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.

Paris: Ober Mamma (Italian food)

Three things you need to know about Ober Mamma: it has stunning Italian food with a twist, you can see out of the bathroom doors – but people can’t see you, and you may have to queue to get in.

I wouldn’t let my last point put you off, but I wan’t you to be prepared. I was brought here by locals and we arrived around 10 minutes after opening time and we waited about 10-15 minutes to get a table (however this was outside, I’m unsure what the wait time would be half been other wise).

It’s located in the trendy and ‘place to go out’ area of Oberkampf and is actually a 1/2 minute walk from the station. There was no English menu but the staff are brilliant and so breezy with their English you almost feel bad you ever asked for the menu!

Prices/ Menu

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So sorry as I know the quality is so bad, hopefully you can see the prices!

I opted for a linguine pasta dish which featured some of the nicest tuna I think I have ever had. I really recommend it. I am not a huge tuna lover and definitely wouldn’t normally select it on a menu but it was such a pleasant surprise! (If you want to know why I went for it originally, it’s because I wanted a tomato based dish and was somewhat limited with my options).

LOCATION

Closest station: Oberkampf

 

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Click the map to get the Google Map route!

ADDITIONAL INFO

Address: 107 Boulevard Richard Lenoir, 75011 Paris, France
Opening hours: 
Monday12:15–2:15pm, 7pm–1am
Tuesday12:15–2:15pm, 7pm–1am
Wednesday12:15–2:15pm, 7pm–1am
Thursday12:15–2:15pm, 6pm–1am
Friday12:15–2:15pm, 6pm–1am
Saturday12:15–3:30pm, 6pm–1am
Sunday12:15–3:30pm, 7pm–1am
Their social networks:

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Check out other Paris finds here.

Paris: feeling for Asian food? Jumbo

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be up for asian food pretty much any country you go to. Which is why when I was making my way to Canal Saint Martin, my steps were slowed by a small and fragrant restaurant tucked away on a side road called Jumbo.

Did I feel bad as I was supposed to have ‘authentic french food’? Yes. Did I regret my choice? No; and you won’t either. Yummy and filling food served by a friendly and quirky couple.

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My friend and I with the owner, very sweet lady!

PRICES/ MENU

I was starving when I rocked up on this hidden gem! So I have to say I didn’t pay attention to the price too much (sorry!). But you pay based on how much your food weighs and the different types dishes you select.

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LOCATION

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Click for the route in Google Maps

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Additional info

+33 1 40 37 56 68

25 Rue Eugène Varlin, 75010 Paris, France

Jumbo Facebook page

 

Paris: café + co-working space Craft

Craft is a sweet little spot located near to Canal Saint-Martin. Think slick co-working space at the back and well-located coffee shop at the front, it’s a good mix.

If you need the time to do a little work or writing while in Paris, this is a great place to try. And I can vouch for the friendly parista baristas! Both the guys working here gave my their version of what they would recommend a tourist do to get the bets of local Paris (see below)

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Guy one: well I would recommend a really good breakfast – my favourite is Du Pain et Des Idées – but go on a week day as the baker rests in the weekends. Reaally good coffee.

Guy two: I would choose one area of Paris and really take the time to explore it. So for example here around the canal, I would take a coffee, and chill around the river. If the weather was good I would recommend having a picnic with some beers on the green with some friends.

Price/ Menu

I feel kind of bad because I didn’t snap the menu, but from my memory we paid around 3/4 euro for a tea – so it was particularly cheap. But I can’t say whether this is good or bad for Paris as I am not an expert.

In regards to the co-working: I believe it was roughly 3 euro per hour!

Location

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Click for the route in Google Maps

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Address: 24 Rue des Vinaigriers, 75010 Paris, France

Mon-Fri from 9am to 7pm; Saturdays & Sundays from 10am to 7pm

Craft Facebook page

Craft Twitter page

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Bangkok: local restaurant Shuba Shabu

I ended up at this restaurant because a local and her boyfriend took me and my friends there. We had met on the bustling streets of Khoasan road the might before.

This is a fantastic and different experience. I was told that this is a really nice place to dine in groups and good for hangovers due to its ‘all you can eat’ quality.

You get a pot of seasoned soup which you use to cook the various ingredients you can order from the menu. Meat, seafood, tofu, udon noodles, the list goes on…

Unfortunately the only photo I took was the one below! But I have stumbled across this blog which has more photos of the food and outside. This experience is highly recommended and will offer a well needed break from curry and Pad Thai ;).

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Us with our new local friends!

PRICE

250 bhat for all you can eat and unlimited green tea.

See what the menu looks like here.

LOCATION

Right next to Ratchathewi station, Bangkok.

Address in Thai: ชูบา ชาบู buffet สุดคุ้ม ราคา 239+ มีทั้งหมู เนื้อ กุ้งสด ปลาหมึก และ ของว่างทานเล่นหลายชนิด

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Click for location in Google Maps

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Their Facebook page

Trip Advisor page

+66 82 779 8789

 

Chiang Mai: cooking class

There are many cooking classes to choose from in Chiang Mai, but I opted for this as it had the flexibility to do a half day experience (my party and I were trying to jam pack as much as we could into our Chiang Mai stay!)

This was a fun, informative experience which produced a lovely meal at the end of it. The host who takes you on a tour of the market and later instructs you how to cook the meals was cheeky, fun and personable.

You start the experience by choosing which dishes you would like to cook, then to head to a market where you learn about all the ingredients that will feature in your meals. Expect fragrant smells and chilli tasting!

You are then divided into groups to prepare the ingredients, but then prepare your dishes solo. It is a very jokey environment watching people get it ‘oh-so-wrong’ and the host proclaim “what are you doing??”

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The end result (or my end result rather) looks a little like this. Then you get a cool cook book to take home.

PRICES

Prices range from 800-3,00Bhat. On the lower end you are looking at a half day (what I did) on the higher end you are looking at a private session.

LOCATION

You can usually get picked up from your hostel or hotel if you are within the ‘square’. Definition of the Chiang Mai square: formerly a walled square, with some bases remaining. The square contains the old city, the new city remains outside the ‘walls’ – staying within the walls is a good shout if you want to be picked up for experiences.

For Taxi quote the following: โรงเรียนสอนทำอาหารไทย “ไทยคิชเเช่น” ถ.ลอยเคราะห์ ซอย 1

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Click for link in Google Maps

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Click for link in Google Maps

ADDITIONAL INFO

Thaikitchencentre.com

Their Facebook page

 

Useful websites for booking local experiences

Local people, food places and events are fundamental to our learning. But getting straight to the heart of a new places’ culture isn’t always as easy as I’m sure we’d all like. And although finding the local spots is more organic with longer trips, this list of websites is designed for when time isn’t on your side. If you feel your company is missing from this list, simply drop your useful travel friend an email here.

 Accommodation

Things to do (general)

Gastronomy 

Check out useful websites for booking flights too, or useful websites for booking hostels if you’re still looking for a place to stay.