Global Travel Company Lonely Planet is trying to better understand the solo traveler experience. We are challenged to come up with solutions that can help the company expand on its digital innovation. By understanding the solo global traveler culture, we identified ways to help solo travelers find travel buddies, and saw opportunities the company can leverage with new features in its digital offerings. 
 2018 March-May
Lu Yang, Xi Zhang
My Role
Conduct online observation, build cultural models and synthesize research to find opportunity areas.
Digital Ethnography


Our research phase was led by 2 main research questions as follows:
1. Why do solo travelers want to find a travel buddy?
2. Why do solo travelers want to find a stranger as their travel buddy?
We adopted both focused observation and interviews as our approaches to drive findings. We participated in the following platforms for one month and used AEIOU (Activities, environments, interactions, objects, users) as the framework for observations.


Why do solo travelers want to find a travel buddy?

We mapped data from research to get an overall cultural model of solo travelers that explains why they want to find a travel buddy. The findings are divided into three layers to analyze what they truly value. The yellow bubbles are quotes linked to explicit needs – what travelers included in their posts or profiles. We further derived implicit needs from explicit ones, and finally grouped the implicit needs into three core values, which are “Feel capable”, “Feel connected” and “Feel complete”.

We created journey maps that illustrate what different types of solo travelers are looking for in a travel buddy. In the following journey maps, Jenny represents the group of semi-introverted people who want to expand their social circles and cure loneliness. She wants to feel safe, connected and capable. Ben represents the group of extroverted people, who want to share life stories and experiences with as many people as possible to feel connected and complete. Samantha represents the typical Lonely Planet travelers, who love to explore unknown places and have immersive local experiences, which makes her feel connected and capable.

Why do solo travelers want to find a stranger as their travel buddy?

1. Constraints
On one hand, not everyone enjoys traveling. The trips will become painful if travelers don’t share a similar travel mindset with their families and friends. On the other hand, It is very common that it’s hard to find a time that works for everybody. Finding strangers opens more choices to solo travelers.
2. Low commitment
Traveling with families and friends means travelers need to maintain their social identity. However, traveling with strangers eliminates this social burden and gives them the opportunity to be their true selves. There is no history and no expectations from each other. They can decide for themselves how close they get.


1. No Buddy, No Trip
For travelers like Jenny and Ben, finding a suitable travel buddy will make or break the trip. They might not go if a buddy can’t be found.
2. Mindset Matters
When people find themselves traveling with someone of a different mindset (even if it’s a close friend or family member), they will not enjoy the trip.
3. Cost Sharing is Common
Sharing the cost is a common hook for people looking for a travel buddy, by sharing travelers can often afford more luxury or comfort than they would alone on the same budget.
4. Local Experience Makes the trip Authentic
Experiencing local culture is the key for travelers like Samantha. They won’t feel connected or capable without authentic cultural experiences with local buddies.
5. Female travelers care more about safety
For travelers like Jenny, they prefer to find a travel buddy of the same gender to feel more secure. They also would like to have a meetup or short trips together before committing to a longer trip.


Expand Lonely Planet’s Service Chain

1. Find buddies before the trip to feel connected.
Encourage people to build their profiles with detailed personal information in order for lonely planet to              match travelers with algorithms and recommend them with more precise mathematics and increase the  possibility for them to match. 
2. Find buddies with similar mindset to feel connected and complete.
  • Connect travelers of similar interest and preferences through their profiles. An opportunity would be showing the travel mindset first instead of showing the person’s photo, age, location first, which is different from what many current Apps do. 
  • Travelers have the option to find buddies through checking out their activities on Lonely Planet’s website. For example, travelers can connect with other travelers who have bookmarked certain travel journals on the Trip app, which means they share the same mindset. 
  • Help travelers find people from the same community to travel with. “Same community” can be same school, same social identity, or the same interest group. This makes sure the two people had similar experience and topics they can share with each other.
3. Find buddies who can make them feel complete.
  • Help solo travelers find buddies with complementary personalities or skills to feel capable and connected. 
  • Connect travelers such as Jenny and Ben as Jenny could be a good listener and Ben needs a person to entertain. They have complementary personalities for travel. 
  • Connect travelers with complementary skills so both could achieve more than they could have by themselves. For example, connect travelers who need someone to drive for a road trip with those who can drive, or connect travelers who cannot speak a foreign language to those who can.
 4. Share cost to feel capable of managing their budget.
  • Enable travelers to see each others’ budget and how many people they are looking for to share the cost.
  • Make it easy for travelers to share what they have in mind to split up the cost. For example, lonely planet could Integrate its current hotel booking and car rental services in travelers’ communication channel.