For many travellers the opportunity to travel within a working year is scarce. Trips occur in a precious two weeks per year, or on the odd Friday – Sunday weekend jaunt, which is pretty torturous for those wanting to truly explore a new destination. So naturally, the rise of websites that connect you with locals, such as Airbnb Experiences, VizEat and Party with a Local to name a few have been well received by people worldwide who want to get to the heart of the culture – but quickly!
Bali based Learn with Locals offers a unique twist to this approach: the satisfaction of actually learning something while you’re on holiday – with a local of course. Fancy learning landscape photography and Lightroom or how to make your own lace bra with a talented designer? This website wants you to come home from your next trip with skills and a sense of empowerment.
I caught up with the Founder Ulla Risager to talk being rejected from Airbnb, why she started Learn with Locals and as per usual, I get her to offer some useful travel tips. Let me know if you’ve ever tried any tourist-to-local websites below!
Ulla Risager, seasoned traveller and entrepreneur
Quote to live by: “The meaning of life is to find your purpose – and the purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picasso
Meet Ulla Risager, founder of Learn with Locals, if you have desires of learning a skill outside your 9-5 but simply don’t have the time, she may have just found the best solution for you to do so. With her website, that connects talented locals with you the traveller, you get the opportunity to spend time with a real local and learn something new at the same time. Below, I’ll be explaining how you can use the site and just exactly – why you should.
Hi Ulla, please give us a summary of what Learn with Locals is!
Learn With Locals is an online platform that provides handpicked and unique learning experiences for travellers.
So if I was to go to Learn with Locals right now – how do I use it?
Step 1: Go to: www.learnwithlocals.io and browse the different experiences available. You don’t have to create a profile or sign up first, you can simply browse and read about the different experiences without ‘logging in’.
Step 2: Once you’ve selected an experience that you’d like to attend, you can go and purchase a spot immediately. All the experiences available on the site are current and have clearly listed dates and times, you can simply go ahead and reserve a spot and pay online. If you can’t attend on a specific date, you can always get in touch with the local and try to arrange something that fits your schedule.
Step 3: Once you’ve paid online, you will receive a confirmation for your booking. I always send a personal message as well, either to email or Instagram dm, because it’s easy and people are online there as well. I always try to be personal. The idea in the future is that the booking will go directly to the person teaching, so I don’t have to be involved, but right now I am the backend! J
What’s your working background? Why did the idea appeal to you?
I studied graphic design and digital marketing and I’ve worked in many different jobs, my last ‘real job’ was as an account manager for a travel company in Amsterdam.
The idea was actually shaped over a period of two years. I used to be an Airbnb host and people would come in and rent my entire apartment, and I would leave for a few days and sleep on my brothers sofa, but I was always super curious about my guests and I wanted to hang out with them and show them around Copenhagen, so I always came up with excuses to drop by at home, pretending I forgot something, just so I could casually drop by and talk to these interesting people, haha! I guess I needed company myself. But that’s actually then the idea first came up, I remember thinking, what if I could offer something extra besides just accommodation…
Then when I had to write my final paper at school I wrote about ‘how to innovate Airbnb’s business model’ and I came up with this concept and called it: ‘Meet A Local’. The idea was that anyone could sign up to be an Airbnb Local Host, so even if you didn’t have a space to rent out, you could still be a part of Airbnb’s community and meet interesting people. This idea really grew on me, especially after I stopped renting out my apartment, I missed being a part of Airbnb’s community and meeting cool, interesting people from all over the world, but I didn’t have a space to rent out, so I started thinking about a way to still be a part of it without the space – that’s when the ‘experience’ idea started.
Funny thing is, this was back in 2014/15 – before Airbnb had even started their beta version of their Trips Experiences, so turns out, while I was writing my final paper on this idea, Airbnb was actually building the same idea!
I tried to get a job with them for the next two years, without luck.
I admire and can really relate to your tenacity, as I’m sure many people will. Now more time has passed, what are your takeaways from the Airbnb rejection?
