From Stockholm to Splor

Andrew and the Ekmans, his Swedish contact family. / All photos courtesy of the author.

From Stockholm to Splor

By Andrew Shein, Founder of Splor Travel

School: University of Pennsylvania, Class of ’15
Semester abroad: Fall ’13

I was a wide-eyed student from Philly who had never been to Scandinavia – my closest references to Sweden were Spotify, IKEA, and Abba. However, it was only one week after our Swedish Program welcome ceremony that I found myself on Aspö, a tiny island off of the Stockholm Archipelago. I was spending the weekend with the Ekmans, my multi-generational Swedish contact family, at their charming Swedish country home.

After jumping into the icy Baltic, I followed the family into the sauna. It was there, warming up over a shared plate of Swedish beer, meats and cheeses, that I would cement a special travel memory that would change the trajectory of my life forever.

I grew up in New York City, one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse cities in the world. Despite having exposure to such a city, and all of the people who make it so vibrant, the cultural immersion that I began to experience in Sweden was something foreign and unimaginable.

On that special day in Aspö, we discussed a number of topics ranging from food to music (mostly Bruce Springsteen), culture, and religion. But the highlight of our conversation was when my Swedish “father,” Pelle, who would became one of my favorite people in the world, explained to me the concept of Lagom.

“Lagom is not too little, not too much, it’s the right amount…it’s all that you need.”

As my time in Stockholm elapsed, I would find that this emphasis on moderation was actually quite complex, and when applied correctly, immensely powerful. I witnessed first-hand why people in Sweden are so happy, and the ways in which Lagom manifests itself in the nooks and crannies of Swedish culture. All I wanted to do was harness Lagom, bottle it up, bring it back to my life in the US, share it, and watch the magic happen. But could a 20-year-old wannabe entrepreneur actually accomplish such a desire?

The answer to that question may still be playing itself out, so be sure to tune in for a future post. However, the point of today’s story is that there are incredibly pivotal moments in our lives that are only realizable through deep and meaningful travel– through the process of leaving our comfort zones and escaping into those of others. In my case it was in Stockholm, facilitated by The Swedish Program, and the connection did not stop when my study abroad ended.

It has now been over 5 years since I returned from my first trip to Stockholm. I have been back and visited 4 times. I’ve become a member of 3 Swedish families (all of whom I consider a part of my family). I still want to secure a 2nd passport (a Swedish one). And I have 1 Swedish Flag hanging in my room.

Over the last 5 years I may have not fully succeeded in my dream of living a Swedish life – the one that I had imagined while studying at the Stockholm School of Economics. Instead, I have spent my time working in consulting, venture capital, and the startup world, often losing the healthy level of balance that I aspire to maintain.

What I did discover over this first batch of professional experience is that my true passion lies in travel and is fueled by a fundamental belief in cultural acceptance and immersion.

My experience in Stockholm is what empowered me to take the leap of faith in launching Splor, my new travel startup whose mission is to empower travelers to more confidently explore the world – because we believe that the world would be a better place if we all traveled more.

When I decided to take the leap and quit my job to focus on Splor in a full-time capacity, I was driven by my first hand experience traveling as a student. At the time, I wasn’t looking for a business opportunity, but I was fully aware of how much time I was spending conducting travel research and planning trips.

The average student spends over 3 days of waking time conducting travel research per year and that over 80% of students still consult TripAdvisor as one of their primary travel resources.

When living in Sweden, when I wasn’t researching or scraping the internet for travel recommendations, I was reaching out to friends and family and compiling their itineraries and travel documents. I did not do this to pass the time, but rather because I couldn’t find a trusted, well-organized source for travel recommendations and information that resonated with me. Upon arriving back to Penn, the travel research and documentation that I had conducted was particularly attractive to students who were planning on studying abroad the following year, those who wanted to travel over the summer, and those who just wanted to save my recommendations for the future.

Five years, fifty student ambassadors, hundreds of student-generated travel guides, and a few thousand recommendations later, we built Splor, a digital database of Gen Z & Millennial travel recommendations. We are launching Splor in ten major study abroad cities: Stockholm, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome, Florence, Budapest, Prague, Barcelona, and Tel Aviv.

For now, Splor enables students to find, save, and publish student-approved and student generated travel recommendations. But this is just the beginning — we have far larger hopes and dreams. We believe that Splor’s platform can evolve into the preferred ecosystem for Gen Z & Millennial travel so that our friends never have to consult TripAdvisor or ask us to send them our guide to Stockholm again!