really resonated with me and I wanted to share my discovery with you. Chumaround connects travelers with with like-minded locals who become your ‘local host’. Hosts are people you can hang out and have fun with when visiting new cities. While one might first think that a host is the same thing as a tour guide — they are everything that tour guides as we know them are not.
I was reading the Chumaround blog and discovered that the meaning of the phrase “chum around” takes its roots from late 1700’s Britain. The word ‘chum’ was first spoken on British campuses in the late-17th century as students used it to make reference to their campus roommate. Back then roommates were called Chambermates. Chamber was shortened to cham and then to chum. Students began referring to their constant companions and close friends as chums. And this is where the phrase “chum around” originated. When people hang out, take part in activities and explore new places together, they “chum around”.
So what exactly is Chumaround? Here’s what I learned. Chumaround is a trendy startup that connects travelers with friendly “like-minded” locals willing to show them around so both traveler and local can do things together that they both enjoy. At the time I write this post, there are 5,427 locals signed up as host, and counting. In fact, Chumaround has recruited thousands of local hosts in the one-hundred largest cities across the United States, Europe, and Asia. With hosts ready to show guests around the likes of New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, San Diego, Dallas, Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul, and Paris.
Chumaround clearly states that you will not find tour guides or memorized scripts on their platform. Every host is simply an actively engaged local who is eager to meet visitors to their city, and show them around their favourite parts doing their favourite activities. Say, for example, you’re partial to dancing the West Coast swing – you can search for and connect with people that share that interest, and they’ll take you to the hottest spot in town to do just that.
It’s really important for me to know that I’m traveling with a social and environmental conscience. So I was delighted to see that Chumaround’s entire business model is designed to support local communities. Unlike other websites that collect a significant percentage of the hosts’ earnings, Chumaround hosts have a “meet-n-pay” option that allows hosts to keep 100% of their earnings. To support this business model, Chumaround offers guests the option to subscribe to a monthly or annual membership.
I also discovered something else pretty incredible about Chumaround. There are many actors, models, musicians and other celebrities that are signing up and ready to show you around. For example, celebrity actress Cheyenne Ruether who has appeared on Discovery Channel’s Vegas Rat Rods has just signed up to be a host in Las Vegas. You can hang out in Portland with Titano – a celebrity circus and sideshow strongman, actor, and comedian. If you like being outdoors, then you can go hiking with Branch Whitney, the author of 5 hiking guides including the popular book Hiking Las Vegas.
While they do not yet have an app that you can download, the website is superb with a truly interactive, responsive design that can be accessed from any browser or device. My overall first impression of Chumaround is that while they are a new startup, they are clearly trailblazing the way in modern, socially conscious and engaged traveling. They are at the forefront of experiential travel, and I’m excited to see what they do next.