Sister meets...Heeral Pattni
In 2020, the sight of default desktop backgrounds between Zoom meetings has been the closest many of us have come to an exotic getaway. The so-called ‘lost year’ has summoned a period of self-reflection, as cancelled flights are mourned and bucket lists are optimistically expanded in hopes of a post-lockdown life. Instagram is no longer a welcome distraction, but instead a minefield of #ThrowbackThursdays to the city breaks and bikini pics of years gone by.
These days, travel adopts a new, elusive reputation as a luxury for the rich and famous (*cough* private island for my closest friends *cough*), contrasting from previous years when it was only a ‘cheap flights’ Google search away. However, the suggestion that COVID has ruined solo travel opportunities in 2020 fails to acknowledge the fact that, for many women, these opportunities never existed at all.
For Heeral Pattni, enough was enough. “I was desperate to travel solo but lacked the confidence to do so,” she says, highlighting familiar frustrations. “I hoped to find something that straddled the line between solo and group travel, which could have made it easier for me to go at it alone. But I couldn’t find anything particularly exciting or inspiring, so I decided to create it.”
This creation is her new app ‘Amica’, developed following the realisation that women often feel that they gamble personal safety when fulfilling wanderlust wishes. Launching early 2021, the app will exist as an amalgamation of Heeral’s travel desires, intertwined with her evident admiration of friendships, no matter how fleeting (she gives a shout out to those club toilet chats women hold sacred as her spontaneous focus groups).
Living up to its name (a translation of ‘female friend’ in Italian) Amica creates opportunities for connection, by providing like-minded women with a platform to meet. Reminiscent of the dating app formula, Heeral aims to expand the concept by placing a greater significance on compatibility. This is achieved by ensuring users establish common ground prior to meeting, which Heeral hopes will put “power, autonomy and choice back in women’s hands.”
This emphasis on mutual interests is truly the core of Amica. “When you create your profile, you select a couple of preferences within categories such as activity, culture, food and drink,” Heeral says, and of course, her own values of inclusivity seep into the coding. “You can find different types of music, spiritual and religious sites, exhibitions and galleries under culture. Under food, you can select options for different cuisines, as well as preferences for vegan, halal or kosher.”
"All applications are individually evaluated by the team, introducing a personal element that allows Heeral to really know the community she’s building."
However, the anticipation of planned adventures hasn’t allowed the app to stray from a crucial value: keeping women safe. Users are required to undertake a rigorous security check which involves video verification. All applications are individually evaluated by the team, introducing a personal element that allows Heeral to really know the community she’s building. As founder, this is of great importance to her, as she stresses that “What we have built is really authentic, we communicate with our community like we’re chatting to a friend.”
While anticipation grows for the app’s launch, Heeral currently aims to combat lockdown loneliness amongst aspiring travellers with the new online platform ‘The Travel Plug’. This community led hub shares new guidelines and restrictions in an accessible way, alongside insider tips from women’s perspectives, which encourage users to stray from typical tourist routes on their travels. So far, members have initiated discussion on ideal destinations for 2021, solo travel from home, and the future of travel agencies. “Our community has grown over even more lockdown, which I think is a testament to women’s openness and willingness to build new connections,” Heeral says, in reflection of the over 200 global sign ups that ‘The Travel Plug’ has already received.
Both Amica’s and The Travel Plug’s potential impact serves as a source of inspiration during such a chaotic period. Personifying the idiom of turning lemons into lemonade, at only 23 Heeral dapples with the possibility that her lockdown creation will generate long lasting friendships that would otherwise never have existed. “We have a responsibility to create something that positively impacts the world around us,” she says.
So what’s in store for Amica? While fundraising continues, Heeral remains enthusiastic regarding further development of the app, which will utilise the global community: “We aim to have a point of contact from the Amica team in all the cities that the app goes live in, adding another safety option.” One thing’s for sure, her initial motivations remain strong, as she says: “Why should women second-guess living their best lives because the world fails them sometimes?”Find out more about Amica here. Interview by Laura Molloy.