Katia Mavrikou lives and breathes travel, having become a seasoned traveller by the time she had completed her schooling. Quitting her career in shipping and finance, she created The TravelPorter, an online platform offering a hand-picked selection of tours and activities tailored for small and private groups (such as sightseeing tours, adventure tours, food tours, day trips and activities, including photography workshops and dance lessons from scratch. GCT recently had a chat to Katia about her love of travelling, the challenges of creating The TravelPorter on her own, her favourite tours, and important travelling tips.
Where were you born and raised and where do you live now?
I was born and raised in Athens, Greece and after a ‘relocation tour’ in the UK and Eastern Europe, I am now based in Athens.
Where in Greece is your family from?
My mother was born and raised in Piraeus and my father is from Kambos, in the Eastern Aegean island of Chios.
Were you interested in travel from a young age? Did you travel a lot when you were younger?
Travel is my second happiest memory from my childhood (the first is my grandfather’s ‘tsoureki’!). My parents took my sister Clio and me on international trips from a very young age; it was a good excuse to spend more time together. We also took cruises almost every year, because of my father’s involvement in the cruise industry (I am a big cruise fan!). Our parents let us be adventurous during our trips and explore a lot – we were very lucky (considering that they didn’t even have mobile phones to track us down back then!). By the time we finished school we had ‘checked off’ most of Europe; I am grateful for that and now try to ‘pass the torch’ to my 4-year old daughter.
Tell us about your journey establishing The TravelPorter?
I often believe that The TravelPorter was the product of my early mid-life crisis! It was the beginning of 2015 and I had recently returned to Greece after about 1.5 years in Sofia, Bulgaria with my family. I was no longer motivated by my career in shipping and finance and was fascinated with how entrepreneurs wanted to change the world and took action upon it.
I was then told about the Founder Institute a US-based start-up accelerator with the motto to globalise Silicon Valley – I applied out of curiosity to the Athens cohort. I got hooked instantly and ended up -sleepless- finishing this very demanding 3-month program during which The TravelPorter was born from scratch.
My drive was obviously my passion for travel but also my own needs as a traveller. I am a travel nerd who makes lists of the best things to do in a new place; I hate touristic tours but love trying new experiences in a destination that will leave me with memories of a lifetime, will make me feel like a local and -who knows- may transform me for life! There are passionate professionals out there that have no (or ‘low’) voice, are difficult to track down and often don’t even target tourists.
The very first version of the TravelPorter went live in September 2015 and it has gone through many changes since then to get product/market fit. The turning point was in spring 2016 when I was invited to a special mentorship program in Silicon Valley (as one of the top 50 start-ups from the global network of the Founder Institute) so I had to move fast(er) to be able to make the most of it – by then I was still alone in this. I shared the idea with as many people as I could, collected feedback and used all of my connections to try to track down talent who believed in the project -and it happened. The new team, driven by a carefully crafted strategy and passion, started building content for our blog which would be the vehicle to spread the word for what we do as there was (still is) no budget for ads and marketing!
In the meantime we started tracking down and testing tours and activities. In October one of our blog posts sort of went viral (the Athens Metro Bar Map https://thetravelporter.com/blog/athens-metro-map-bars-near-every-stop) and the word spread even faster. We still blog extensively and receive requests to list amazing activities from all around the world, although our current focus/’test city’ is Athens Greece. I believe that this can be attributed to our quality, well-researched blog content and tips and how we select, respect and promote the activities we list. Both suppliers and users realise that our listings are authentic and unique experiences in their own way; and this is a project of passion aiming to add value, not just another aggregator. We are still at the beginning and we have a long way to go, but all this wouldn’t have happened without the dedication, self-motivation and talent of my team until now, the support of my family and friends and my very (very) long working hours and focus.
Tell us how The TravelPorter website works?
The TravelPorter is like the world-famous booking.com but strictly for tours and activities; no tickets, no hotels. Our online platform offers a hand-picked selection of tours and activities tailored for small and private groups (such as sightseeing tours, adventure tours, bike tours, food tours, day trips and cool activities like photography workshops and dance lessons, among others); We list only activities that we have tried ourselves, at the best possible price and availability for booking on-demand/confirmation within 24 hours, maximum. What’s more, we make sure that with every booking, the users contribute to the local community, culture and traditions by supporting relevant causes through an initiative that we call ‘Join the Neighborhood’ (https://thetravelporter.com/join-the-neighborhood). Last but not least, we also have plans to add a user-friendly app with exciting functionalities.
