[EN] The Story of TravelMap

On the 11th of September 2012, I arrived at Sydney airport to start my first job in Australia. My boss picked me up and drove me back to the office to introduce me to the team.

Stephen – a colleague who then became a very good friend – had invited me to stay at his place for as long as I needed until I found a flat.

6 months later, I wrote the first lines of code of TravelMap on his computer, one week before I left for my bike trip around Australia. I didn’t even own a computer back then.

Orientation

 

globe-lamp

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to travel and explore the world. I would spend countless hours staring at my world globe lamp memorising the shape and name of the countries.

At 18, after graduating from high-school, I had to come up with a serious answer to the infamous question : “What do you want to be when you grow up ?”

Just like most kids at that age, I didn’t know anything about the professional world, nor what I would do in it. I liked sport, but I didn’t see a career in it. I was curious about science and physics, but I didn’t want to stay in a lab all day. Then I thought about being a firefighter to be physically active and help people, but it wouldn’t allow me to travel so much.

Meanwhile, I would spend a lot of time on the computer, tinkering with the machine and exploring the Internet. I wasn’t all that passionate about computer science, but I found it pretty easy and I knew there were a lot of great international job opportunities.

So I decided to study IT.

After the first year, I was second-to-last in my class and I almost dropped out. But after the third year, I graduated first in my class and obtained my Bachelor’s degree. It’s all about motivation.

The first year was really theoretical – lots of concepts but no concrete project. I quickly lost interest and ended up failing the IT teaching unit. I got called into the director’s office and I was offered a choice : either I retake the first year or I drop out. I said “No way I’m retaking that first year”… There was a brief moment of silence. Since I had decent grades in the general teaching unit, she basically told me in a polite way that I was not completely stupid and that there might be a way to make up for the bad year but “in 10 years, nobody had ever done that before”.

Challenge accepted.

So I continued to the second year which got more interesting. I had a web development course and then an internship. I was offered my first job and I started to see the value in what I had learned. I turned down the offer but managed to get a short term contract for the summer.

Then I received a call about one of my application for the third year of study. The director, Roland Grosso, told me I had been accepted and he wanted to tell me more about the program. He seemed to be really invested in making sure all his students would succeed. He told me I would learn about creating complex web and mobile applications. No doubt many opportunities would arise with such a skill.

I was convinced.

The courses were really interesting and targeted to apply directly in the professional environment. The JavaScript course taught by Roland Grosso was my favourite. For the final exam, I had a perfect score. I then managed to get a job in London as a junior JavaScript developer. This helped me validate my third year of study and gave me the perfect jumpstart to begin my international professional life.

As a side note, today, TravelMap is heavily relying on JavaScript. It is the main programming language responsible for the interactivity and fluidity of the blogs.

 

Adaptation

adapt-quote

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

 

Some of you might know this quote from Charles Darwin. It was actually the slogan of the company I worked for in London, and also my motto for many years after that.

Let’s talk a bit about history. In the medieval time, commerce was local, village bound, communities were not connected. After the industrial revolution, commerce was international and the economy was growing very fast.

Same thing is happening nowadays. If you stay in your home country, not expanding, you limit your possibilities. It’s important to reach out, to grow yourself and adapt to new environments, and then grow some more.

I strongly believe in adapting oneself and never stop growing, expanding. We shouldn’t self-limit our ability to learn.

That’s why after a few months in London – even though everything was easy and it seemed like the perfect environment to thrive professionally – I turned down the second job offer.

I was 20 and had already bought a one-way ticket to Australia.

 

Ideation

map-aus

I first thought about TravelMap in 2012, when I was in London. I was about to finish my studies and start travelling for an undetermined amount of time.

I wanted to find an easy way to let my family and friends know where I was and how I was doing. So I started to look online, but I couldn’t find anything that I liked. There were a few travel blog platforms, but they were quite ugly and none of them focused on a map. They were based on text and I don’t like writing all that much – especially while travelling. I just wanted to be able to press a button to save my position and go on.

Thanks to my studies and work experiences, I had all the knowledge required to build that kind of thing. So I thought, why not just build it myself ?

At first, I didn’t think about creating a whole blogging platform for travellers. Well, I had that idea in the back of my head – somebody had to do it – but I mainly focused on creating my custom blog to try it out and see how people would like it.

During the first 2 months of travelling in Australia, I started to think about the interface: the map would be at the center on the homepage, but I should also be able to link photos, videos and articles… I sketched the first UI on some pieces of paper.

Then I flew to Sydney and started my new job. I had a 6 months contract, after which my boss offered me a long term job and a visa. It was yet another great opportunity. But all I could think about was exploring more of Australia and ultimately the world.

So I turned down the offer and returned the computer. I bought a bike, and started to ride a week after.

Hence, when I started to write the first lines of code for TravelMap, I did that on my friend Stephen’s computer the week before leaving.

 

Creation

mount-1

When I came back to Sydney after my epic cycling trip around Australia, I only had a couple of days left on my one year Working Holiday Visa. My boss told me the job offer was still standing. I was still not interested, but I traded a few of hours of work for the computer so I had something to work on. Because then, I had a clear picture of TravelMap in my head.

