Photo by Pomelo Subscriber and former employee, Holly Frogley, on one of our many trips to Southeast Asia
As the travel world nearly comes to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our focus here at Pomelo is changing. We’re not encouraging travel from March until at least the beginning of August, but we do want to remind you that the future will be bright! We won’t stop sending flight deals, and here’s why: the world needs something to look forward to. This moment will pass and the world will begin connecting in new and remarkable ways. I think we’ll wake up at the end of this pandemic with a renewed desire to connect in the physical space. We’ll crave connecting face-to-face with other cultures, and want to re-engage with our travel dreams after long restrictions. We’ll celebrate all aspects of life and culture.
In light of this, I want to explain a little more about Pomelo Travel and our ambitions.
It’s not just about flight alerts
Pomelo Travel was born out of a few months of self-reflection back in 2014. I was, in some ways, frustrated with the way our society was headed and constantly thinking of what I could do to help solve some of the societal ills I saw in Utah, USA. I had just spent several months living in rural communities across Asia & the Middle East with my Sociologist uncle, Dr. Ralph Brown, who kindly mentored me on topics in rural sociology. We spent much of 2010 – 2013 traveling together. Rural communities, I found, had different challenges than bigger, more industrialized parts of the world. Often limited resources, opportunities, or lack of cultural recognition by the government led people to live much differently than their neighbors in nearby larger cities or villages. As I got to know people, my outlook on life changed dramatically. It’s one thing to see how others live on the internet, but to talk with them, live with them, and eat with them is a much different experience.
I had little expectation for what I would encounter in places like Thailand, Indonesia, and Jordan. For example, I quickly found that the people in rural northern Thailand were open, connected to each other, their community, and lived with a certain happiness I hadn’t seen before. People were simply happy… joyful even! We would eat together into the late hours of the night, laughing about the things that happened that day, with no regard for time or what was happening the next day. As people went about their work in the villages we researched, I would see villagers stop to talk with each other, in no hurry. In fact, they would often stop and talk to us, even if they were in the middle of agricultural work, not bothered by the fact that maybe they should be working! This was remarkable, coming from a culture that values busyness and a certain degree of separation between strangers. To Northern Thais, a good conversation seemed much more valuable than economics. It wasn’t “time is money,” as you often hear in the USA. To them, life obviously had other priorities. Life moved at a pace I was unfamiliar with, and it took me some time to adjust to the new pace. Some villagers joked, it’s “Thai time!” when they were late to an appointment. As inefficient as it was, I began to see certain benefits to this new pace of living. On the surface people seemed more relaxed, and not quite as plagued by the modern ills of our society: anxiety, depression, domestic violence, heart disease, and more.
Eating dinner with a friend and his family in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2013
A lot of those experiences were almost ten years ago. I was a wide-eyed wanderer, ready to soak up any experience and squeeze any value from it. I’ll admit — I was naïve to some of the challenges people had in the rural communities I visited (and lived in!), as any traveler is. Living in a rural, economically challenged corner of the world isn’t always as worry-free as it may appear when first visiting. The more you travel, the more you realize the world is nuanced, more complex, with unpleasant realities hiding just beyond sight.
Even then, some of what I experienced was true. Life was different there, and what I learned from my first few years of traveling changed the way I live, even today. I discovered something beautiful, and it infused my life with flavor! I live slower, I eat differently, I spend less on trivial things (so I can save to travel, of course!), I’m more spiritually minded, and much more connected to people that have different cultural backgrounds than I do. Travel made me ask myself difficult questions, but the answers I’ve found fill my life with purpose.
Those experiences led me to start Pomelo Travel. I wanted to give others the chance to experience something like I had: long international trips, with the chance to slow down and understand a different culture. We started by offering home stays and internships in Southeast Asia, which was a lot of hard work, but the results were rewarding. Each customer felt like family, and they each had personalized, unique trips! These weren’t packaged tours: they were on-the-ground experiences, where we were eating with local people, living with them, and learning with them. It was some of the happiest days of my life, and I think many of them would say the same thing. I want to keep the spirit of those trips alive in what we do now.
“I wanted to give others the chance to experience something like I had: long international trips, with the chance to slow down and understand a different culture.” – Chris Muhlestein, Founder Pomelo Travel
Can travel improve the way we live?
