A social network for solo travelers — a UX case study

Or, don’t panic when you get lost after your research synthesis

My friend loves to travel alone. For work and for fun, she travels around the world to different cities and countries every few months. She enjoys going at her own pace, exploring what she wants to on her own time as she crosses things off her to-do list. But traveling alone isn’t always easy for her.

She has to deal with unfamiliar surroundings, unreliable ways to connect with strangers, and at times, cat calling and other lewd behavior that makes her feel unsafe. All these cause her to feel uncomfortable, and being in situations like these prevent her from fully appreciating her trip. At times, she needs the help and support of the people she meets on her trip to navigate her surroundings and do everything she wants to.

On every trip, she’s ended up blocked from enjoying all that she can — she lacks the information, security, and network to fully enjoy her solo travel.

Just some of the things my friend needed while traveling alone. Image Credit: https://www.signpostinghealth.com/help-and-support-signpost/

What if there were a way to make her feel more comfortable while traveling alone— a way to enhance her solo travel experience and enable her to do more of what she wants to on her trip?

Today, I’m very proud to introduce you to Abbey:

Project Scope:

For my fourth project at General Assembly, I worked in a team of four to develop an idea for a passion project — a project where we got to choose a problem and design a solution for it. Our goal? To enrich the solo traveler experience by helping people connect with others as they traveled.


Screener Survey, Competitive / Comparative Analysis, User Interviews, Persona, User Journey, Lo / Mid / Hi-Fi Wireframes, Usability Testing, Interactive Prototype, App Map, User Flows, Specification Document, 30 Minute Stakeholder Presentation

Project Duration:

Two Weeks


Google Forms, Trello, Sketch, InVision, Keynote

Team Members:

Michael Sanchez
Anthony Conta
Katherine Apelian
Eve Mitts
(Go Team M.A.K.E.! It’s an acronym.)

What’s the Problem?

Our initial hypothesis was that solo travelers couldn’t do everything they wanted to do. They all had their own agendas and goals for a trip, but certain things got in their way while traveling: concerns about safety, not being able to find the most authentic local experiences, not being able to go places because of language barriers, or not having enough people to go with.

Source: https://solotravelerworld.com/about/solo-travel-statistics-data/

Solo Traveler World reports that 25% percent of their survey respondents plan on taking a solo trip in the next two years. Of those respondents, 85% of them are females. We knew that going into this project, we would want to focus our designs on the solo female traveler. With that in mind, we set out to research and dig deeper.


We began our project by sending out a screener survey to find solo travelers. Of the 45 people that responded, we interviewed 16 people (11 men, 5 women) that fit our criteria: people who had often traveled alone before. We wanted to hear the pros and cons of solo travel from them.

What we found is that overall, users’ number one concern was around their personal safety. We also found a clear gender divide in our research: men were more often concerned about the safety of their wallets and passports, while women would often forgo certain events, avoid certain areas, or decide to go with a group for the sake of their own safety. Safety started to become a major theme of our designs — especially for women.

A short list of the ways our users thought about safety while traveling.

Competitive / Comparative Analysis:

As we completed our user interviews, we also analyzed 20 different companies that users mentioned or that we identified as leaders of the problem space. We found companies that excelled in individual areas, but no one company that hit every problem we wanted to solve — helping solo female travelers connect with others.

Our vision for where our solution fit in relative to its competitors.

With safety and social concerns starting to become our focus, we synthesized our research and defined the problem space more clearly.

Affinity Map

A look at the things solo travelers think about before, during, and after their trips.

From our affinity map, we found that solo travelers had a lot on their minds. They wanted more information, they wanted to connect with others, and above all, they wanted to be safe.

The full list of our affinity map insights.

Safety was the theme that kept emerging as we reviewed our research. The stories we heard around safety were so impactful, and struck a chord with each of us. Time and time again, we found that people were put into these situations where they didn’t feel safe. Finding a way to really help these people never feel this way was so important to us that we restructured our project and decided to solve primarily for safety instead of social connections.

Plot Twist — The Team Gets Lost Along the Way

And this was the point in the project where we went in the wrong direction.

We forgot our initial hypothesis and the initial scope of the project. As we were taught, we followed our research — we clearly identified a problem that our users were having and decided to design a solution that addressed it.

Ironically, on our journey to create a social app for solo travelers, we got lost.

The Team Overpromises and Under Delivers

There’s a word we’ve been taught to avoid as designers. It’s called Featuritis. It’s something you really want to avoid when making products. Featuritis means you end up trying to make something, but it’s so bloated that your design tries to do too much, gets confusing, and fails.

