London: Share My Local ‘it’s only a coffee’ | an interview

FIONA MELLORS, AVID TRAVELLER AND FOUNDER OF SHARE MY LOCAL

QUOTE TO LIVE BY: “ONLY YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN”

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Meet Fiona Mellors, founder of Share My Local, possibly your new favourite website if you’re planning on taking a trip to London. Fiona is on a mission to help you experience London like a local by meeting a local who’s passionate about sharing their city. Through some useful questions, we’ll figure how you guys can best use the website, and why this emerging travel trend is something worth trying out.

Oh and I almost forgot to tell you the best part about the website, it’s (currently) free…

How it works

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Hi Fiona, what’s your working background? What is Share My Local and where did the idea come from?

I absolutely love travelling, exploring new places, and uncovering hidden gems that only the locals know about. In my job as a management consultant I got to spend long periods of time in different cities and always wished I could have had someone local, with the same interests as me, to get the lowdown from on how to experience the city best.

It was a trip to New York last year that really motivated me to see whether connecting travellers with locals was a viable idea. While on a break from work I decided to see whether the idea could work. I joined Escape the City’s Start up Tribe (a 3 month boot camp for startups) and it’s grown from there!

From my research I discovered that there’s a real difference in the way people travel. Some people ask friends, read books, or go online to plan their trip where some only want tips from people that actually live there. If you don’t have connections in a city, that information can actually be really hard to come by. This is where Share My Local comes in.

Why should I use Share My Local over other sites?

London is a huge city with so much to see and experience. But if you’re the kind of traveller who wants advice on how to experience it like a local and really understand what Londoners are up to, meeting a local is the best way to do that. Share My Local is different to Vayable or Cariboo where for $60 someone will spend the morning with you. It’s just a coffee with a friendly local. So you don’t have to worry about: what if we meet and I don’t want to spend 3 hours with you? Or a whole day? It’s low commitment – a coffee and some top tips on how to experience the city like a local.

How are you ensuring quality?

What I’m doing is being clear on the ask of the traveller. I have had lots of coffee meet ups with travellers to get an understanding of what they actually want; their responses drive and shape Share My Local continually.

I’m also thinking about the type of traveller, and the type of local – getting the right combination is a little bit like match making. But I’m really passionate about the human element in this. Facilitating one on one connections and quality of experiences.

I’m trying to work towards putting people in touch with ‘someone like you’ so people feel as normal and comfortable as possible, not like dating or a forced meeting.

How do you vet ‘locals’? 

I go and meet them myself. I first ask them to share their interests and a bit about themselves and why they’re interested in joining Share My Local, and then I go meet them and have a chat with them.

So, can I choose who I’m meeting?

At the moment no, not yet. I guess that’s the fun element of it. However, we do recommend people based on your interests.

So what are the key things you’re looking for when you meet locals?

I’m quizzing them about what their interests are. I’m looking for people who are friendly, love to chat, and have a broad knowledge. At the moment, I think it’s important that people are not just totally into one thing because it makes it hard to match them with a traveller. And the other thing that I look for is that they are initially a bit in control of their own time so they can be flexible.

As a traveller, do I have to physically meet the person to get local tips?

Yes, that’s the idea! There’s no huge commitment in terms of time and we’ve got locals who can’t wait to meet you!

What are the benefits of physically meeting a local?

Imagine having coffee with a friend. As the conversation evolves, you come away with much more than you went in with. It allows suggestions to be tailored, if you say ‘cute cafés’, what does that mean? Vintage? Modern?

A naturally flowing conversation allows recommendations to be more accurate. For example, the other day someone mentioned they liked cycling to me, mid chat – so of course I recommended Boris-bikes and they really enjoyed it!

I also do see it as a friendship thing, and a great way to make friends with similar interests.

