Meet SoloTrvlr, a travel app that is revolutionizing the way women experience solo adventures.

Meet the founders of SoloTrvlr, Kim Callender and Arabella Bowen. They created a travel app that is revolutionizing the way women experience solo adventures.

SoloTrvlr helps users to travel smarter by tapping into trusted local advice instantly, with candid, personal recommendations from verified local women and fellow travelers around the world. 

Whether you’re somewhere for two hours between business meetings or two weeks for a deep dive into local culture, SoloTrvlr aims to be your women-driven, AI-powered network for trusted travel advice.

At the 2024 Bessie Awards, SoloTrvlr is a finalist for the Travel Startup of the Year award, which goes to an engaging, innovative, and impactful startup that we as a community of influencers believe is changing the way we travel.

The Bessie Awards honor women and gender-diverse people of impact in travel, particularly influencers, creative entrepreneurs, marketers, and other representatives who have contributed unique voices and work to the travel industry.

We caught up with Kim and Arabella to learn more about their mission at SoloTrvlr and what they see for the future of the travel industry — and themselves.

Co-Founder Stories: Navigating Solo Travel with Kim and Arabella

Arabella Bowen (L) and Kim Callender (R), co-founders of SoloTrvlr
Arabella Bowen (L) and Kim Callender (R), co-founders of SoloTrvlr. Photo courtesy of SoloTrvlr.

Arabella took a three-month solo trip through Southeast Asia that she says changed her whole life. “This was back in the late ‘90s, before smartphones, Google Maps, and most of the Internet even existed,” she tells us. “So the only thing I had to go by was my guidebook—and if it steered me wrong, I was screwed.”

Before going on that solo trip, Arabella intended to work in government affairs, but she shifted her whole trajectory upon her return home. “I decided I had to write guidebooks for a living instead, to empower other women to travel solo and experience how life-affirming it is,” she explains.

“I spent the next 15+ years in leadership roles across established brands and startups, including Fodor’s Travel, AFAR, and ShermansTravel. I’ve written a few guidebooks, too, including those sections about what women need to know to travel safely and smartly,” she continues. “I’ve also continued to travel solo: I’ve now visited 20 countries on my own so far and still love the thrill and sense of confidence it gives me. There’s nothing else like it.”

Similarly speaking of her first solo trip, Kim tells us, “When I stepped off that plane and into that new city for the first time on my own, I felt such a rush of freedom. At the same time, the anxieties were real: With no one to depend on but myself, I felt overwhelmed by all the decisions and acutely aware of everything around me.”

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“I’ve since traveled alone to 13 countries and spoken to hundreds of women who recounted similar stories of empowerment, self-confidence, and nerves in their solo trips,” Kim continues. “And the more women I connected with, the more I saw that existing solutions weren’t meeting our needs. Even top executives who travel the world for business are still being told, ‘That city is dangerous; don’t go out on your own,’ with no further context.”

Kim boldly left her career at Google mid-pandemic to found SoloTrvlr. “The decision was met with more than a few funny looks!” she says. “At the time, we weren’t allowed to leave our homes, let alone the country. But the upside to starting something new in an industry that’s contracted by 90%, is there’s suddenly a lot of room to do things differently. And that’s exactly what we did.”

Enabling a Billion Women+ to Explore Boldly

SoloTrvlr helps connect women solo travelers together for tips and advice
SoloTrvlr helps connect women solo travelers together for tips and advice. Photo courtesy of SoloTrvlr.

Their mission at SoloTrvlr is to facilitate a world where women are free to live out their dreams. “There is a massive opportunity in front of us,” they say. “What if we could enable a billion women+ to go anywhere independently, confidently, and boldly?” 

SoloTrvlr aims to break down barriers by delivering personal, candid, and trusted advice from women globally. The platform encourages women to follow their curiosities, embrace solo adventures, and redefine the way they travel and live.

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“Often the only thing holding us back is ourselves: Our uncertainties, our lack of time for planning out all the details, and our growing distrust in the billions of anonymous reviews out there,” they offer. “But think about how much more accessible a place is once you have the trusted advice of a good friend. What if you could get that anywhere? That would open up the world, quite literally, and change where and how we travel and live in profound ways.”

Their goal with SoloTrvlr is to connect travelers with local insights and advice, anywhere in the world. “By harnessing the wisdom of women globally, we instantly reduce barriers and make independent travel more accessible for all,” they explain, “Whether you’re just going to try something new by yourself across town or explore an entirely new place solo across the globe.”

