While Andrea Vidler and I haven’t met in person, we have connected through social media, and after reading her interview, I want to meet her very soon. Andrea is the co-founder of LocalAventura, a travel tech startup that connects passionate local guides with open-minded travelers for more authentic, customizable experiences in Latin America. The goal of her company is to help empower local entrepreneurs while also making travel in Latin America more accessible.
Her love for this region grew from her Chilean-American upbringing and has kept her coming back to work and study in countries like Colombia, Peru, and Mexico. In most of her travels she’s loved finding volunteer and work opportunities abroad because for her it’s the best way to understand the country. Prior to co-founding LocalAventura, she went to Business School at Wharton and worked in consulting.
If you’ve ever spent a holiday abroad, which was it and how did you celebrate?
I was born in Iquique, a coastal city in the northern desert of Chile. Even after I moved to the USA, we would spend many Christmases there with my family, on the beach, in the summer heat. I will always remember the tradition they have there where most of the local companies hire a Santa Claus to drive around in a truck that plays terrible and loud Latino Christmas music, all to deliver candy and gifts to the families of their employees.
I know it’s hard to narrow down, but what are your three favorite places in the world?
1. New Delhi- I was invited to a wedding in New Dehli, and last minute I was asked to join the bridesmaids team and handed a schedule of events. Little did I know that this would involve meeting with a choreographer to learn a Bollywood dance in 3 days, that I would then perform in front of over 1,000 people. It was one of the most embarrassing yet thrilling experiences of my life. The way this family opened their arms and invited me to take part in their ceremonies really made me fall in love with the city and the country as a whole.
2. Colombia- While I was in business school, I studied in Bogota and had the chance to visit Medellin and Cartagena while I was in Colombia. Growing up in a Latin American household, I’d always heard about how warm and kind Colombians were. Spending time in the country only proved that to be true. It was interesting to see how the country has really grown from such a period of conflict to now entering a period of rapid modernization and innovation…. In fact, while I was in Medellin, I interviewed entrepreneurs and saw first-hand why Medellin was voted one of the 2013’s most innovative cities in the world. I also love coffee, so Colombia was perfect – I was able to see the coffee making process from the bean production at a small coffee plantation to the big corporate headquarters of Juan Valdez.
3. Rwanda- During business school, I had the opportunity to travel to Rwanda and worked there for several weeks with an entrepreneur who ran a large coffee brand in East Africa. From surveying customers, supermarket owners, and coffee cooperations, I was able to see the economic development that has recently occurred in the country. Additionally, I witnessed first-hand the trend of the African diaspora, where the locals leave, go to Europe for education, and coming back to improve their country. Though this entrepreneur owned a sizable company, he was able to provide sustainable coffee to coffee shops around the world, and in this way, provide economic opportunities for locals. With the right focus on supporting and empowering local communities and workforces, Is this sort of business that I believe is so important to changing a country for the better.
Based on food alone, which country could you live in forever?
Definitely Peru. Given that Peru has 84 of the 104 microclimates of the world, it is rich in diverse produce. I spent a month living in Lima and I saw how ingrained food is in the Peruvian Culture. In fact, the gastronomic revival in Peru has even helped build Lima’s tourism industry after a tragic civil war in the 1980’s. From the mountain, coast, and jungle, each part of Peru has distinct flavors, making it a paradise for foodies. Seriously, just go to Lima and have a causa with a passion fruit pisco sour, you won’t regret it.
Do you have a funny story about a travel mishap that you’d like to share?
Last year at LocalAventura, a team of us took a work trip to Mendoza, Argentina, which is just a 5-6 hour bus ride from Santiago. I was with one of my interns who was on a student VISA, and after 4 hours on the bus, when we got to border control at 4am, they stopped her because there was a problem with her VISA and told her that she couldn’t cross the border and would need to sleep at the police station overnight. I stayed with her to translate and provide moral support. The police, who at first terrified us, ended up being really nice and let us stay in their break room for the night, giving us tea and Pringles to snack on. We called it, “Hotel Chilean Police.” The next morning as I waited for the next bus to Mendoza I hung out with the police officers, passing around mate tea, and discussing the many immigration woes they’ve seen before. Not exactly what we expected “immigration jail” to be like.
