Valerie Lopez's Startup Shoot My Travel Captures Your Globetrotting Adventures
By Sulagna Misra
27-year-old Valerie Lopez, CEO of the service and app Shoot My Travel, has a list of her favorite cities to travel to, but there’s one in particular that’s on top.
“My favorite all-time city is a cliché, but…it's Paris. It just has a very special place in my heart,” says Valerie Lopez, over the phone from her office in Miami. And no wonder: it was a trip there in 2013 that gave her and her partner Camilo Rojas the idea of Shoot My Travel. Shoot My Travel is a website and app that connects travelers with photographers vetted for professionalism and local knowledge. The app and website enables you to choose exactly what dates you’ll be in the city, chat with the photographer beforehand about what you want, and access the photos afterwards.
“It was my first time going to Paris and it was my dream destination to ever go and visit and see the Eiffel Tower,” she explains. “So I was going with my partner [Camilo] and we were taking great pictures of him and I have great pictures of me. I'm a photographer by profession and he's an art director and graphic designer so he also has a great eye for composition and photography.”
While taking photos, they realized they had a problem: they had no photographs together to send to Valerie’s mother or share on Instagram. “So we thought of the idea of having somebody else like us, a cool, local that will show us around and then take pictures of us or somebody local that could just hang out with us and be like a friend and tell us about the city.”
“It really stuck to us, the whole idea of traveling local,” says Valerie. “It wasn't so big back then. Instagram was just starting and getting all the hype from the influencers and everything also. It was something that we didn't really envision into being just to share on Instagram, but to share and to cherish as a memory when you're older, 40, 60 years old and you go back and you see those pictures and you remember the days that you first went to Paris.”
By the time Valerie and her partner got home, they’d designed a logo, written the copy for the website, and come up with a name. But Valerie was surprised to realize that the idea had a longer history than she’d realized.
“Months later I told me mom and I shared the company's concept with her and she got really emotional about it. She brought out some pictures of my dad and her of them traveling together. The funny part is I never got to meet my dad because he died like four months before my mom gave birth to me, so it was a really special moment for both Camilo and myself because we said, "You know, this is the aha moment that you're always looking for the constant approval of something that you're doing." We just decided in that moment, "You know what, we really have something here and it comes from a very rooted in your heart. Let's pursue it."
They then began creating a network of photographers. They started with press, which put their name out there, and the website. But it very recently expanded to an app, which they’re working to make more accessible to people traveling around the world.
But Valerie is most keen about how apps and services such as hers have really changed the whole idea of what it means to travel.
“After my dad passed away, we still used to travel a lot and I remember we were very strict about traveling,” she explains. “We had an itinerary, and we had to go to the travel agency and they gave us what we had to do and where and what time do we have to be at the hotel, and the breakfast, and the tour bus is going to take us,” she says. “Sometimes you just want to just sit down and enjoy the city and have a coffee and watch people pass by.” And with technology – with services that connect you to locals – “You have space for spontaneity,” she says. “It allows you to just live. Really when we go on vacations we want to really relax and not have so much burden and have an itinerary. We have an itinerary every day of our life and have meetings and calls and we have to be at work at a certain time and leave at a certain time. When we're traveling we just want to chill and just take a break from all of that, just really live what I think the essence of life is and relax and be creative and roam and get lost.”
When it comes to more of her favorite city, it’s not the monuments or food or activities in particular Valerie loves. “I'm very much about the energy and the vibe of a place or a person,” says Valerie. Beyond cities like Paris and New York, the cities she loved visiting most are a bit less obvious – like Lisbon, Portugal, or Ostuni, Italy, where the local experience was key. She cites India as a whole as key to an emotional awakening for her.
Finally, she was surprised by her trip to Istanbul. “It was the first Muslim country that I've ever visited so I didn't know what to expect. When I got there, it was really beautiful to see the culture and it's just really nice. Their culture and how welcoming they are. Their food, Turkish food is crazy. And we did this Anthony Bourdain list and we went to this place called Kale Café. And we had the most amazing Turkish breakfast in the world. We had to get a bus there and then walk down the hill to find the place because we were so lost. But we found the place and we sat there and we ordered like three Turkish breakfast for the two of us. It was really, really nice. They have a honey with a butter and you dip it with the bread like a naan. Oh my god. It's so delicious.”