2018 March-May
Lu Yang
Xi Zhang
My Role
Conducted online observation, build cultural models and synthesized research to find opportunity areas.
Digital Ethnography


Global Travel Company Lonely Planet is trying to better understand the solo traveler experience.  Lonely Planet has a “Travel Companions” forum dedicated to helping travelers find travel buddies on its Thorn Tree Forum. Within the past 2 years, there were 12,769 posts in this section. It is clear that Lonely Planet travelers have the constant need to find buddies. 
Our project was led by a research question “How might we help solo travelers better find a travel buddy?” By understanding the solo global traveler culture, we identified several unmet needs of the solo travelers who usually face problems when they look for travel buddies online. We aim to come up with solutions that can help Lonely Planet expand their service chain by providing digital innovation and new offerings from this old publishing company. The company recently released a guide app called Trip. Beyond offering travel guides in a digital way, we see opportunities Lonely Planet can leverage with a new app that helps solo travelers find a travel buddy easily.


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?

Culture of solo travelers

We mapped our data from our research to get an overall cultural model of solo travelers that explains why the solo travelers want to find a travel buddy. The findings are divided into three layers so as to analyze the true value underlied the surface. The yellow bubbles state the quotes from our observation and our interviews, which are linked to explicit needs – the things they said in their posts or profiles. We use a word to summarize each of their quotes into an explicit need. We further derived implicit needs from explicit ones, and finally grouped the implicit needs into three core values that we believe are the most important needs of solo travelers who want to find a travel buddy. They are  “Feel capable”, “Feel connected” and “Feel complete”.

Journey Maps

We further created three journey maps from our research findings that illustrate people’s preferences about what kind of travel buddies they are looking for. The maps start from researching about traveling to a place to going sightseeing at the destination.
Jenny represents the group of semi-introverted people who want to expand their social circles. She likes to travel to places nearby to keep a sense of security. Ben represents the group of extroverted people who want to share life stories and experiences with as many people as possible. Samantha represents the typical Lonely Planet travelers who love to explore unknown places and have immersive local experiences at the destination, which could provide her a sense of adventure and makes her feel capable.

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

We mapped out the current situation into the figure to the right, with a solo traveler being put in the middle of the circle. The innermost circle shows his intimate relationship – his family, while the outermost circle shows the opposite – the strangers.
The reasons why they find a stranger as their travel partner instead of people they have close relationships with are mainly divided into the following categories, “constraints”, “sense of adventure” and “low commitment”.
On one hand, not everyone enjoys traveling, so it becomes hard to ask families and friends to travel with you. The trips will become painful if you don’t share a similar travel mindset. On the other hand, It is very common that you don’t have the same schedule as them, so it is usually time consuming to find a suitable time for all of you. Finding strangers opens more choices to solo travelers, which is more efficient and flexible.
Sense of adventure
People who love traveling usually love to try new things and explore new places, which could provide them with a sense of adventure. Meeting new people can also be a great way for them to gain sense of adventure. It is also a way to broaden social network for people with small social circles.
Low commitment
Traveling with families and friends means you need to maintain your social image and social identity, which is often not 100% of the real you. However, traveling with strangers eliminates this social burden and gives you the opportunity to be your true self. There is no history. You don’t need to compromise if you disagree with each other because it is likely that you won’t meet in the future, but if you get along well, you can certainly make it into a lifetime relationship.


1. No Buddy, No Trip
For people 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 complete and connected 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. 
         5. Find local hosts as buddies to learn new things.
               Encourage people to build their profiles specifying skills, interests and preferences, so lonely planet can match                           travelers with locals for authentic cultural experiences and learning new things.
         6. A sense of security and feeling connected.
  • Help female travelers find buddies of the same gender.
  • Encourage meetup before the trip.