My curiosity and desire to understand the world has led me on many trips, both before I started Pomelo and after. Even after years on the road, one of the ironic truths most of my close friends know is that I often enjoy being home more than traveling. The calm, meditative movements of home life, and connections with family and friends, keep me grounded and happy.
While that is true, what is also true is that I also want to push myself to understand and experience new ways of living. I like connecting to people that think differently than I do. I also love being outside, and a trip is a great way to live under the trees, in the weather, and in the sunshine of life. This motivates me to leave home and explore.
I’ve always been curious; how can travel improve the way we live?
Spending time with a Beduin family in their tent while doing research in 2010. Northern Jordan
I would be the first to admit that travel can be complete selfishness. Just check out the travel section on your discover page on Instagram for a taste. We love to show others where we’ve been, to post constantly, and elevate our social status by traveling. Now, I’d argue that traveling is just as much a sign of social status as owning a Porsche, living in a multi-million dollar home, sporting a designer hand bag or an expensive watch. It’s one way to be seen, especially with the advent of social media. You can only post about your car, or your house, so many times, but you can post about your constant traveling with a perfectly edited photo every day of the year, always being seen doing something. This is discouraging to me, both for the well – being of the traveler and the well-being of our planet. To me it’s a certain vanity that we haven’t quite come to understand it’s complete impact.
One must only take a trip to Iceland, Bali, Hawaii, or even Los Angeles to see what this kind of tourism has done to our economies, ecosystems and happiness. The Faroe Islands, a small archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean between the UK and Iceland, even closed down for a few days to tourism to clean up the mess left by the increase in tourism. Local residents in these tourism hot spots must deal with unprepared and uneducated tourists infiltrating even the most rural parts of the country looking for a photo, or an experience they have seen on social media. Of course, they allow this because of the boost in economy, but that doesn’t make it any less concerning. A few posts by a celebrity, or ‘insta famous’ person can change the way entire countries live. Or, in my case, a cheap flight alert with prices low enough can lead a few thousand people to a place they are totally unprepared for. This trend can impact rural communities and lifestyles are transformed.
I feel responsibility for this.
Tourists overwhelming the Golden Circle in Iceland. Photo by Chris Muhlestein, 2017
Paradoxically, travel can also do so much good. Tourism improves conditions in certain places. It boosts economies. It educates us. It brings the people we travel with closer together. It exposes us to new cultures, new food, and amazing experiences. It’s fun! It gives us hope, and something to look forward to. Often a single trip can be the highlight of our lives.
But can it also be a selfless act, simultaneously improving our lives and the lives of others?
If it can, how can Pomelo be the leader in a new, better kind of travel? Can travel still improve the way we live? The answer is an unequivocal yes, but the path to get there might not be so simple.
Pomelo Opens The Door
For me, Pomelo has never been about how many people I can send on a trip, or where people go, or how many subscribers we have, or how much money we make. It’s not even completely about travel, for me. It’s about improving the lives of our subscribers. Travel may just be one way to do this, depending on the way we travel. Here at our virtual office, we live by the notion that travel can – and should – be approached differently. This unprecedented time in the travel industry allows plenty of time to explore our fundamental beliefs, and hopefully provide a unique service to you.
There is no single ‘right way’ to travel. There are so many different types of people, with an infinite amount of travel styles. That’s the beauty of our flight alerts – you can use them however you want. They open the door to new experiences.
We, as a company, are going to focus on a few ways travel can improve your life. Some areas of focus may be:
- Travel as a way to connect with new cultures
- Travel as a way to connect with your family
- Travel as a pilgrimage, as a spiritual journey
- Travel as a learning experience
- Travel as a way to help others
- Travel as a way to connect with ancestors
I want to explore this topic with you, together. I want to hear about how travel improves your life. How has it improved your life? Write me a letter: email@example.com
Address it to Chris, if you want me to see it. I hope this provides context to our operations, and I especially hope you all are healthy and looking forward to a brighter future.
Above: A Pomelo Travel group after a long summer of work at an Orphanage in Thailand. 2015
Above: A Pomelo Travel group in 2015 floating down the Mekong River in Laos
Chris Muhlestien visitng former students near Chiang Mai, Thailand 2014
Above: A Pomelo Travel group visits Angkor Wat in 2015