There are a number of places to find travel inspiration — Pinterest, Google Destinations, travel blogs or media sites like Condé Nast’s Traveler, among others. But a new application called Sherpa launching this week believes that some of the best travel ideas can be found on Instagram. The iOS application curates photos from top Instagram photographers and turns them into visual travel guides that are augmented with data from other services, like Foursquare and Wikipedia.
Sherpa co-founder and CEO Paul Aaron previously founded NYC-based design studio Modern Assembly, which worked with brands like Coca-Cola, UNICEF, Droga5, The Climate Reality Project and even The Rock (Dwayne Johnson). He also spent several years heading digital at Silver + Partners, and previously Crispin Porter + Bogusky.
“Sherpa came about when the digital design and development studio I founded, Modern Assembly, was asked to pitch ideas for a leading travel review website,” explains Aaron. “As I dug into their business, it became apparent to me that the review system itself was creating an experience that was cumbersome, difficult to contribute to, and prone to fraud.”
“The idea for Sherpa was to use the photos we already share everyday to create a travel planning experience that is more authentic, emotionally resonant, and easy to contribute to,” says Aaron.
The startup is currently working with more than 2,000 Instagram photographers — or, as it calls them, “micro-influencers” — across 90 countries. This includes names like Andrew Kearns, Roman Koenigshofer, Marianne Hope, Sean Byrne, Kirsten Alana, Irina, Patrick Florian and Lukas Elias Winkler, among others.
Sherpa takes their content and turns it into guides that appeal to a variety of types of travelers — ranging from backpackers to adventurers to luxury travelers and more. At launch, more than 500,000 geotagged photos have been organized into 15,000 travel guides that are presented in the app as albums.
To use the app, you first have to provide your email, connect with Instagram and tell Sherpa your “home base” (where you live). You can also optionally tell the app where you’ve been by allowing it to organize your own Instagram photos by location. (I’d skip this if you have a private Instagram account, however, as your photos become public in the app.)
You can then browse through Sherpa’s travel guides either by typing in a specific destination in the search box or by scrolling through its selection of “trending locations.” While the Wikipedia content helps you get a basic understanding of the locale, Sherpa’s real purpose is to help you get inspired through travel photography.
As you browse the app, you can save to your “suitcase” photos of places you want to go, and, by doing so, Sherpa will begin to boost destinations related to those photos to personalize the content to your interests.
Because this is largely a visual browsing app, it’s not one that’s best for actually planning the details involved with your travels, such as finding flights, booking lodging and tours or mapping out your route.
However, that could change in time.
“Eventually, every photo you see on Sherpa will be bookable, and you’ll be able to search for trending hotels, or book the amazing off-the-beaten path trip that a travel photographer you follow has gone on,” notes Aaron. “As the platform grows, we’ll monetize these bookings just like an online travel agency does.”
But today, with its minimalistic design and beautiful imagery, it’s still a good first stop for figuring out where it is you might want to go.
The app was previously available as an invite-only beta for the past six months, while it built out it location-specific guides and community.
The app is a free download on the Apple App Store.