Zelia with co-founder Felix Tan.
Today's the day, and thank goodness - you're long overdue for a vacation. You check your belongings one more time - luggage, wallet, keys, phone, and the envelope you received in the mail yesterday. Then, it's happy trails for you! You head to the airport, opening the envelope on the way.
The information inside is important: up until now, you haven't known where you're flying. You've only had a packing list and a weather report to go by. Now, after weeks of wondering, you discover where you're meant to go.
Up until now, you haven't known where you're flying.
Welcome to the surprise economy, in which curated goods and experiences are delivered to you in exchange for some information about yourself - and a leap of faith that they're not going to steer you wrong.
For some, the idea of surprise travel is exciting. For others, that amount of ambiguity can usher in thoughts of dread. There's already enough to worry about when you leave your comfort zone, hop on a plane, and end up somewhere where culture and customs may differ greatly from your own. Why would you want to inject more uncertainty in what might already be a stressful situation?
Anywhr tackles uncertainty with a question of their own: What if you let us worry about that for you?
Enter Singapore-based Anywhr, which tackles these questions with one of their own: What if you let us worry about that for you?
Taking on the unknown
Anywhr co-founder Zelia Leong has been known to duck out of restaurants with crowded tourists in favor of chatting with locals a few streets over.
Many of us have heard of the millennial backpacker. And while the image - in Southeast Asia in particular - may conjure up thoughts of insensitive visitors from overseas wearing shorts, panhandling on the side of the road for more money to fund their debauchery, statistics show that millennials are actually pretty cost-savvy when it comes to funding their travel adventures. Valuing experiences over luxury, the demographic travels more and longer than generations before them. They're likely to book early and look for deals.
However, for those who don't have the time or don't enjoy doing extensive research on trips like these, Anywhr can step in and help, offering a curated local experience that leans away from mainstream tourism. It will also work within your budget to give you an experience that you can afford.
“We want to encourage travelers to get out there and venture into the unknown and expect to truly experience authentic travel," Zelia tells me. “And only discovering your destination last minute helps them to do that!"
Hopping onto Anywhr's site gives you the option of picking from three trip foci - culture, adventure, or relaxation. From there, you paint them a picture of the type of traveler you are - giving them information about your hobbies and interests, where you've gone before (they won't send you there), where you will not go, your budget, and where you'd maybe like to go.
No guarantees they'll send you to your dream destination, though - the point is a unique experience, so even if you're getting sent to a beach, it's likely not to be one overcrowded with fellow tourists. “We take travelers to off-the-beaten-track destinations that allow them to truly experience authentic local travel," says co-founder Zelia Leong. “We promise no mainstream cities nor over-traveled destinations, such as Bangkok, Phuket, and Kuala Lumpur."You also give the startup your passport information. The startup will take care of the visa application process for you and only send you to places that can be taken care of with an e-visa - showing up in person for a visa would ruin the surprise, right?
The budget section of the site is flexible within limits, meaning that you can swing two days and a night for around S$300 - plane fare, accommodation, and initial ground transportation included - but adding on another day and night bumps you up another S$100. That said, a bigger budget means that you can be sent to places farther away, such as Western Europe or the Mediterranean.
Anywhr was co-founded just this year by Zelia Leong and Felix Tan.
Journey, not destination
As startup stories go, Zelia's has a more poetic beginning than most. She was working in Singapore's hospitality industry when she decided that she needed to take a break.
She quit and bought a one-way ticket to Scandinavia.
“It was my first time in Europe with no other plans in mind nor any preconceptions of the destination," she explains. Her open-ended trip ended up lasting a few months. She made her way from city to city and country to country with locals as her experts and guides.
“It made me realize that travel is all about meaningful connections, experiencing the destination for itself, and the journey," she reveals. Her travel personality came through pretty quickly - she wasn't interested in what was popular but what was different and authentic. She mentions that if she went to Paris, she wouldn't necessarily go see the Eiffel Tower; there's too much else to see and experience besides tourists taking selfies.
With new perspective and resolve, she returned to Singapore to begin a masters program at National University of Singapore and took up a job at a Rocket Internet venture. However, she couldn't fully shake what she'd learned from her travels. She met Felix, and together, they teased out the idea for Anywhr.
In its most basic form, Anywhr is fueled by the same strategy that fueled Zelia's travels in Europe - locals know best, so working with them gets travelers the best and most unique experiences. Since tourists don't always have the most direct line to that resource, Anywhr steps in and acts as a bridge between worlds, enhancing the travel experience that way.
Bringers of surprise
Part of Anywhr's surprise-delivering team.
As she works at a travel startup, an unsurprising majority of Zelia's time is spent, well, traveling. “When I'm not traveling to meet our local partners, I'll be with the team in the office working on our marketing campaigns, planning trips with our trip curator, or having meetings with partners or attending events in the startup or travel community," she says.
Anywhr's team is currently seven-strong, but they're currently looking to hire a full-stack developer. “The engineer should be part of our team as a self-starter with strong initiative and motivation, as well as supporting other members by being a good team player," she says. Anywhr's team culture includes open communication in the office and an honor system, through which everyone takes responsibility for his or her own actions.
Of course, there's also your typical startup emphasis on work and play, and - in case it doesn't go without saying - a genuine and shared love of travel.
While Anywhr continues to establish itself as Asia's premier surprise trip curator, Zelia points to working with the company as a unique experience in and of itself. “We've planned many firsts for our travelers, including father-daughter trips, family holidays with babies, trips with three generations of the family, honeymoons, and even post-break up trips whereby the traveler just wanted to get away!" she points out.
Anywhr seeks to prove that the world can be one's oyster for a variety of preferences and budgets. If you're a fullstack developer or tech employee looking for your next pearl of a position, Anywhr is hiring - along with dozens of other companies on 100offer's talent marketplace platform. Sign up (it's free!) and chat with our talent consultant to see what's out there for you. Sign up right here.