The Art of SE Asia Discovery with Travelfish.org


Whether you are going to Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh or Nakhon Nowhere Travelfish.org has the destination details you need for you to start your next adventure.

Since launching in 2004 Co-Founders of Travelfish.org, Samantha Brown and Stuart McDonald, continue to spice up unforgettable itineraries for travelers bound for SE Asia. What initially started as a collection of the couple’s favorite stops in Thailand has evolved into the largest independent travel guide of its region.

The Travelfish.org contributing team consists of writers who live in the region and the site features Burma Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Samantha and Stuart also follow a strict “no freebie” policy to eliminate outsider input on their experiences.

Below the Co-Founder behind Travelfish, Stuart McDonald, shares his insight on what it’s like to run the largest independent travel website dedicated solely to Southeast Asia.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

The cat meowing at the door to come in! I’ve always been a morning person, so I’m normally up five or sixish while Sam is a night owl; she starts late and finishes late. It’s one example of how we’re a great team. One of the things about travel writing is there is always something that has changed or is out of date, so my things-to-do list is neverending. There is always something to fix, or something new to learn, so I have no shortage of reasons to get out of bed. If all else fails, the kids’ school lunches need to be made.

What inspired you to start Travelfish?

I believe people can get more out of travel and simultaneously have a more positive impact on the places they travel to. We built Travelfish to help this happen. I had written a couple of guidebooks previously but I believed a guidebook, once free of the limitations of paper, could be more than simple list of places to stay, eat and sightsee. Of course we cover that ground at Travelfish, but we like to bring to light the more interesting and to support, in particular, locally and family-run businesses. Travel is more than buses, beaches and hanging out with other backpackers. Every day you step outside can be another opportunity to meet or interact with another culture. In this day and world, we believe the cultural exchange and growth that can result from travel to be crucial.

If you were to guesstimate, how many travelers have you had a positive impact on?

Oh that’s very hard to say. I received an email just last night (really!) that reads:

“My fiancé and I have been backpacking through SE Asia for the past four months and have found your blog invaluable! The advice, recommendations and suggestions of places to visit have been great and made our trip so much more fun as a result.”

I love emails like that. We do get them semi-regularly though I do have time to read more!

What has been your biggest challenge in starting your own company?

Neither Sam nor I are from a business background—you could say we’re both reformed backpackers—so there have been many challenges from a business perspective. Mostly these were self-inflicted because we had no idea what we were doing and had to figure it out as we went. If there was one aspect I totally under-estimated, it would be the time and energy required to work with other people. We’ve had as many as 17 regular freelancers at one time (though we now have a full-time staff of under a half-dozen and just one freelancer). Working with and managing other people has been a continual learning curve for me, particularly as we have writers spread across a number of Southeast Asian countries. We currently have a great staff and I’m very proud of them and the work they produce. Managing people is not something that comes naturally to me—I’m much better at having a beer with them.

Who is your biggest role model?

I’m a big admirer of Simon Monk, the co-founder of World Nomads. How he’s been able to build a great company successfully, for what he believes are the right reasons, while simultaneously making a difference to the lives of those in need, is highly impressive.

What advice would you tell someone who was starting their own company, today?

Talk to somebody who has already done it. Find a mentor. Somebody who’ll be able to deliver useful advice and guidance that will save you plenty of headaches and money. We didn’t do this of course. Rather we just blundered our way through and made plenty of avoidable mistakes. Advice need not be just on the commercial side of things (tax, work permits, etc.) but also on the tech side, community side and any other facet of the business.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I received was totally unsolicited. An employee of a far larger company in the same business area as us basically said, “I can see what you’re trying to do, but you’re doing it all wrong and it will come back to bite you. Read this.” The email was a couple of thousand words long about one specific area of our business I was really struggling with and it was a tremendous help—and it did change what we were doing. Likewise, learn to take criticism constructively rather than personally. Some of the most biting criticism we’ve ever received was from another travel writer. My immediate reaction was to grate, but once I caught my breath, there was a lot of truth to what he said. We took it on board, and the site is far better for it. Outside influence is important, but likewise to know when to stick to your guns. From the very get go we’ve stuck to a strict “no freebies” rules—both for us and our writers and this is something I believe in very strongly. People in the travel industry are forever telling us it isn’t important and that we should get on the gravy train. No thanks.

Travelfish also launched their premium membership last year and the response has been well beyond their expectations. They look forward to growing that through 2017 and continuing to help travelers get more out of their travels to the region.

Huffington Post Link Here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-art-of-se-asia-discovery-with-travelfish_us_58a6587ce4b026a89a7a2907

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