Startups supporting adventure travel and activities

Anna Vod · February 16, 2024 · Short URL:

As adventure tourism grows, niche startups emerge from WeChalet to Thermal

Following the “revenge travel” of the post-Covid years, travel companies expect demand in 2024 to diminish. One promising area is adventure travel. The global adventure tourism market is expected to grow nearly 20% compounded annually through the next 10 years, and RV sales are expected to grow by a compounded annual rate of more than 8% over the next five.

This growth has many startups coming up with unique ways to serve these adventure seekers. Many of these founders are also adventure enthusiasts themselves. Let’s look at a few of these startups curating amazing travel ideas, from hidden surfing gems to renting treehouses in the mountains.  

Surfing like a local

There’s no better way to explore a location than seeing it like a local, without wasting too much time on research and planning. Here are some apps that link you with local guides.

San Francisco-based Thermal, founded in 2021, promises to take surfers on hand-picked private trips on the hunt for the perfect wave. Thermal connects users with local guides who know the best spots and times for surfing. Plus, they will help you avoid the tourist traps while taking you to taste regional dishes at hole-in-the-wall spots and exploring the authentic vibe. Some unique locations include Barbados, Taghazout in Morocco, Dominican Republic, Oaxaca in Mexico, Trinidad, and Dakar in Senegal.

If you already have your trip booked and location set, you can find local guides through apps focused specifically on this niche. These include Showaround, ToursByLocals, and Withlocals, plus GuruWalk and Freetours both offer free walking tours for those on a budget.

There’s also Citycatt, an Orlando-based platform that connects you with locals who can plan your trip itinerary for you while taking into account your personal needs and wishes. And this San Francisco startup, Tripsider, can match you with a trip based on your interests, budget, and timing – similar as a dating app would match you with a person. And speaking of dating, the app LOVU makes it easy to plan romantic getaways in particular.

Reaching the finish line

There is a good choice of apps for tracking physical activities and marking routes you’ve taken. One established app to track running, hiking, and cycling has been Strava, operating out of San Francisco since 2009. The company, looking to revamp, recently appointed a new CEO – Michael Martin, who’s worked with Nike, Disney, and Google. In other developments, Strava acquired 3D mapping platform Fatmap last year – now, premium users can replay their routes via a 3D video map.

Here are a couple of startups for cyclists in particular. San Jose-based Klizmo is at the early stage of building an app for tracking rides and connecting with that community that shares your passion. For city bicyclists (and other micromobility users), Providence, Rhode Island-based Bike Pointz app provides navigation insights for the safest, bike-friendly routes. And Hammerhead in NYC makes the actual GPS hardware for cyclists, competing with Garmin.

On to other outdoor activities, onX, a Montana company launched in 2009, provides (offline) maps that show not only trails, public lands, offroad routes, and campsites, but also hunting and fishing spots. It states its mission is “to awaken the adventurer inside everyone.”

That cabin in the mountains (that you dreamed of)

For a cozy escape straight into nature’s beautiful landscapes, Canadian company WeChalet offers unique lodging for rent. Launched in 2019 as a local alternative to Airbnb, the platform connects travelers with hosts, offering more flexible options than other marketplaces. For example, canceling a reservation is free of charge up to 24 hours prior to the date – something you always lose money on at Airbnb.

The user-friendly interface is very similar to Airbnb, complete with a map, pet options, and icons of what’s included in the reservation like washer/dryer, hot tub, and hangers. Looking through the listings, you come across log cabins, two-story townhouses, Scandinavian-style cottages, RV/campers, minimalist lofts, and rooms in country chalets in the middle of nature. WeChalet recently said in a social media post that it has reached 2,500 properties. For hosts, listing their property on WeChalet is free.

On top of that, WeChalet sends a portion of the proceeds to reforestation: each booking leads to one tree planted. That’s a nice way to offset the carbon footprint from your travels.

Here’s another new possibility. How about renting a treehouse? If that sounds nifty, you may consider Skamania Lodge, a new resort in the mountains near Portland, Oregon. The company just launched its new glamping sites – private tents with a spa experience, available May 2024.

If you’re looking for a more rugged, in-the-wild kind of stay, read on.

Camping & outdoor stays

Road trip lovers who are equipped with a tent or a RV have multiple apps at hand to choose campsites and parks. The Dyrt is one popular app where you can find the right parks and campgrounds, read reviews, view photos, see amenities, and make reservations. Sekr, with headquarters in San Diego, offers an alternative, connecting travelers to campgrounds and the community in aim to provide that one-stop platform.

Then there’s Hipcamp, based in San Francisco. This platform, which positions itself as “the most comprehensive guide to getting outside,” lists available tents, RV sites, camping, and glamping, complete with unique experiences like outdoor sauna, yoga with goats, hot springs, dark sky spots for stargazing, ski slopes, and more. The site also offers a way for hosts to join the platform and offer their land for stays. In addition to the United States, Hipcamp offers booking in Australia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom after its acquisitions of local platforms.

And if you’ve got no camper of your own – no problem, just rent one! Companies like Boho Camper Vans, AeonRV, and Indie Campers, to name a few, have some interesting mini-RV options. Some of these startups have quite innovative offerings; AeonRV campers, for example, are all-season and offroad capable. Many of these campers are quite good-looking on the inside, featuring wooden panels and cozy couches, or a modern minimalistic design with an ergonomic working space.

I have experience with Indie Campers – I took a road trip through Europe in 2022 and enjoyed it thoroughly. It did take a lot of prep work and a bit of getting used to, though (remember to watch the height of the vehicle and make sure it won't get stuck in freezing temps if you're traveling through snow!). Renting is a good way to learn whether owning (and taking care of) a camper is right for you in the first place. Camper life makes a perfect way to enjoy the outdoors and participate in much more than the traditional tourist does.

Here’s to hoping that after reading this article you're feeling that yearning for travels, and that you got a new app or two in your mobile device for the trip. I sure did, and I’m looking forward to the vacationing season. Regardless of your outdoor activity of choice, let it bring you emotional, energetical, and physical benefits, and enhance your mental well-being overall.




Image: Rawpixel & others


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