A US-based startup seeks to connect like-minded hosts and travelers, and it promises to take the world by storm.
“What can the power of travel do?” asks Yasmine El Baggari, a young Moroccan entrepreneur, at an event in Rabat hosted by US-based startup Voyaj and the World Bank.
As someone who is always hopping across continents, travel is part of my vocabulary. I easily get bored when sat in one city or country for too long. But even I am stumped with that question. I mean, what can the power of travel do? Does travel mean more than going on vacation and taking a few snaps of Big Ben or the Burj Khalifa?
While trying my best to get over writer’s block—ironically I am working on my second book—I have set out to understand what travel means.
You see, travel can scare the bejeebers out of you. Think about it: You’re in a strange place where you probably don’t know the language and you see no familiar faces. After all, it’s not like Cheers where “everybody knows your name.” So, who wouldn’t get scared? Well, at least to begin with.
In fact, I remember a friend once sent me a text message that said, “I have no idea how you always travel and live abroad. I was in Morocco for four days, and on the second day I was crying. I much prefer sitting at home in London with a cup of tea.”
As I said to her, explore your local surroundings on the first day, venture out on the second day, and once you are past the third day, you’ll be fine. In fact, add speaking to strangers whenever you get a chance and you’ll feel like Usain Bolt after winning a race. To be honest, I have a habit of speaking to strangers, especially when abroad, and getting into odd situations.
But while travel can be daunting as you step outside of your comfort zone, it can also be something you will never forget. For me, I have so many memories—good and bad—that I have built and that I am still building. Memories that include listening to the stories of Palestinian refugees at Gaza Camp in Jordan, discussing politics on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in post-revolution Tunisia, or even being detained at airports in Lebanon and Morocco.
Voyaj: Connecting People
Travel is so much more than just sitting on a beach, visiting a few touristy hotspots and never learning about a different culture. And it’s this exact reason that Yasmine El Baggari launched Voyaj: to connect people, both locals and travelers. Think Facebook, Airbnb and Couchsurfing, but without the exchange of money.
I remember saying to Yasmine in 2014 that Voyaj promises to take the world by storm. I still stand by that.
At 22-years-old, she is one of the most driven and motivated people I have had the pleasure of meeting. She is building a company that “connects like-minded hosts and travelers to share authentic cultural experiences, bridging cultures, and opening hearts and minds.”
I love that word, “authentic.” And even “opening hearts and minds.” Because that’s what real travel does: It opens your heart to find new loved ones or loved places abroad, and it opens your mind to cultures and traditions beyond your own.
Having left Morocco to study in the US at the age of 17, Yasmine explains what travel means to her.
“Travel has the ability to transform people’s lives,” she says in her often passionate tone, “through one-on-one personal interactions, and expand people’s horizons and perspectives about different places and cultures and break down stereotypes.”
With a crowdfunding campaign in the works, Voyaj will certainly have some fun rewards lined up. The buzz around the US-based startup has seen it partner with a host of personalities and companies, including the rapper Akon, Forbes and Turkish Airlines.
Currently in beta testing, the tech-savvy team at Voyaj is perfecting the backend infrastructure ahead of a global launch. But that doesn’t mean travelers have yet to use the website.
While on a “Voyaj experience” in Morocco, Bear Kittay, a social alchemist at the Burning Man Project, breaks it down for me.
“Travel is a portal for an individual or for a society into seeing the world in a different way,” he says as his eyes close while he searches for the inner words to describe his experience.
“In our age, there is an illusion that we change and transform things through technology alone or through concepts. That’s a fallacy,” he adds. “The reality is that change for an individual and a society happens through experience. And experience is most effective when it’s a journey into the unknown.”
On his first trip to Morocco, but certainly not his first time outside America, the words jump out as Bear sums up what travel can do. “Travel facilitates a type of education, a type of recalibration of an individual,” he says.
Indeed, travel can give a person a lifetime of education beyond simply reading a textbook. In fact, Lucas Ausems set out to explore the countries he studied at university by actually traveling to those nations. He’s already been to Bangladesh, Myanmar and Indonesia and has written about his experience for Fair Observer.
For myself, travel has given me friends in more countries than I would have ever imagined. It has given me homes in places I would never had thought of visiting. And it has made me grow into the person I am today.
So, what can the power of travel do? Wow, I’m stumped again! Has writer’s block kicked back in?
Well, I guess I’m still finding out what travel truly means to me. But when I do, Yasmine, you’ll be the first to know.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: Yasmine El Baggari
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