What are the top three items you can’t leave home without?
My travel pillow and blanket, from traveling so much for work, I’ve gotten great at sleeping wherever I need to, in fact I may be slightly narcoleptic and my friends have thousands of photos of me passed out in uncompromising places and positions. As for a third item I always pack in my red suitcase so I know it’s easy to spot.
What’s your favorite website for booking or planning travel?
Well, I’m biased because I run a booking platform 😉 but besides LocalAventura I love all the resources available to help people find volunteer opportunities. I think volunteering or working abroad is the best way to travel, make local friends, and learn about the regional cultures. Plus, you get the best food and bar recommendations from your colleagues. My favorite ones to use are Go Abroad, Idealist, and Workaway.
How do you keep in shape and stay healthy while on the road? Do you have advice for others?
I love biking because it’s both a great way to see a new city quickly and get some exercise in. Everywhere I go, I make sure to do a bike tour, and I’ve done one in every single Latin American country and most European countries I’ve traveled to. I can’t say I’m that great at it considering I fell of a bike in the middle of the street in Amsterdam. But even bad bikers like me should give it a try!
What is your favorite kind of day tour?
As you know, my job requires me to go on a lot of tours, so it’s hard to pick. But I think the best are always when the guides are teaching you a skill they are passionate about. For example, I just did a cooking tour with a guide in Lima who was so clearly in love with cooking and food, that I feel like I was able to pick up on that passion and learn so much more.
Share your best travel tip.
Check Facebook to see which of your friend’s live in the cities you’re going to. Even though you may not have spoken to a person in five years, you’d be surprised how friendly people can be when you’re travelling.
In your home country, what’s a destination that you think people should visit?
Patagonia is by far, in my opinion, the spectacular natural beauty in Latin America. While I’ve loved seeing Iguazu Falls, Machu Picchu, and the the ancient Mayan temples in Mexico, Patagonia is still so untouched, with a lot less people so you can enjoy a more isolated, meditative experience. I also loved the opportunity to meet the Chilean Gauchos (or cowboys), because my mom always told me stories about them growing up. It was so amazing to learn about my own cultural traditions firsthand.
The media tells of a world that is scary and dangerous, what’s a travel moment that has proved to you that this isn’t true?
Speaking with our travelers, I’ve learned that the media holds a lot of people back from traveling to Latin America. It has perpetuated stereotypes that the region is violent, dangerous, dirty, etc. But this is simple not true of the entire continent. Like most parts of the world there are areas that I would recommend travelers skip, but if they skip the whole region then they are missing out on some truly incredible places. After living and working in many places of Latin America, I know first hand that once you learn the local safety tips and suggestions you can travel the region without a problem. Like anywhere just be smart. In fact, when one of my interns was on her way to live in Chile, a random guy on the plane started lecturing her on the dangerous of the country. He told her that she can’t go anywhere alone, and she shouldn’t even bother living there. Then he told her that if she got in a pickup truck with a stranger, she was guaranteed to get shot. Well obviously, you shouldn’t get into a random pickup truck, not only in Chile but anywhere! Ironically, the very first guide this intern went on a tour with happened to drive a pickup truck. Don’t worry, the intern is fine!
What’s your favorite book to take with you on the road or favorite book about travel?
The Lost Girls: It’s about 3 women who were working in NYC, each of which are facing certain personal battles, so they decide that they need to do something daring to help them reevaluate their lives. They quit their jobs to go on a year long trip around the world, with the hope that leaving their Manhattan bubble with provide them with some much-needed perspectives. In each place they go to the, they all have to do something that one of the girls wants to do like volunteering with teenagers in Kenya or hiking with villagers in Vietnam. It’s a story of travel, adventure, and of course how empowering female friendships can be. A great book to inspire your travels.
The Blue Sweater: For aspiring business women/ social entrepreneurs, this book is about the women who founded the Acumen fund, Jacqueline Novogratz. She talks about her journey leaving international banking to understand global poverty. It goes through her discovery of the failures of traditional charity, and how the real way to solve poverty is by understanding local cultures rather than giving stuff away.
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