Happy to present Sam Daams, a sort of millipede and co founder of Travellerspoint, whom I met for the first time in Berlin recently and whose company, humor, chatter and insight I learned to appreciate a lot there.
1) Who Are you?
I’m a Dutch/American living in Norway of all places. I grew up in the Solomon Islands and have lived in the Netherlands and Australia before settling here in Norway. Back in 2002, before social networks were all the rage, my brother Peter and me started Travellerspoint, an online travellers community.
I also own a more ‘traditional’ offline travel business with offices in Sweden and Norway focused at the youth market, specifically gap year type travels. In short, I guess you could say I work with travel all the time, yet travel shamefully little myself at the moment!
2) What do you like about what you do?
The continuous feeling of helping people explore the world through travelling. When you get feedback on the ‘trip of a lifetime’ and you’ve been just a small part of that, it’s very fulfilling. I also love the fact that you can create something online that others use immediately. It doesn’t have to take months or years, run with an idea, put it up and see what people think. And when people start talking about it on Twitter/their blogs, there’s a sense of achievement which is hard to explain to those that have never run their own business.
The other thing I absolutely love is experimenting with functions and ideas. Thinking back, we’ve created some pretty nifty functionality over the years that wasn’t really being done anywhere else before that. Tying in Travel Helpers with our forums, letting users generate a customized PDF version of their own travel blog, Social bookings which let you connect with other travellers staying in the same hostel as you before your trip, branded blogs for travel businesses etc. They don’t always work, and sometimes you are too far ahead of the curve, but being an innovator and first mover has a definite advantage over time. If for no other reason than that you can sleep a little easier at night knowing you aren’t just ripping off the guy next door.
3) What don’t you like about what you do?
The hours. To be honest, I don’t think work ever leaves my mind. You are always thinking of something else to do or a task that you should have done 6 months ago. I hate the feeling of never feeling finished and always feeling like you should be doing so much more. You finish one thing, and the next just slides right on in. I’ve gotten slightly better in the past years at just letting go and realizing I’m not even going to get half the stuff done I plan to do, but it still frustrates me sometimes, especially when you come up with a great idea and leave it on the shelf too long so a competitor launches it before you.
One of the other things that is annoying about working with a lot of user generated content is spam. I’m sick and tired of another tour operator coming along and thinking that posting in a travel forum is going to give them some kind of leg up on the competition. Luckily we’ve always kept a pretty tight lid on it, so we’re not as inundated with spam as some other travel communities are that have just let it happen over the years, but it’s still annoying as can be.
4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it.
At the moment my blogging levels are pretty pathetic to be honest. I’ll post something to my personal blog Sam I Am once a week at most and posts to the ‘official’ Travellerspoint blog are few and far between.
However I do tweet (does that qualify as ‘micro blogging’?) a lot as Twitter aligns much better with how my mind and concentration levels work. It also sits well within how my days are usually divided. Finally, I also find it’s much more a two-way stream than blogging, so feedback is instant. And some of the feedback you get on Twitter is really quite phenomenal. I am found at @samdaams by the way.
Mind you, as much as I love Twitter, I’m still undecided on the value-add for most businesses. It can work phenomenally for some, but for example for the Norwegian/Swedish travel business I can’t think of any way it could help generate more bookings other than perhaps increasing exposure of the company towards journalists and other influencers in the travel industry. There’s certainly a value in that, but it requires a lot of time and work which might be better spent elsewhere.
5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
* Sydney in 2000/2001 for a number of reasons. For starters it was my first real experience with working in the travel industry, rather than just travelling (it was an internship for IEP, a subsidiary of BUNAC, which turned into something a bit longer). But it was also the Olympics, and living in a fantastic city with a number of fantastic housemates. I was living like a backpacker but working like crazy. I don’t know how I managed, but I have nothing but good memories from the period.
* Lismore in 1999. Again, this was part of my studies. Lismore in itself is rather ordinary, but that’s one of the great things about travelling and living abroad; it’s who you experience things with that makes the real difference! Great people, really relaxed classes and a lot of travelling to Byron Bay and surroundings whilst ‘studying’.
* The Solomon Islands. In fairness this was more home than a travelling destination, as I spent the first 12 years of my life here. But I can’t honestly think of a much better place to grow up. Walking around barefoot, surfing after a cyclone, shooting birds with a slingshot, swimming in caves, what more do you want as a kid?!