Our initial solutions had a very, very bad case of featuritis. Here’s just some of what our proposed app intended to solve:

  1. A map to tell you where you are and locations of everything around you, ranked and sorted by danger levels rated by users and by the government.
  2. A user generated ratings system for how safe a place made people feel for every single location on the map.
  3. A way to build out an emergency list of contacts of people you barely know and met recently.
  4. A “country card” for every single country that gave you emergency contact information, locations of embassies and police stations, helpful phrases for the country you were in (that you could also play audio of), cultural norms, traveler tips and tricks, and additional info.

But wait, there’s more:

1 & 2. A profile page that stores your own travel documents and settings.

3 & 4. A way to develop a network of travel contacts you meet and build a support network in case anything bad happens to you on your trip, and a way to send a message to all these contacts at once and track them on the map at all times.

And still more designs:

A giant SOS button / overlay that users can access at any time to message your contacts, call the authorities, send out a loud siren noise (potentially with flashing lights from your phone), and direct you to a location safer than the one you’re in.

There were a few other features we had planned as well, but this is the main part of where our designs started.

Design Crit — Where We Realized We Were Lost

One of my favorite activities at General Assembly has been the Design Crit — it’s a process where each team posts their projects up on a wall and receives comments from the entire class about their progress and their direction. It’s a great way to see what your classmates are up to and get project feedback.

This is a small portion of the comments we received on our project.

And boy, we got a LOT of feedback.

As we showed our app and demonstrated our solutions, we got more questions than answers. Everyone had different safety concerns. Not only did we have to perfect all of our features, but we had to cover every possible safety scenario. We had to account for every situation, at every level of risk.

Our solutions were usable, sure, but they weren’t really useful. They didn’t adequately solve a problem. Worse, our app caused some people to feel even less safe than before.

We realized we were at a crossroads. We could keep designing with what we had and try to solve for all the safety problems we could think of, or we could scrap our designs and start again. What mattered more to us — holding onto our ideas and trying to force our designs to kind of solve a problem, or turning back to our research, realigning our design goals, and with the time we had left, listening to our users and finding a solution to what they wanted?

In the end, we took the hard road and started over, going back to our research for answers.

Wait, What’s the Problem Again?

When we traveled back to our research, we realized we only scratched the surface. We honed in on the first things that users were concerned about: safety. Safety is a consideration, but it wasn’t supposed to be our focus — social connections were. We realigned with our original goal: to develop a way for solo travelers to connect, but this time, keeping safety in mind as a part of the solution instead of the focus of the solution.

Some of the common struggles of the solo traveler.

What we found was that interviewees were absolutely concerned with safety, but safety didn’t stop them from traveling — rather, it hindered individuals from fully experiencing and appreciating their solo travel.

Additionally, we recalled that people really enjoyed the social component of traveling — meeting new travelers, finding people to share rides or experiences, and gaining advice from locals. Traveling with others helped solo travelers feel safe and maximize their travel experience.

Solo travelers wanted their freedom and flexibility to fit social interaction into their schedule. But, when traveling, you can’t fully plan your schedule out. Your mood, the weather, and more influence what you want to do. Our solution also needed to account for the spontaneity of travel.

By fostering connections, we could provide our users with the social engagement they desired…but we needed to do it in a way that allowed our users to feel safe.

We realigned our hypothesis and relooked at our how interviewees tried to accomplish their goals.

Some of the ways people tried to solve their problems when traveling alone.

People relied on any social networks they had to gather information, from Facebook to their real estate agents, as they armed themselves with information about their travel destination. When there, they relied on a combination of luck and guided tours to meet others, either bumping into people in cafes or bus stops, or spending all day on a tour and interacting with a local guide or random travelers. Users didn’t have a clean, reliable way to connect with others in a low stakes, fit into my travel plans kind of way.

Common things we heard about social experiences while traveling.

Revised Persona:

We resynthesized our data and created our new persona — Jay.

Jay is a frequent solo traveler who’s been around the world. She loves to travel alone and stick to her own schedule: it’s her trip, and she wants to enjoy it in a specific way. But Jay also wants a friend to do things with from time to time, whether it’s someone to share a cab to the airport, a buddy to walk around with at night, or someone to go with her to see the sights. Safety matters to her, but it’s within the context of social connections that we can address her safety concerns.

As a team, we could finally align our designs around a problem statement:

Solo travelers love the freedom and flexibility that traveling alone provides. However, to enhance their trip, they often want to connect with others to discover new things, share experiences, and feel safer.

When traveling alone, Jay wants to connect with others to enrich her travel experience. How might we provide a way for Jay to connect with others she trusts as she travels alone?

With a clearer direction, we moved on to our solution.

What’s the Solution?

Meet Abbey.

A “ping” that sends a request to nearby users.

