Traveling to a foreign country is easy to plan. You make your flight and hotel reservations and you visit all the famous places with all the other foreign travel- ers. You see everything you possibly can before heading back home with a suitcase full of sou- venirs.

The problem with travel like this is that you only skim the surface of the places you visit, never experiencing the true cul- ture of a country – unless you are lucky enough to know a local!

“To me travel is about dis- covering authenticity,” says Tyson Smith, co-founder of V oomaGo. “The tastes, sounds, smells and touches of a destination are as important as the sights.”

Tyson was looking for an Italian language tutor several years ago when he met Antimo Cimino, an Italian who had immigrated to Portland in 1996. The two quickly became friends. When Tyson wanted to take his family to Italy, Antimo made plans for them to visit his family in Manduria (Puglia) in southern Italy.

“Antimo took me and my family to his hometown to meet his family and friends,” Tyson recalled. “For two and a half weeks we didn’t visit a single museum or go to any tourist des- tinations. What we did do was truly experience the day-to-day Italy. We got so much more out of that vacation simply because we were with a local who was sharing his life’s experience with us.”

Riding a tour bus on a trip through Spain a few years later, Tyson felt something was miss- ing. “I couldn’t grasp what it was, so I started thinking back to the last time we had traveled and I realized I was missing that authentic touch and personality and relationship that we had when we traveled with Antimo.”

Realizing the worth of having a local as a guide, an idea began forming in his mind; why not start a travel program where trav- elers are paired with locals? He called Antimo from his hotel that night and V oomaGo was born.

Tyson is a graphic designer/illustrator and as Managing Director for V oomaGo, he does most of the planning and documentary work for the business. As Director of Services, Antimo has become the face of the company. Having worked previously in events, hotel and restaurant manage- ment, Antimo understands trav- elers first hand. With his gregar- ious personality, he is a natural at creating authentic experiences for people. “I like being that friend who brings someone inside local life, introducing friends and family. When Tyson told me his idea, it was an ‘aha’ moment for me. This is what I was meant to do.”

VoomaGo offers experiential travel; you literally dive into the local culture. Locals are person- ally connected to Tyson and Antimo within what Antimo calls the “3 degrees of separa- tion” – locals are either family, good friends, or friends of friends. Building trust and strong relationships is para- mount. “Our locals are regular people who love to share and are passionate about the town they live in, and who represent a wide spectrum of professions, experi- ences, and stages in life. All our locals are hand-picked and put through a dry run before we accept them into our network.”

Clients are counseled as their trip is planned, determining why they want to travel, what they want to see and experience, what level of service they expect and what else is important to them. V oomaGo works to plan and cre- ate itineraries that are specific to each traveler or group.

“The tip of the iceberg is the visible culture, the art, the arti- facts that anybody can see,” says Antimo. “But underneath the surface are those things that they (travelers) don’t see or don’t know how to get in touch with, that experience of cooking in someone’s home or visiting an artist’s studio to see them paint.”

Unique to VoomaGo is the V oomaPass. “V oomaPass is really in essence a series of ser- vices,” Antimo explains.

“Almost like paying for an exclusive membership to have access to our network. You are connected to a local to advise you before and during your trip. Our local will give you a phone to use. Perhaps you lose your credit card, get stranded, need advice or directions…our locals can act as a safety net.”

Whether as an individual or as a group, planning a trip with VoomaGo guarantees an unfil- tered experience of local culture through interaction, meeting new people, and spending a day in their lives. Imagine taking part in a grape harvest at a Sicilian vine- yard, or watching the production of Parmesan cheese and pro- sciutto in Parma, or fishing for sea urchins and snorkeling in the Ionian Sea. Although many of the local experiences are in Italy, VoomaGo also has locals in other countries including Brazil, United Kingdom, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Dominica.

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