CoLab Week Two // Submission // Research Report
Normally, I wouldn't go into research interviews with a pre-formed idea, but in this situation, the shell of an idea was already established. It formed during a session of my course, Decision-Making with Data Analytics.
Reflecting upon my experiences traveling alone, I realized the digital tools people use to find friends in new cities while traveling, like dating apps, were not designed with this purpose. As such, there's baggage attached to the interactions, or a meet-up never occurs because the two parties aren't aligned on their pursuits. Typically, one is traveling for longer than the other, to different cities, or one is local and temporary whereas the other is temporary.
This became the "problem statement."
After a discussion about machine learning, I thought about an application where users could input the skeleton of a travel itinerary, a budget range, and profile tidbits—age, general interests, sights they want to see, travel habits, and so forth—and a machine learning process could be implemented to match users based on these factors, along with their stated flexibility. In this way, users can choose to either match with people with whom they plan a trip, or conversely, plan a trip and then match with people already heading in the same direction with similar itineraries.
So this week, per CoLab's instruction, I conducted a few research interviews. To be honest, this was also MBA finals week, so normally I might do a survey for quantitative results and several in-depth interviews for qualitative results. Instead, for bandwidth, I blended the two, doing real-time, prompt-driven interviews that left space for both contextual answers and some semantic scaling.
Here's a link to my survey results, with room for more respondents.
Some of my key findings, some more surprising than others, is split up by research area below.
Current Travel Habits
All interview subjects made lasting friendships while abroad through various methods—digital and in-person. These friendships were memorable and central to their travel enjoyment
All subjects planned large trips ~3 months in advance of travel
They tended to plan the beginning (first quarter) of their trip, while leaving the rest of the itinerary loose, open to more spontaneous opportunities
They would book lodgings in advance, and research but not pay for cultural activities, offering greater flexibility
Traveling specifically to cities near or containing friends is popular, as a way to guide destinations on a trip
Cost is a central factor when making travel decisions for all parties
All parties prefer a blend of "jam-packed" and "laissez-faire" days
Preferred Activities with New Travel-Mates
All subjects seemed very open to sharing experiences with newly met travel-mates, including trying cuisine (one would prefer to do this with locals), wandering, or "bopping" around the city, going to bars and clubs, and visiting museums or going on short tours—so they could "dip out" if it wasn't much fun
Safety is key, so some subjects said they would feel more comfortable staying in public areas the first couple times they met up, indicating hikes or out-of-city excursions would be better saved for established friendships
Not too much interest in shopping, but a lot of interest in more adventurous activities, like kayaking, other water sports, and cycling
Hesitation from female participants around sharing hotels and/or AirBNBs
Most Important Compatibility Traits When Traveling
Common keywords associated with best travel-mates: flexible, fun, easygoing, adventurous, can handle crises, positive, inquisitive, high energy
The most consistently important factors are respect—for one another and for other cultures
Having a similar budget is important, but not as important as similar interests. Although participants do not want perfectly synced interests, so as to increase their exposure to new things
Having a shared country of origin and shared native language is not important
Participants ubiquitously agree that a good travel-mate must have a positive outlook
Current Resources Used to Meet People When Traveling
The most common non-digital resource to finding friends while traveling is the hostel network. By staying in a hostel—traditional or party—travelers can ensure meeting someone new at the hostel bar or lounge area
Some travelers have a system where they will stay in a regular hotel for a couple night, then a hostel for one night to meet people, and then return to a regular hotel for better sleep
The most common digital tools to finding friends are dating apps. The upsides are that they feature locals and non-locals, there are tons of users, and they can be used quickly and flexibly, before and during travel. The downsides are that they have a romantic undertone, which not everyone wants while traveling, and they are inefficient, requiring a lot of screen-time and dedication to texting
All participants, when prompted, say they prefer serendipitous meetings (e.g. on a train, or at a concert), but are readily willing to use resources to increase the likelihood of meeting new people, leaving less up to chance
If App Existed, Preferred Approach to Matching
There was a mix of preference in terms of how people want the order of operations to go. However, the majority want to make their own itinerary, then match with potential travel-mates, and then be willing to adapt their itinerary
Some participants do not want the app to be photo-centric, or else it risks becoming yet another dating app
All participants would like to be able to meet locals, not just other travelers
Some participants would prefer to find travel buddies for the duration of an entire trip, where they can then plan solo excursions and/or days apart, for social rest
Thank you to my participants for their input, and CoLab for prompting this exercise.