What is your favourite tour on offer and why?
It is VERY hard to pick because I have personally hand-picked every activity that we have listed! I love our adventure tours (https://thetravelporter.com/athens/?category=Hiking%2FTrekking) from Athens and the ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the Benaki Museum jewelry collection (https://thetravelporter.com/athens/bespoke-jewellery-experience) . In the Christmas/New Years period my favourite tours are the historical treasure hunt in Athens (https://thetravelporter.com/athens/historical-athens-treasure-hunt) and the https://thetravelporter.com/athens/athens-for-foodies-a-walking-food-tour-in-athens !
What are a couple of the most popular tours on The TravelPorter?
Our users are fascinated by our excavation tours https://thetravelporter.com/athens/marathon-excavation-tour (talking about unique experiences!), our day trips, such as the hiking getaway to Thermopylae (https://thetravelporter.com/athens/hiking-thermopylae-path) and the traditional Greek dance lessons (https://thetravelporter.com/athens/greek-dance-lessons) !
What kind of traveller are you?
I am a foodie. I love to cook, I am crazy with herbs, spices and food markets and always come home with food-related souvenirs – oh, and I keep an excel cheat sheet of the restaurants I want to try in the places I visit; yes, definitely a foodie.
What are the top 10 things you always pack with you?
- Passport (even if I travel within Greece)
- Essential oils (tea tree, lavender and myrrh)
- My facial creams and sunscreen
- Daily contact lenses
- Snacks (nuts!)
What are your top tips for new travellers?
1) Try unique and authentic experiences in your holiday destination; even a bad experience will make a good story one day!
2) Be open-minded and respectful to different cultures.
3) Organise, but keep it real and make sure you enjoy it.
What is your favourite place and why?
There are many cities which I love for different reasons. If Buenos Aires, Argentina was closer to Europe I would visit every year; I called home from Sydney, Australia announcing that I would be staying there forever and they should send my stuff over (I even scouted for my go-to neighbourhood!); I love Warsaw because of the creativity, passion and artistic side of the Poles (not to mention authentic steak tartar and vodka!) and I love Sofia, Bulgaria because it is the most kid-friendly city I’ve ever been on earth, a true hidden gem.
But, call me romantic, there’s no place like Greece; I get sentimental in Chios, fat in Crete (!), but I think the best place to live in is Athens (especially the southern suburbs which I’m lucky to call home); it has the rare combination of being a capital (with all the professional, cultural, historic, nightlife and gastronomic adventures a big city can offer), it’s by the sea (where you can actually swim, shark free!) and it’s in the middle of everything; a hub to travel to Europe, east or west, most importantly a short ride away from a little Greek island paradise.
What are you working on at the moment? Will there be more tours added to The TravelPorter?
Definitely. We have exciting tours and activities lined up for Athens and Crete, our focus locations at the moment; from wine tours to Greek honey workshops and tastings, to walks for design and architecture-lovers. We discover amazing things to do every week which we can’t wait to share with the world. So, one thing is to expand our collection of tours and activities but we are also now working on funding our expansion plans in Greece and beyond.
What has been one of your biggest highlights with The TravelPorter?
Being selected as one out of 50 start-ups worldwide from the global network of the Founder Institute has definitely been a turning point, and evidence that we’re doing something right. Also, the most recent reaction to our blog post on the Athens Metro Bar Map has been a highlight; most importantly because it introduced us to local, passionate activity providers that we didn’t know – their response has been overwhelming.
What is your favourite Greek food?
I think my favourites are all summed up in our blog post about the Greek food you must try before you die (https://thetravelporter.com/blog/foodie-alert-15-greek-foods-you-must-try-before-you-die which was really hard to keep down to just 15! But if I have to pick my top 3, in random order, that would be souvlaki, galaktoboureko and tsoureki. I have a sweet tooth.