6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
This is a rather tough one, since naturally a 4-star place should be better than a hostel, although I’ve had tons of great experiences and stays in hostels! Let me just name 3 of the more memorable that come to mind:
* The Sands Resort in the Mauritius http://www.sands.mu/) where we spent our honeymoon. Just lazying and enjoying fantastic food.
* An apartment in New York city that I found on Travellerspoint’s accommodation section. Sadly, it’s no longer available for booking, but at around 100 USD per night, and right around the corner from Central Park, it was fantastic value for money. The apartment was very modern and quite spacious.
* Hotel Sven Vintappare in Stockholm, Sweden. I’ve stayed here twice now, that’s how much I liked the place the first time. It’s in a great location, the staff are super friendly and it’s authentic, whilst being clean and modern.
7) Your top 3 most memorable food / wine experiences to date and why?
* The food at the Sands Resort named above was probably the best I’ve ever had. I ate myself silly…
* Enjoying a cold beer and a BBQ on the porch of the little place we rented on the beach at Titikaveeka on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.
* Some half cooked pasta meal at the end of hiking a full day in pouring rain in one of the rainforests near Lismore. We were all cold and wet and couldn’t get the cooker going for ages, but when that half cooked foot finally hit our mouths it felt like the best meal ever consumed.
8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
I’m really not one to complain about my travelling experience, no matter how bad it gets. The stories are just all the better when things go wrong, aren’t they? 🙂 But if I had to name three things, it’d be:
* not being let into Indonesia because I didn’t have a visa. That’s kind of embarrassing for someone running a travel business! Anyway, I was deported to the always lovely Darwin, spent a few nights there whilst sorting out a visa and new flight and was let into Indonesia a few days later. Wonderful country!
* the worst accommodation I’ve ever stayed at was probably a hostel on Times Square. Luckily it was only for one night, and my wife was forgiving.
* my worst food experience was in Costa Rica and (again) entirely my own fault (one might sense a theme here…)! I was in El Arenal and we decided to have some lunch at a little wayside restaurant before getting on a bus. Looking at the menu I saw “tongue”, which for reasons I can certainly not explain today, I took to mean the same as the Dutch word “tong” (that in itself is actually correct). Now that can mean two things in Dutch, the more common of the two on Dutch menu’s being a type of fish (the other being what you’d expect). Of course, when you are smack, bang in the middle of Costa Rica, you would be wise to assume otherwise, or at the very least ask the waiter. But unfortunately my friend and me did no such thing and ended up with two large ox tongues lathered in tomato sauce on our plates. I took an honest stab at mine, but really couldn’t consume much of it, try as I might. On a positive note, that story gets more laughs than my mates’ pizzas do nowadays.
9) Can you offer the readers 3 destination/ food / accomodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
Oslo is a great little city to travel around as it’s small enough to walk a lot of places, or else use the excellent public transport, which includes the ferries to the islands or Bygd’y.
* Head to the museums at Bygd’y, to which you can either take a ferry or the 30 bus. It’s pretty much a whole day’s activity if you visit all the museums which are close together so you can walk to each of them. You’ll get Norway’s history in a nutshell if you visit them all and they are not your typical boring museums either 🙂
* The Vigeland sculpture park is Oslo’s most famous sight and a must see on any trip here. But at least equally impressive is the mausoleum of Gustav Vigeland’s brother, Emanuel. It’s only open 4 or 5 hours a week on Sundays, and it’s hidden away in the middle of a residential area, but it’s a true gem! Very impressive paintings.
* If you visit in the summer, get a ‘engangsgrill’ (BBQ for one time use), some food & drinks and take one of the ferries out to one of the islands in the fjord. This is Oslo at its best!
10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
Is anyone still reading? 🙂
Actually, can I add a shameless plug for something cool? We just launched the Travellerspoint Foundation which will be lending money to entrepreneurs around the world through the fantastic micro loans site Kiva,. One of the first things we’ve done there is let contributors to our Wiki Travel Guide allocate the adsense earnings from the pages they contribute to, to the foundation. That money is then lended out via Kiva. We’ll also shortly be launching another initiative within the foundation to really help boost the loans we are making through Kiva.
Very good story and not much to add or ask, apart from the fact who is the younger one you or Peter? Thanks Sam!
If you’re in for the unofficial story of the Travellerspoint Saga, have a look at this post of Sam 🙂