Exploring options

Cait Breslin, of Tacony, is sending people to their dream destinations in her startup company, LocalAventura.

Growing up in Tacony, Cait Breslin remembers her parents never having passports, and her farthest family trip destination being the Jersey Shore.

Yet, as she advanced on her own educational pathway, an interest in the diversity among her peers led her to co-launching travel startup company LocalAventura.

“I had never been outside the country, but I had always wondered about it,” Breslin said.

Initially, this curiosity was instilled upon Breslin during her teenage years when she became a student at Saint Basil Academy, a private, Ukrainian Catholic, all-girls high school in Jenkintown. Here, she saw firsthand the differences between cultures as she attended the school with a large community of Ukrainian and Russian students.

“I was taught Ukrainian, and my principal was from Honduras and decided to come to the U.S. to become a nun in the Ukrainian Catholic Church,” she said. “I took an AP Spanish literature class with her, and she would not speak any English during it. She told us about her childhood before becoming a nun, and it made me serious about going to other places throughout the world.”

After experiencing her first taste of true world diversification, Breslin decided to attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2011 as a neuroscience and Hispanic studies double major. Although set on eventually becoming a doctor, she again began meeting new friends from all across the globe, including places such as Singapore, India and Pakistan, and additionally focused on using Penn’s resources to develop a more worldly list of experiences.

“Before attending Penn, I had never even been on a plane before,” Breslin said. “When I went there, I started applying for every grant, scholarship and fellowship that would help me to go and see the world. Through Penn, my eyes were opened to the value of travel, and I realized that traveling is an education that there is no substitution for.”

During her four years as an undergraduate student, Breslin traveled on various grants from Penn, completing an internship at the top neurology hospital in Calcutta, India, and studying abroad in Madrid, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. These study-abroad trips also enabled her to visit Hungary, Czech Republic, Belgium, England, Germany and Uruguay. Additionally, while enrolled at Penn, she visited a roommate in Singapore, living with her family and getting to travel to China as well.

“There were definitely people of different ethnicities in Tacony, but even just the contrast from the Northeast to West Philly made me realize how big the world really is,” Breslin said. “That’s why in my last semester at Penn, while I was studying for the MCAT, I decided I wanted to continue exploring other parts of the world, rather than working in a lab.”

Despite having taken all the prerequisite courses to solidify her path to becoming a doctor, such as organic chemistry and physics, Breslin chose to break out of her comfort zone and began exploring ways to transition her travel dreams into reality.

Breslin teamed with two of her UPenn peers who attended the Wharton School of Business. Andrea Vidler, originally from Chile, was raised mostly in New York. Eugena Brown is from South Philly. They began utilizing their university resources to explore the idea of developing a travel startup.

“We were all given the opportunity to experience travel and realized that a lot of people don’t get that,” Breslin said. “We wanted to help travelers shy away from using convenient options like huge bus tours, and to help them meet people and learn how people in other areas of the world live while allowing them to have fun and experience these places authentically.”

Thus, LocalAventura was born, and the three cofounders went on a mission to secure funding and complete the necessary legal steps to legitimize their business.

In doing so, they were able to obtain the M&T Innovation Fund at Penn, second place at the Wharton Latin America Conference Pitch Competition, the iCorps accelerator at the University of Pennsylvania and a Wharton Innovation Fund, as well as to use the Villanova Legal Clinic as a contract writing resource.

“We bought our domain, found a developer to build our platform and tried to network and be really resourceful in getting things done from an administrative standpoint,” said Breslin, now 24. “Then we began getting in touch with guides in South and Central America through crowd surfing and asking around about amazing tours people had been on.”

Focused more on quality than quantity, Breslin and her cofounders initiated a recruitment process for tour guides, which rests at a 20 percent acceptance rate.

This is because they want to ensure each guide is a good fit with their authentic-travel program, rather than seeking to organize and execute as many tours as possible in the countries that offer their service.

Upon graduating from Penn, Breslin immediately relocated to Argentina where she would schedule meetings with potential tour guides and go on each tour before deciding to offer it on the LocalAventura platform.

“We want to make sure we know the guides and what we’re offering before it goes on our website,” Breslin said. “We also want to encourage people to view Latin America in particular as an off-the-beaten-path travel destination. It’s really developing and is a lot cheaper than most destinations in Europe.”

In working to ensure customer satisfaction among her travel clients, Breslin says she has largely become a “digital nomad;” someone capable of working from wherever. Although she works numerous 12-hour days with little personal time, she feels lucky to be able to work on something at such a young age she truly believes in.

“A lot of students right out of college will take jobs as assistants, focusing on menial tasks and not able to work on things meaningful to them,” said Breslin, who is living in Mexico City. “Whereas my job is always exciting, and I think it has a positive impact on travelers, and the guides that we get to empower economically on the local level and allow them to make a living doing what they love.”

As a business that can be applied in any emerging market, Breslin says the future plans for LocalAventura include focusing on increased customer acquisition, while working to expand upon the 10 countries it operates in. These countries are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Panamá, México, Perú, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Puerto Rico .

“We love helping people plan trips because the people who live in these places are experts on them,” Breslin said. “We are confident that we have a good, solid product, and now we just need to focus our efforts on getting the word out.”

To read more on LocalAventura, or to explore tour and activity options, visit: www.localaventura.com

Breslin and her team can also be reached at founders@localaventura.com or via call/message/whatsapp at 215–964–8759.

“If you’re thinking of traveling to the region and need some direction, or even if you’ve got your trip mostly planned and want some last-minute advice, we’d love to chat and help think through your itinerary and lend our perspectives as travel experts in the region,” Breslin said. “We offer 30 minutes of free travel advice and planning to anyone interested in traveling to Latin America.” ••