It also makes me think of some of my travel experiences. A while ago I went to India as a solo traveller. I didn’t know what to expect and I couldn’t imagine myself being there, the thought of it was so daunting. And although I knew I would meet up with some people there (a charity I had been working with, and a planned tour with G-Adventures) I just couldn’t picture myself being there. Plus 8 weeks (the length of my trip) felt like such a long time.

It was the most amazing experience in the end! However, if I had someone that I knew I could meet on the other side of the airport, who I could ask questions like: where can I get some appropriate clothes? Or which is the best stall to buy dinner from? it would have definitely made me feel better about the sense of not knowing. That’s what I want to recreate. 

So how much do you charge for this service?

At the moment it’s free… the business model is not a priority for me, the importance is connecting people in a quality way. 

I’m a pro traveller, Share My Local is perfect for me because…?

… you get to meet a real London local and get some personal recommendations from somebody who knows and loves the city. And most likely you’ll get really off the beatentrack without any research. Many of our locals are pro travellers too, so they know what it means to really explore a city. 

I’ve never travelled before, Share My Local is perfect for me because…?

It’s a way to have a friendly face in a new city, someone to have a coffee with, and ask all the questions you wish you thought of before you left home! For first time travellers, it offers reassurance for them and some great recommendations.

What risks do you worry about? 

My only worry is that we get the match wrong or that the traveller expects the local to be an expert with a planned itinerary. Share My Local is really about opening up London to curious travellers through a community of locals, regular people like you, who love their city and love to share their favourite things about it – not qualified tour guides.

…And what about if people don’t get on?

It’s kind of hard not to get on. I think, anyone who’s come to this site is already of the right attitude.

Your favourite thing about the platform?

How easy it is to use and meet a local. You literally go on and there’s a very short survey, you tell us when you want to meet a local what you find out about and we’ll be in touch to suggest a local.

Are you a local host, why do you do it?

I enjoy sharing my side of London with people; things that to me are ‘the everyday’. And finding out that what I think is everyday, is actually really different or unusual, makes me really excited to be a Londoner again. I always take a map with me, but find that the conversation just snowballs. I go with a few suggestions I want to make, but then things develop organically.

I also like that there’s no pressure on me, I’m not an expert; I’m just sharing what I know by living here. But I’m also able to help someone and change their trip, which is a great feeling.

And I like trying out new coffee shops.

Oh yes… so are you a coffee or tea lady?

Coffee until 3 ‘o’ clock, then it’s all about afternoon tea.

What resources do you use when you travel?

I always try to ask local people in café’s, at hotels or hostels, or in shops. It just adds something a bit extra to your experience when you end up following other people’s recommendations, especially if you find people who you feel are like you in some way. It’s so exciting when the suggestion works out and you feel like you’re experiencing somewhere like a local.

What are your top travel apps/ websites aside from Share My Local?

That’s a good question!

I love the Sunday Times Travel magazine for getting me excited about where to go next.

  • Party with a Local – where you sign in and you can find locals who will say “oh we’re going out here tonight” and you can join them. However, I know someone who used it and everyone ended up cancelling so they didn’t get a good night out. But from a concept perceptive as someone who likes to party I think it’s great.
  • Google maps – because you can switch on your GPS even without data and still see where you are.
  • City mapper – my way to navigate London.
  • Trippy – it can be hit and miss but good for a quick question. It’s a forum where you can ask travel related questions like “how do I get from the airport into the city?”

Most useful travel item? 

  • Earplugs and eye mask, I’m a light sleeper so they’re pretty essential.
  • A Longchamp bag – a great emergency bag for anything and you just fold it up when you don’t need it. See link here.
  • Face spritz for long flights, it re-hydrates your skin. Air conditioning on planes absolutely kills me!

Do you guys plan on expanding out of London? What’s next for Share My Local? 

Yes definitely, eventually… I think it’s really important to prove that the concept can work in London first. And at the heart of Share My Local are the locals so we’ll focus on building the community here before expanding.

sharemylocal.co 

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To visit the full list of websites for local experiences in The Useful Library, click here.

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