Czech duo offers contact, adventure-packed non-package holidays

Illustrative photo: Barbora Kmentová

If you don't like organised trips abroad but you are not quite sure how to arrange a journey on your own, a new Czech travel agency called Travelove might be just the thing for you. From lunching with a local in Paris, taking a ride with the huskies in the Arctic Circle or meeting with an Irish musician in Cork, you can choose basically any experience you want and get it within a vacation tailor-made to your needs. Launched at the end of last year, Travelove has already opened an office in London and has been gradually expanding all over the world.

Katka Mikulková,  photo: archive of Katka Mikulková
When I met with one of its founders, Katka Mikulková, I first asked her what led her and her sister to establish this unusual travel agency:

“I think we had two reasons. The first one was a personal one. We have always been big travellers and lived abroad for some years and then suddenly when we started work and had kids it seemed like there was no time for real travelling any more.

“We were looking for a service that would help us plan our travels and we really couldn't find one, so we started one ourselves. The business reason to me was that the travel business seems to be quite conservative and fragmented.

“There are a lot of things but they don't seem to change very quickly. In the last years though I saw there were a lot of pretty exciting start-ups starting and so we just wanted to be a part of it and came up with something of our own.”

So what exactly is the difference between Travelove and ordinary travel agencies?

“I would say the first thing is that we are not about hotels and cheap flight tickets or buses taking you anywhere. We are about the content: what you actually get to do, get to know, get to learn in the place.

“So we are based around this. The first thing you decide with us is want to do and what you want to discover not where you want to be staying or how much it costs. We still find accommodation for you so you don't have to worry about anything but that's not the key thing about us.

“So we are about the content and we pack it all into a guidebook. So that's the second thing I think that is very different from regular travel agencies. With us you travel individually. We don't stand behind your back all the time just like when you travel with a group of people and you have a guide with you all the time. With us you just have the guidebook so you are still free-spirited and do things the way you want to.”

So if I understand correctly these trips are basically tailor made to one's individual needs.

“We are not about hotels and cheap flight tickets or buses taking you anywhere. We are about the content: what you actually get to do, get to know, get to learn in the place.”

“Yes. The journeys are prepared by local trip designers, as we call them. For instance a girl in Cork in Ireland knows the place so she puts together a shopping basket basically. Different activities you can do either with the locals or things you can do on your own. A lot of them are for free for that reason because they can be just a walk, but a walk to a nice place that the local people know.

So she prepares the activities and you pick from them, just like in an e-shop. So you decide you want to go to Cork so you look into each activity and decide that you want to ride a horse on the beach with a local guy, I want to do a photo-tour down-town, I want to meet an Irish musician and I want to go to this beach. And you don't have to worry about anything as: do I have enough time for this, when do I do what, how do I meet the musician or how do I book the horses?

“You don't have to do anything. You just chose what you want and then your wish comes true, basically, because we do that for you. And before you leave you get a real guide book, kind of like a Lonely Planet made just for you, and inside you find it all.

“We even have travellers who only open the guidebook once they are on the air plane and before that they have no idea where they are going and what's going to be happening. But inside they find everything, how to get from the airport up to what kind of horses there are and why do they breed these horses. So it's also about the fun facts and the insights from the place.”

How do you actually choose the trip designers? They seem to be a very important part of what you offer.

“It's basically a peer to peer model, which is quite popular in all kinds of businesses nowadays. So what we do is we connect the local person with the traveller through a high quality standardized product. So you don't have to worry if the trip designer is reliable, if the things he put together make sense – we do that for you.

Mostecko,  photo: Miloš Turek
“The trip designer is a regular local person, they come to us, we talk about what we do and people come and want to do trips for us and the ones that really go through the process really become our trip designers.”

So the people find you on the internet or do you address them when you travel abroad?

“Right now it's still both ways. At the beginning when we still were not sure how to set the whole process I went around Prague to see how to put it all together, and I talked to people and different businesses.

“And then when I had a better idea and we had our first guidebook in our hand we involved our friends or friends of ours friends who are travellers, photographers and PR people, the ones who could be interested and with some of them we made our first trips. And we are still changing the trips along the way.

“In spring we finally had a contract proposal for the trip designers, we had the process designed, so we finally made it public. We mainly communicate through social media, in different kinds of groups devoted to travelling, so that's how people come to us.”

You said you were mostly limited to Europe. So what are currently the most popular destinations and what kind of journeys are most popular among your clients?

“That was true till this spring, and then when we shouted to the world what we were doing people started coming from all over the world. So we actually launched a Singapore and Israel trips and we have some South America and even Africa in process, so we started expanding.

“But as I said it's a long process so many of these who already contacted us in April or May are still working on their trips. So most of the people still go on our trips to Europe.

“I would say that even though we try to have trips into different kinds of smaller regions and areas outside of the big cities, still the most sales are to the big cities. Czechs like Budapest, Rome, but they also like our Czech trips. We have a trip to Macocha, Pálava and even to the Most region in north Bohemia.

“We don't stand behind your back all the time just like when you travel with a group of people and you have a guide with you all the time. With us you are still free-spirited and do things the way you want to.”

That's not a typical tourist destination, I would say...

“Which I totally don't understand why, because it’s really beautiful and very interesting and it corresponds with how we want to do things. We wanted to have the trips so good, so interesting and so deep into the local stuff that even people from the same country could go on that trip. What I am trying to say is that for example a French family from the south could buy our Brittany trip and still love it.”

So can you give me an example of how you make these Czechs trips interesting for the locals?

So for instance if you go to Mostecko, the trip designer from that region found an interesting chocolate shop, an interesting little business which you have never though could be created in such place, we have a local who shows you the town of Most and explains the whole history of how it was all moved and how it affected the people who lived there.

Then you go for example to a small local farm, so suddenly after spending time in the city you are in nature making cheese. Then we have walks and hikes in the mountains and out of this you can make a four or five-day fairly easily.

“We have this trip also for families with kids. The kids get their own guidebook with fun stuff to do along the way, so if the walk is too long they always have a treasure to find or puzzles to solve along the way.

“When it's with kids of course the experiences are shorter, but the idea should stay the same. The people should get to know the place and learn something new, both the adults and the kids.”

You started your trial operation last October. How many clients have you had since then?

“We started in October because we still wanted to catch the Christmas season and we sold a lot of the trips as Christmas presents. So we made sales at Christmas and while the clients were already away, we were finally testing the operations, to see how we can really handle it and how it will all work.

Illustrative photo: Štěpánka Budková
“And during that time we just started having new sales coming in from the online world, so we actually celebrated client number 200 sometime in July. And yes, we are growing.

“Most of our clients are still from the Czech Republic but we have also had our first clients from America and England and we are getting offers or questions from people all over the world. It feels nice when we get an inquiry from India for example about our Finnish trip and that's where we hope to grow.”