I was really happy with the first prototype I had created. It allowed me to spend as little time as possible on the blog to really focus on my adventure. Every now and then, I would add a spot on the map, write a quick sentence and maybe attach a photo. My family was delighted and reassured. They would follow me every day and feel like they were travelling with me.

So I decided to open the platform to the public to share the concept and allow anyone to create their own TravelMap blog.

In September 2013, after a 2 month hiking trip in Canada, I got started with the hard work. I drastically improved the interface, allowed for multiple trips and made the website work for multiple users.

Then, in December, I tested it during my trek in Nepal and asked my mother to test it during her trip in Thailand. I thought, if my mom can use it, then anybody could use it. And she figured everything out on a tablet. It was time to launch.

On the 1st of January, 2014, I released the first public version of TravelMap.

I managed to get most of the initial traffic from localise-moi.com, a geolocation website I built during my studies. Then, Google picked up my website and started to redirect new users to my platform.

The community started to grow on its own thanks to travellers sharing their cool new blogs to their family and friends.

In March, the amount of photos people were uploading was blowing up. I had to think of a way to sustain it. Hence came the Premium accounts, where active users need to pay for the unlimited storage space and some extra features.

Later on, as I would communicate with some of those active travellers, I found myself giving away or extending a lot of Premium accounts. I was happy to see so many cool travellers doing incredible trips and I wanted to encourage it. This is why there is now an official “special discount” program where people travelling in a sustainable and meaningful way don’t have to pay.

 

Evolution

mount-2

TravelMap stayed in beta for the first 2 years. During that time, I worked on my own in between my trips and jobs, but users were my best colleagues. All the feedback I got helped me tremendously to improve the product.

In May 2014, I went to New Zealand. I had once again a one-way ticket and a one year  Working Holiday Visa. I got a job in Auckland as a JavaScript developer.

6 months after, my boss offered me a long term job and a visa. I declined the offer, got on my bike and started to travel again. I spent the next 8 months exploring the continent, cycling around New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. But every now and then, I had to stop for a few days to work on TravelMap. I couldn’t just take off and live off the grid anymore.

However, I can’t really complain. I was receiving a lot of emails from users, most of which were to tell me they were really happy about their blog and they needed more features. I later witnessed in Berlin the really of a lot of entrepreneurs who work really hard on a project and never get that kind of traction.

In August 2015, I moved back to Europe to live in Barcelona. Well, I was just supposed to stay a week or so to visit my sister but I ended up staying for a few months. I was working on TravelMap and I set a goal to finish the new version before Christmas. The old version was outdated and I couldn’t wait to take off the beta banner. I got involved in some other interesting start-up projects but I managed to launch the new version as planned anyway.

It was time for me to get moving again. I applied for a new Working Holiday Visa in Canada. However, the application process was not as easy as for Australia or New Zealand. The number of visas available are limited and the applicants are randomly selected throughout the year. I received my confirmation letter 6 months later, but it was too late, way too late.

After a couple of months waiting for the Canadian visa, I became restless. I got on my bike and cycled across France and Germany. I was tempted to keep going, but after 3 weeks on the road, my mailbox was overflowing. So I stopped in Berlin.

It wasn’t a random choice. I had received a lot of job offers from Berlin and I heard it was a great place to create a start-up. I wanted to check that out. I had 10 job interviews, most said yes, but I ended up refusing all of them. Something was different. It was not the companies. It was me.

 

Vision

hub-raum

I did not believe in the companies’ visions anymore. In fact, I never really did, but I was getting well paid and I could live on with my dream life, travelling around the world. But I had already lived that life for 4 years. I had achieved my dream. And now I needed to have another dream.

If I have to put in hard work and love, it should be for a vision I truly believe in.

Meanwhile, TravelMap grew rapidly to 20 000 users, and demanded more of my time. No doubt, I believed in the project but I didn’t want to think of it as a business. I wasn’t in it for the money. However, the workload was overwhelming and it became quite clear that I needed help.

I started to pitch at a few Berlin start-up events to get people to join my team. As I told the story of TravelMap over and over, I started to realise that I was already helping a lot of people. Whether it was by providing an easy way for travellers to communicate with their family and friends, or by providing incentives to people doing something good for the world. Growing TravelMap into a sustainable business would only make it better.

I am now dedicated to work full-time on TravelMap. I’ve started to assemble a team, but still looking for more motivated international travellers. I am building this blog to be able to interact more directly with the community and to promote some of the cool trips.

Ultimately, I want to inspire others to travel in a sustainable and meaningful way.

Throughout my travels on a bike or hiking, I’ve learned to live with little comfort and I became more open-minded. I know it made me a better man and I can only encourage other travellers to do the same.

It has been a long journey but it’s still only the beginning.

1 Comment


  1. Great to read finally read the whole story. Just happened to stumble upon this as I was checking out your website a bit. It’s cool to see how something develops from just a small seed of an idea and eventually grows and grows till it becomes big and strong. – John

    Reply

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