Innovation Spotlight: Making Travel Wanderful For Women

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Spotlight Profile

Company: Wanderful
Interviewee:  Beth Santos, Founder and CEO

How much do you travel? Once upon a time, the world felt like a much larger place, as people were limited by distance with how far they could go. As travel-related technology has improved, the amount of time spent in transit has grown shorter, enabling far more people to experience the world than ever before. Globehopping is no longer exclusive to wealthy jet-setting businessmen, yet despite all the advances in technology, travel still has its difficulties for women who wish to fly solo (both literally and figuratively).

Enter Wanderful, a home-sharing network focused on empowering women to travel the world using their best assets; each other! Wanderful’s goal is to help women experience the world safely and confidently, without feeling like they need a constant companion.

Beth Santos, founder and CEO of Wanderful

According to Beth Santos, the founder and CEO of Wanderful, roughly 80% of travel decisions are made by women, and women between the ages of 42 and 47 are the average solo travellers. A lot of women are now embracing the solo trekking lifestyle, but despite this, Santos still thinks it’s a niche. She feels that because women traveling is still viewed as a surprising thing, that attitude impacts how we talk about it and what resources are available.

“There are so many things that we face when we travel, like our safety, and they can hold us back,” Santos says, “Wherever we go as women our experiences are different. We are constantly fitting into new cultures and experiencing the lifestyles women have and how they’re different in new places. We’re around to help women manage those differences, whether they’re cultural, about the body, about LGBT issues, our identities, or how we can fit into new places as we travel, by creating a network about women who know about the area where they’re from.”

A huge part of Wanderful’s work lies in clearing up misconceptions about women travelling alone. Everyone is familiar with those stories about women being stabbed in Italy or otherwise endangered while abroad. Santos and everyone at Wanderful wants to make a way to help people feel like they are safe and can go off on their own in different places. To them, it’s very important for women to have a sisterhood community to share experiences and come together.

This is why Wanderful has become a home-sharing network despite its beginnings as a blog. When it was first created in 2009, the Wanderful blog was called GoGirl. At the time, Santos was 22 years old and travelling on her own, having just graduated from college with art history. During this time, she met Ned, an individual who used to run the Peace Corps in Sao Tome and Principe. The Peace Corps pulled out in the 90s, and Ned started a nonprofit there, but he needed help running it. This appealed to Santos, because in addition to having a family that is Portuguese and being able to speak the language, Ned promised to house and feed volunteers who helped with his project.

Sao Tome, for those who aren’t familiar, is a former Portuguese island county with a population of around 100 people. It’s located in the middle of the Gulf of Guinea, and there is only one flight a week to get there. This prompted Santos to live like a local, working as a computer science teacher in a middle school, and learning how to ride a motorcycle as a means of transportation.

Sao Tome, for those who aren’t familiar, is a former Portuguese island county with a population of around 100 people. It’s located in the middle of the Gulf of Guinea, and there is only one flight a week to get there. This prompted Santos to live like a local, working as a computer science teacher in a middle school, and learning how to ride a motorcycle as a means of transportation.

“I think when you have an experience [where you live as a local in a foreign country], you become aware of a couple things,” recalls Santos. “For one, you are subjected to the local expectations of women. I saw close up what it was like to be a Sao Tomean women, but still from a bit of an outsider’s perspective. The second was the experience of being a foreigner living hyper locally, and I started writing about that. I had so many questions about what it was like to be a woman here and the experience of growing up here. How do you dress appropriately? What are the different habits and experiences?”

Over time, Santos realized that she wasn’t the only one who had experienced a new culture like that. As GoGirl started to grow, it became a magazine for a while. But while writing about travel and culture was a fun, rewarding experience, it was important for her to keep up with the times. Santos felt that the best way to do this was to have a live network that updated constantly.

To achieve this, GoGirl was rebranded as the Wanderful blog, and Santos was soon able to add events to the mix. A membership program was later rolled out, and now, Santos says, they are working on completely changing the way Wanderful is packaged. Instead of simply being a site for women to gather and share stories, the Wanderful team is focusing their efforts on developing a homesharing network. The idea and image that Santos wishes to convey is that women, especially travelers, want to be there for each other, whether that’s physically welcoming people into their home, meeting with each other, or simply sharing advice and tips.

Women share why they are Wanderful at the Women in Travel Summit (from the Wanderful Instagram).

You see, Santos has found that the women who were interested in staying in a Wanderful homeshare do so because it provides a little extra level of security for them as they travel. Now, instead of staying in a hotel by themselves, they’re staying with someone they know they can trust, someone who can check in on them and make sure they’re safe.

To ensure that they are providing a trusted network for women, Wanderful works to establish a personal connection with those offering up their homes for sharing. Homesharers can opt to undergo a background check, and Wanderful calls every member who joins the community to verify who they are. Wanderful is also working to implement homeshare insurance, so that if something happens on the trip or if the homeshare doesn’t work out, there will be an alternative option to get travelers placed in a hotel for the night so that they are never stuck out at 2 AM.

For Santos, the focus on homesharing has been a great and easy decision, but as with all decisions, there have been growing pains. Changing their focus from being a blog to a homesharing network means that the crew at Wanderful has had to think a lot about who they are and who they are not. As a result, they’ve had to shed some of their activities and people as they adjust to their new normal. Making the choice to let go of something is never easy, but Santos also feels that making a decision, and trusting that it is the right one is sometimes the best thing you can do.

Right now, Wanderful has 25 chapters throughout Canada, America, Brazil, and Spain, and they are currently looking at adding at least two more countries to that list. And although they may not yet have a local chapter, Wanderful also has at least one homeshare in Australia, London, and Bahrain. Santos says that even if a local chapter doesn’t yet exist in all countries, Wanderful members, on an individual level, really are everywhere.

The chapter structure is part of what differentiates Wanderful from other travel and homesharing networks. Every month, Wanderful provides a place where local members can go to meet other women wanderers. Santos wants to build an environment where people feel comfortable and safe as women, for themselves, their daughters, and their friends.

To do this, Santos wants to put a Wanderful chapter in every major city. It’s a part of Wanderful’s effort to grow in a really scalable way while still maintaining a sense of community. It’s Santos’s hope that someday, Wanderful’s presence will reach a place where if you get off a plane at any airport, you can find a friendly face to help you. To get that kind of scale, Wanderful needs to reach at least 1,000,000 members, and have hundreds, if not thousands of chapters around the globe.

While Santos definitely thinks the goal is reachable, she acknowledges that it will be a challenge. A million, she says, is a big number, but it’s still quite small when you think of the 4 billion women on the planet. In her opinion, one of their members said it best: “We are everywhere, but we are not everyone.”

The fact that Wanderful is a community focused on helping each other out is the other major factor that Santos feels really differentiates them from other. Although there are a lot of women-focused organizations out there, Santos feels that they could do more to uplift one another. Santos is a very much a feminist, and she’s passionate about not only women’s rights, but also women supporting women as well. For her, Wanderful is about creating a welcoming community of people who are very positive and want to make things better. They are not just AirBnB for women. Wanderful is a select group of women helping each other.

“It’s not every woman’s travel experience,” Santos says, “but if it’s what you’re looking for, it’s a perfect place to be.”

2017-10-19T15:01:33-04:00October 19th, 2017|Human Connections, Innovation Spotlight|

About the Author:

Andrew is a technical writer for Deep Core Data. He has been writing creatively for 10 years, and has a strong background in graphic design. He enjoys reading blogs about the quirks and foibles of technology, gadgetry, and writing tips.

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