I must admit, it felt pretty frustrating at the time, not actually being rejected in my applications, but even more so, I think I just felt that Airbnb was such a disruptive and innovative company, but that they had to really compromise some of that ‘personal touch’ by the use of recruiters and automated systems, which is a shame.
Not to mention their recruiting process, which was still very old school. You submit a resume and cover letter, you receive an email with a HR call, if you pass that, you proceed to another step with videos, Skype interview with a general manager and finally, you proceed to the person who’s going to hire you. Nobody’s is going to be their own natural self in these interviews and I don’t believe a resume really depicts a person’s character.
The fact that I had to be screened by all these different recruiters and general managers was a pain, because they didn’t care, maybe they had a bad day or maybe they just didn’t really like me, who knows, but I just felt like I had no control and finally I decided that I would stop trying to ‘land a job’ and instead create my own future.
How are you ensuring quality? How do you vet ‘locals’?
To be honest, I don’t really have any guidelines in place yet,first and foremost look at what they do, their personality and their skills – and then I think if it’s something I would be interested in myself, personally. So I guess you could say that I basically use my own experience and intuition to ‘vet’ locals.
That’s not to say, that I will work with anybody, I am very selective about who I work with and what kind of experiences I offer. A good example is the Balinese Home Cooking class with Frances and Adi, while I know that this type of experience probably stands out a bit from the rest, as cooking classes are so common here in Bali and all of SEA, I also know that people will have a very unique experience meeting Frances and Adi and seeing their private home that they’ve built themselves over the years. That to me is so interesting which is why I’ve decided to work with them.
So what are the key things you’re looking for when you meet a host?
None of the ‘locals’ have to be professional teachers, they are all creators who have started something out of a need and desire. I admire that, and I think that itself is a big drive and motivator and enough for them to be role models for others.
Generally, I will say, that it’s always good if the person is outgoing and hospitable, in the sense that they can talk to people and explain what it is they do. But again, they don’t have to be super outgoing, I also have people who are maybe more introverted, but are just so damn passionate about that they do. As I say, you don’t have to be a professional – passion will do just fine. So I guess, passion is really what I’m looking for.
How much do you charge for this service? What the cheapest and most expensive experience on the platform?
Right now, the most expensive experience is the home cooking experience which is $45 USD and the least expensive is §20 USD. My goal is to keep the experiences affordable. Again I use myself as an example, what I would pay myself for these experiences.
I know that traveling can be expensive and it’s a big investment in time and money for a lot of people, so I try to keep the prices to a reasonable level. Being in Bali, of course, also helps in keeping the prices low. These types of experiences might be pricier in other parts of the world, not to mention though, that in the future, I might move into doing more private and upscale experiences that will be within the $100 range – we’ll see, the most important thing is to be able to generate an extra income for the local host, while providing new and refreshing, WOW experiences for the users.
Do you guys plan on expanding out of Bali?
Yes for sure, but for now, we’re trying to launch in Bali and once we feel like we’re ready to explore new destinations, we will for sure – at least that’s the plan!
Your contributors have a dedicated page on the site, what’s the most interest story you’ve heard from your hosts?
Yeah, so I wanted to create a dedicated Meet The Locals page to show contributors/hosts as they are really the main attraction here in the sense that that’s also a big part of what Learn With Locals is about, for you to be able to meet all of these interesting, super inspiring people and to hear their stories of how they started creating and what motivates them. For example we have Indri, who is teaching how to make your own natural skin care.
Her story is amazing as she worked for an IT company for 10 years and she was looking for a business opportunity to create a life style she wanted. Separately she was using body shop products but they stopped making this one lotion with vanilla so she thought – I can do this myself. That’s when the creativity kicks in and she started creating out of a need and passion.
I want to show people this kind of stuff, show that everyone has a unique story. That’s really also the main idea of Learn With Locals, to connect you with inspiring locals, who can tell and share their stories of how they’ve started something out of pure passion, need, desire – some form of motivation for finding purpose and meaning in life.
How do you like to travel? What’s the first thing you do when you touch down in a new place?
