The Road Less Traveled: Q&A with Zelia Leong, Co-Founder of Anywhr

The team at Anywhr will book only your flights and accommodation – what you eat, see, and do is completely up to you to explore!

Travellers today are always rushing to check things off a list on trips, to ‘eat that’ or ‘buy this’. The true joy of travel has been replaced by urgency, going on recycled trips, and doing what everyone else has done.

Anywhr lets you experience authentic travel and embrace the feeling of losing control. Give in to the unknown, and book your trip to a surprise destination.

Zelia Leong started her career in the hospitality and tourism industry. She graduated from the University of Manchester and also holds a Masters of Science from National University of Singapore. She was an executive at a Rocket Internet venture (Vaniday) before starting Anywhr. Today, she manages Anywhr’s trips and marketing operations.

LadyBoss caught up with Zelia on Anywhr and her most memorable travel experience!

Our clients are travellers who are sick of recycled holidays, seeing and doing the same things as everyone else.

Q: Tell us about Anywhr. How it works, how long you’ve been doing it, and who your clients are? 

A: Anywhr lets you enjoy authentic travel experiences, and be a traveller instead of a tourist. We send you on surprise trips whereby your destination is revealed only at the airport. Destinations are curated personally for you, based on your preferences such as where you have been, or do not want to visit.  We do not plan any fixed itinerary – what they see, do, and eat on the trip is entirely up to them!

Our clients are travellers who are sick of recycled holidays, seeing and doing the same things as everyone else.  The youngest Anywhr traveller is only 21 months old! And the oldest is in his 40s.

Anywhr for LB 1

Q: What is the inspiration behind Anywhr? What’s the idea and mission behind it? 

A: I got sick of going on holidays with my family and friends, as it was always rushing to tick off checklists, taking photos with famous landmarks, and stuffing our bags with souvenirs. I was forced to get up at 7am to queue for the supposedly famous wanton noodles in Bangkok, which was supposed to be our getaway retreat. One friend even did a detailed slide presentation for our 4-day trip to Hanoi! In millennial lingo, I died.

A few years ago, I left my job and went to Europe on a one-way ticket. I did not know what was next, did no research at all, and just decided on my next cities based on local recommendations and the alternatives available. It turned out to be a life-changing trip of self-discovery, exploration, living like a true local (not pre-booked activities hosted by locals), and befriending so many people I still hold close to my heart today.

Anywhr

After my trip, I realised that the fondest memories I always look back on wasn’t the cathedrals I visited, nor the fancy restaurants I dined at. It was every single person I met, scenarios I encountered, and times when I was just sitting on the train starring out at a different scenery, a different phase of the moon that I was used to back home.

Anywhr was founded upon my discovery that travel should be authentic and raw. Meaningful experiences and connections are forged when you get out of your comfort zone and give into the unknown.

Q: What sparked your interest in entrepreneurship? 

 A: I never saw myself as an entrepreneur, and following the standard Singaporean education system, I always thought I would spend the best years of my life chained to a desk in a large corporation.

But I guess it was the cause I had that got me to start this entrepreneurship journey – to share the magic of surprise travel and authentic experiences with more people. You don’t always have to follow Tripadvisor’s Top 10, or those listicles online on ‘You MUST do this when you are in Japan’, to have a great time.

Q: What were you doing before entrepreneurship? Tell us about your background and how it helps you with what you are doing now?  

A: I worked in a global luxury hotel chain for a few years, before taking my Msc. Management at the National University of Singapore. I then went to work at a Rocket Internet venture, which was where I knew startups is where I belong.

Working at a startup can be tough, hours are long, almost zero perks, and there is no fixed handbook of procedures nor predecessors to follow. But that’s where the magic lives – where you are able to create and build meaningful things and share them with others.

Q: What were the challenges you faced starting Anywhr?

As we are the first in this region to introduce the concept of surprise travel, we faced many discouragements from friends and people whom we initially proposed the idea to. My friends even thought it was a joke!

Q: How did you overcome the challenges and obstacles?  

A: After lots of market research and testing, and even more faith and hope plus a tinge of recklessness, we eventually launched Anywhr last year. We were pleasantly surprised and very encouraged by the positive response so far, and it’s such a pleasure surprising fellow wanderlusters!

This concept is relatively new, so the naysayers can only make assumptions based on what they think they know. How will we progress if everybody thinks like that? Airbnb wouldn’t be here now if they listened to the doubters that staying in a stranger’s home in a foreign land would never be safe. My mum would kill me ten years ago if I told her I’d be using the Internet to invite a stranger over so I can climb into their cars.

We pride ourselves in never organising fixed itineraries, and only provide recommendations on what travellers can do at their destination.

Q: Tell us how you would plan a vacation suited to your clients’ requests? What are the challenges?

 A: Travellers first pick a holiday theme – Adventure, Getaway, or Experience. They will then inform us on their travel dates, preferences, places they have been to, will be going to, and do not want to go to. Other information includes dietary preferences, and anything they would like us to know.

Anywhr destinations omit over-travelled places like Bangkok, KL, Bali City, and Phuket, and instead sends travellers to unchartered destinations. Some travellers do not even know the places existed before we sent them there!

We pride ourselves in never organising fixed itineraries, and only provide recommendations on what travellers can do at their destination. The best part is when you get lost, make unexpected discoveries, speak with locals, and just embrace the moment.

Q: In terms of sales & marketing, how do you reach your clients, and what works?  

A: We love sharing stories. Our travel stories, and those of Anywhr travellers, inspire fellow travellers. Original content is especially important in today’s digitally saturated age.

Word of mouth is also a great source of marketing for us, as our travellers would rave about their trips before, during, and after. Check out #GOANYWHR on Instagram.

Anywhr for LB 3

Q: Where do you see the future of Anywhr?  Any plans in the near future? 

A: Right now we are focusing on delivering the best trip experience for our travellers, and ensure that their best trip so far would be an Anywhr trip.

Some travellers are so hooked to the experience that they have already booked multiple trips with us!

Q: As an entrepreneur, what motivates you personally?    

A: Without a doubt, it would be to create something meaningful, exciting, and different. I would not want to do something that everyone else has already done till death. It goes the same for my travelling, I guess.

Q: What would be your advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs keen in starting a business?

A: Have a cause, and work your ass off for it! Surround yourself with great mentors, and have a good team and co-founder that will support you and make up for where you lack. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have that, and do not take it for granted.

Q: What was your most memorable travel experience?

Anywhr (2)

A: When I was living alone in a cabin in the Arctic Circle, I borrowed an old manual car to drive and go hiking in the midnight sun. I ended up hiking for twelve hours all alone through the night in a national part three times the size of Singapore, with three-degree weather, with no map and no food.  I wanted to just curl up in a ball and roll down the mountain and die! While freezing on my way back, a herd of beautiful reindeers were surrounding my car, and I had never been so exhilarated yet fearful in my life. Oh and also, I do not have a driver’s license.

Check out Anywhr for your next surprise destination!

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