Abbey is a social network for travelers. It’s designed for the solo traveler; someone who is traveling alone and wants to connect with others for various purposes. Users send out messages, or “pings,” in their immediate area for different requests.

For example, let’s say my friend from before is traveling alone and just arrived at an airport in France. She wants to share a cab with someone, but doesn’t know anyone in the area. She wants to send out a ping, looking for people who’d like to share a ride. She writes her message, sends out the request, and waits for responses. For those that respond, she can see their profiles, choose who she wants to ride with, and message them to meet up.

Here’s the in app example of that scenario:

Another scenario: let’s say my friend is now in Paris and looking for something to do. She can open the app, see the pings in her area, and choose the one she wants to participate in. She finds one she’s interested in, says she’s down for the request, and waits for the sender to message her.

Here’s the in app example of that scenario:

Through Abbey, users can connect with others based on their interests and the things that they want to do. It seamlessly fits into their travel plans in a casual, demand based way that’s spontaneous and secure.

But What About Safety?

We still wanted users to feel comfortable connecting with others on Abbey, so we designed several ways to verify users and confirm that they were legitimate people.

First, to sign up for Abbey, we explored various verification methods, from government IDs and background checks to social media verification procedures. In the end, we landed on a combination of Facebook verification with video gesture.

Example verification process for Bumble, an online dating site. Image credit: https://mashable.com/2016/09/22/bumble-selfies-battle-fake-users/#PfEXYSqOsPq3

We would rely on users to connect their Facebook to Abbey, then, like the example above, request a photo of them performing a gesture so that we could match the photo to the Facebook account. We felt that this was the easiest way to verify users without burdening them with extra documentation or a long verification process. Eventually, we’d like to do more user research to see what verification methods would best resonate with our target users.

Additionally, we created a user generated “review” process that allows users to give “Endorsements” to other users after they have connected. Users can see how many other users essentially vouch for a person through their Endorsements, listed on their profiles.

Twenty seven people vouch for Dionne.

Lastly, all the users on Abbey have to opt in to a ping request. Users can’t see other user profiles until they accept their pings, so if a user doesn’t trust someone sending a ping, they don’t have to reveal their information to that user. Similarly, if someone answers a ping, they don’t have to connect with that user — the choice is up to them.

Some users are grey — for their own reasons, they don’t want to be a part of this ping, and the person who sent the ping can’t see their information.

We solved for “safety” by reevaluating what safety meant to users. Users were addressing safety by connecting with others. But users have problems connecting with others while traveling. We found a way to indirectly address safety concerns by facilitating connections, so that users could find others they trust, want to spend time with, and, as a result, feel more safe.

How Well Does It Work?

We usability tested our designs with 19 users across 3 iterations. We found that 91% of users thought sending a ping was not only usable, but useful and delightful. Here’s what users had to say:

“I was delighted that people responded to me in my nearby proximity!”

“As someone directly affected by this while traveling, it speaks to me.”

As far as Endorsements were concerned, 73% of users not only understood them, but felt more comfortable with them there.

“I like this. This makes me feel like safety is implied. I would use this to feel safer and have fun.”

“Clapping means I got you. I’ve got your back.”

Lastly, 82% of users understood the concept of receiving pings, and expected to see it in the ping section of the tab bar. In our final iteration, we revised our designs to put received pings there, and as a next step, would test that aspect of our design further to fully confirm it made sense to users.

“I expect to be able to contact people again through ping.”

“I went back to ping. I feel like that’s where everything is.

Possible Next Steps for Abbey

What’s next for Abbey? Well, we took our designs one step further and envisioned a partnership that would add a ton of value for everyone.

Airbnb is the perfect partner for Abbey for several reasons:

  • Airbnb hosts can serve as a sort of super user, functioning as local guides that can provide advice and more off-the-beaten path travel experiences.
  • Airbnb’s verification process can be integrated to Abbey to provide additional safety measures.
  • Airbnb users (hosts and travelers) can get additional cross-promotion and social credit through their Airbnb ratings and reviews.
  • Airbnb can leverage Abbey into a social network for its users.

Lessons Learned

The biggest lesson I learned on this project was to pay more attention to my synthesis. All the research we did pointed to our eventual solution, but we failed to dig deeply enough at the start of our synthesis and instead latched onto a truth we couldn’t solve for, especially with the time we had.

As a team, we had a choice — push forward a partial solution to something we knew we weren’t solving, or start over and design for a need we knew we could deliver on. It wasn’t easy, but we all wanted to make something that actually addressed a single problem instead of pretending to address several.

In the end, both stakeholders we presented to agreed — they approved the project and said our designs were ready to move forward.

We couldn’t have been happier.

Team M.A.K.E. after a successful presentation!

Author: Anthony Conta

Collect by: uxfree.com