So I’m the kind of traveller who doesn’t really plan much in advance. I’m pretty spontaneous in the sense that when I was travelling in Mexico and Cuba, often I didn’t even know where I was going to be sleeping that night.
I know that can be frustrating and initailly present itself as a pricier way of traveling, but I also think that sometimes, when you leave space for unexpected things to happen, you will be surprised and often that’s where the really unique experiences present themselves.
The first thing I do when I touch down in a new place, is to just take a walk around the neighbourhood of where I’m staying, as I tend to stay in pretty local places and just watch the people and life there, I love people watching, which is why I also love Cuba, because life takes place in the streets as people literally have their doors open 24/7 and everything they do, happens in the streets – in the good sense.
In the spirit of Wading Wade, what’s your most useful travel item?
-Most precious travel item is actually a notebook and a pen that I use to write down ideas, people’s contacts, places you see and wanna come back to, etc etc – and you never run out of battery.
-Besides the notebook, of course my phone, kindle and camera.
-Most useful, hm…I don’t know, my powerbank? LOL
-I have this little belt bag from Herschel that I love, and I had my mom sew an extra pocket for my phone and it’s the perfect bag for travelling as you always have all of your important documents, passport and belongings on you at all times.
What are your top travel apps/ websites asides from Learn With Locals?
- I love the maps.me application, because you can download the map and use it offline, so in a place like Cuba, it was really crucial
- Otherwise, I always use Momondo or Skyscanner for booking flights. In Thailand, I actually used hotwire for accommodation, it would get me some great deal on nice hotels, in case you need that
- And of course Airbnb for accommodation also.
- I also used booking.com quite a lot in Mexico, as I could make a reservation and cancel again at no cost if I needed and that was really really useful, because it left space for being spontaneous.
Who do you feel is offering something really exciting/ innovative/ or plain damn useful in the travel industry right now?
When I was in Hong Kong earlier this year for the RISE Conference I met this guy Jack who founded yourgrapevine.com which is essentially a place for all of your friends’ recommendations, I really liked that concept, because I always ask my friends for recommendations as opposed to reading online reviews from people I don’t know or have a connection with – and here you can have them all in one place.
I also really like all of these home-sharing platforms that offer dining in a locals’ home, like VizEat and Eatwith. I did that when I was in Paris and it was such an amazing way to experience a place and it’s people because places are made up of people with stories to tell, right?!
Apart from this, of course Airbnb Trips Experiences and other like minded platforms WithLocals and this cool one with a cool name too: backstreetacademy.com.
What’s your future vision for Learn With Locals and what’s next?
My vision for Learn With Locals is to create a space and community of people who inspire others. I want to create more entrepreneurs, I want people to feel empowered and I want to help you feel transformed and to find your true passion and purpose in life. To promote learning at any age, to promote creativity and entrepreneurship and so that we can all be inspired to live a lie full of creativity and meaning.
The ultimate goal is to help people reach the very top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the place where you experience self-actualisation, fulfilment and purpose, where you’re at your peak-performance and you have found your passion and meaning in life. This is why I encourage people to learn and to ‘teach’ others.
The next step for Learn With Locals is to spread the word, I’m already working on building supply here, which is looking good as there are so many creative people in Bali who want to share what they’re doing, the harder part is getting people to commit to learning, to experiencing and travelling differently, to break the norm for how we travel and to start changing the paradigm from simply receiving a service or buying a product, to get more people to buy into experiences, learning and engaging with the locals and their communities..
That’s going to be a challenge and it’s not something that happens overnight for sure, but I am also 100% convinced that there are people out there who are hungry for more, who want to travel and experience deeper and who are looking for something truly unique and personal, something that speaks to their inner desire to feel transformed, connect with like-minded individuals and to truly learn while travelling.
I couldn’t agree more! To follow more of the Learn with Local journey, visit their website here and follow them on Instagram at @learnwithlocals And tell me, would you try a Learn with Locals experience?
If you are interested in more local websites, I have a list of over 50 here, which are updated regularly.
If you want to see read about my local cooking experience in Bali experience (as seen on the Lonely Planet blog) which is bookable via Learn with Locals check out Love, Pray, Eat.