And SoloTrvlr’s mission is certainly resonating! They were selected for Expedia’s first-ever accelerator in 2023, marking a significant endorsement of SoloTrvlr’s mission to make solo travel more accessible for women.

Travel Industry Challenges and Inspirational Leaders

Kim and Arabella acknowledge the critical issues facing the travel industry today: sustainability, inclusion, and support for local communities and businesses. 

As travel continues to surge, they believe that it will be increasingly critical that the industry comes together to help travelers of all stripes explore in ways that align with their values. 

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SoloTrvlr taps into those values by connecting travelers with locals who are best placed to make unique recommendations. This is even more important since, they tell us, “65% of travelers now believe that supporting local cultures and communities is an essential component of sustainable travel; buying local has become a priority; and travelers are increasingly looking to discover less-touristed destinations.” 

But it’s going to take all of us to truly promote inclusivity and community health around the world.

Recognizing others in the industry who offer inspiration, Arabella shines a light on Jennie Berry,  “who,” she says, “I had the great fortune to meet in person during the Expedia accelerator, [and] is such an inspiring advocate for disabled travelers.” Arabella highlights Jennie’s insightful posts on LinkedIn and Instagram about the challenges wheelchair users face in daily life, emphasizing the importance of making the world more inclusive for everyone.

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As a former designer, Kim finds inspiration by following Airbnb’s Brian Chesky. His post on Medium in 2014 about belonging anywhere particularly sticks with her. “A sense of belonging in a foreign place is what many of us aspire to when we travel,” she says, “to have experiences that bring us outside of our comfort zone just far enough to wonder what it might be like to actually live in this new-to-us place. As we seek to build a more connected, more human world it’s inspiring to see other leaders paving the way.”

Envisioning the Future: Human Connection and Uniquely Human Experiences

As tech startup founders, Kim and Arabella are keenly aware of impending changes in the industry. “With the rise of AI & LLMs (Large Language Models), we predict a strong resurgence in travelers seeking out what is uniquely human–human connection, storytelling about our lived experiences, and the honest advice that comes from that,” they tell us. 

“AI will still play an important role, but as an enabler that cuts through the noise and connects us seamlessly with others who share a similar—or refreshingly different!—perspective.”

If you’re interested in seeing what it looks like to bring real, human perspectives together with AI-powered tech, you can check out SoloTrvlr’s free Ella in Paris chatbot, which is powered by the advice of actual, vetted women.

“We’re excited to roll out new tools that enable women to monetize their local knowledge and, ultimately, create the next powerhouse in trusted travel intel—for all,” they say of the future of SoloTrvlr. “Women are already THE travel decision makers, making close to 85% of all travel decisions: where to go, when to fly, where to stay, what to do. We’re also the ones doing the research, and constantly being asked by friends, family, and colleagues for advice.” 

Women are already THE travel decision makers, making close to 85% of all travel decisions: where to go, when to fly, where to stay, what to do. We’re also the ones doing the research, and constantly being asked by friends, family, and colleagues for advice.

Kim Callender, SoloTrvlr

SoloTrvlr exists to help lighten the planning load, empowering travelers with the local knowledge and tools they need to explore everywhere, and giving women a way to earn from their intel. Kim and Arabella see this as a win-win for everyone.

“Being nominated by Wanderful’s incredible community of intrepid women travelers for Travel Startup of the Year is such an honor,” Kim and Arabella express. “Supporting and empowering women to get out there and explore with all the confidence in the world is the very foundation of SoloTrvlr’s mission. As your community already knows first-hand: The power of solo travel is transformative, and women truly are leading the way.

The power of solo travel is transformative, and women truly are leading the way.

Kim Callender and Arabella Bowen of SoloTrvlr

We couldn’t agree more: solo travel IS transformative. Grab our free solo travel toolkit to get started today!

“Communities have always been the driving force behind meaningful change—and we’re thrilled to be recognized for our work by the amazing community you’ve built!” they share. “As content creators and travelers, we hope the work we do can also directly benefit many of Wanderful’s community—either on their travels or in building their businesses.”

We hope you’ll join us in Salt Lake City for the 2024 Bessie Awards ceremony to celebrate the awesome work of SoloTrvlr and all the other finalists!