How and why was Worldpackers born?
How we went from a cross-country van to a community of one million people who believe in the same purpose in four years time.
Myself (Riq) and Eric have known each other for more than ten years. During the week, we would eat lunch together to complain about corporate life and on the weekends, the only time a successful person is allowed to relax, we would surf.
How did mankind come to this?
1. The decision to drop everything
I had a “successful career” by societal standards. Banker, suit and tie, good salary and would have been promoted many times to become a director, but I was profoundly unhappy at the pointlessness of it all.
One day in November of 2011, after we closed on a beautiful negotiation, I realized that although business was good, something inside me was not going well.
I looked around me and saw human beings dominated by their egos, wanting to have more than the other, thinking only about money and I could see their unhappiness.
This is the pattern of the successful: rich and unhappy. I decided in that moment that I would not be one of them and I resigned.
Eric was an accountant. He worked day and night, with the promise that by working hard and pleasing the boss he would be promoted, would earn a lot of money and could retire and live happily ever after.
Deep down he knew that this model was good for the company, but not for him who always loved surfing.
I remember that we were eating lunch on Avenida Paulista and we both complained about this life we created for ourselves and that we were stuck and there seemed to be no way out.
Eric decided to travel to the United States to learn English (this time off would be a chance to be jobless for six months before returning to the unfortunate routine he had). He never came back.
I remember that when I handed in my resignation at the bank, I went down Avenida Faria Lima (where 70% of people are dressed in suits) shouting and celebrating: I was free.
I knew that my life had changed in that very moment and I decided to take a trip around the world.
Everyone thought I had gone crazy, that I couldn’t handle the pressure of work or that I was stupid and throwing a huge opportunity in the trash.
In reality, my huge opportunity started on that very day: I was starting to LIVE!
2. The passion for traveling
I spent the next three years traveling through more than 50 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia. I have lived incredible experiences, walked with gorillas, lived in a spiritual retreat in India, traveled by camel through the Sahara, I learned French and German and my best friends are on every continent. I realize that I live in the world and travel through my home.
I have found it much more fun to live in hostels throughout the world, meeting people, than working the night shift at a five-star hotel in a huge city.
Traveling in business class was cool, but I remember the experiences I had on the trains of India way more.
I realized that travel is the purest form of learning, outside the bounds of routine, the comfort zone and the artificial necessities created by society.
You become the decider over your own life and learn with new people and situations, comfortable or difficult, but you still learn. Learn to have fun, how to be a kid again, spontaneous, and still add to your resume (learn languages, gain new skills, increase your global network).
The best thing of all: you get to know yourself, realize who you are, what you want out of life, what you like and what society has ingrained into your perception of your own self.
Eric went to the US around the same time I went to Africa seven years ago. He enrolled in an English school but realized that he only had Brazilians in his class and the format of the course, as well as the educational model in force in the world, consisted of some person that theoretically knows more talking and other people repeating.
Eric realized that this is the worst way to learn! He found a hostel close to the school, where he could help a few hours each week in exchange for accommodation.
Wow! He decided to live in the hostel, learning English in a way that was much faster and more fun, talking with people from around the world about things that made sense to him, in contact with various accents. He never went back to the school.
So impactful was the experience that, together with two more volunteers, they decided to open a hostel in San Diego, that would receive collaborative guests from around the world, creating a global environment where travelers would help each other and those that collaborated didn’t have to pay for accommodation.
The experience went very well and in 2013, I went there to collaborate and spend a few months at the International Travelers House. I began helping with cleaning, then reception, until becoming a surf instructor, party promoter and artist in the house!
Clearly, it was not a job in the way I had imagined the word: I had fun, met people from all over the world, improved my English and wasn’t spending money to do so.
I felt productive and light and the hostel also - we had a true win-win relationship where both parts learned, gave something and gained something, without the need for money as a currency exchange.
Skill through experience, a new way of living and relating to work, travel and money!
At this moment it was obvious that Eric and I weren’t going to return to the financial sector.
All of our friends said that we were very lucky to travel the world and live in California and that this was something very far from their own reality. The truth is, it was actually much more simple and necessary to do this than they thought.
3. The beginning of the project
Travel had changed our lives and now we wanted to create these same opportunities for more people to be transformed by traveling.
We started talking about this in a coffee shop and the dream turned into Worldpackers, a collaborative community that revolves around the exchange of skills for accommodation.
While reaching my dreams in my travels, I realized that I would only be happy if I helped more people realize their own dreams, and the biggest dream people have is to travel, and it’s one of the biggest fears too.
With an online platform with opportunities verified by us, we could inspire people and provide the tool they needed, that little push to jump with no fear!
Living in the hostel, between parties and collaboration, it was hard to work on-site. In the beginning, we hired a website developer from India to create the platform.
We didn’t know anything about startups and we made the initial version of the site in Excel (imagine an accountant and economist doing this together). We left the hostel and bought a van to 100% dedicate ourselves to the project.
We spent hours discussing how the experience would be for the travelers and hosts, how we could inspire more people and how to make the decision and the travel itself easier.
Traveling is a universal right and, before the industrial and agricultural revolutions, human beings were already traveling.
Also, when staying at a friends house, you at least make the bed and wash the dishes - the exchange of skills for accommodation is a thousand-year-old thing.
What we do is just make travel experiences more accessible through technology and globalization.
We worked day and night in that van and at cafes that had internet. We went back to Brazil, lived in a gracious friend’s house and slept on air mattresses in an office on Avenida Paulista that my brother loaned to us.
We were focused on creating, we didn’t earn a single penny, took showers at friends’ houses. Looking back, it was kind of crazy, but I learned through traveling that what is considered normal will not necessarily make you happy.
We launched the platform on February 4th, 2014. The first version, very simple, was slow and full of bugs.
There were tens of thousands of shares, reports and blogs talking about us. From then on it was a lot of work and a lot of good people collaborating and sharing the cause.
The movement has grown and today there are 1 million Worldpackers in more than 170 countries, who believe that travel is a universal right.
Hosts of hostels, NGOs, organic farms and family home-stays open their doors to welcome travelers, to help and teach.
A committed and passionate team works day and night in various parts of the world to create and maintain the platform. There has been already been more than 1,500,000 nights spent collaborating, tens of thousands of trips and lives transformed.
We believe that traveling is the easiest way to awaken the consciousness, to be present and to start the journey of self-discovery. Realizing the biggest dream people have through inspiration and intuitive tools, removing the biggest fears from the human mind, we will have a much more egalitarian, sustainable and altruistic world. Acting through our purpose to help more people find their purpose. From traveler to traveler.
We want to empower people to be free to discover the world and be discovered.
Imagine a world without borders, where humans can exchange experiences and learning, with a receptive mind and open heart, without importance of their age, color, sex, origin, religion, clothing, financial state, haircut, team they cheer for, politics they like or any other illusion the mind can come up with.
Travel changes people and it’s these people that change the world.