Pittsburghers created this service so you can experience far-away cities like a local

Use ViaHero for your next trip to Cuba, Iceland or Japan.

Traveler Hadassa Alexander from LA was the first person to use ViaHero for her trip to Cuba in May 2016.

Traveler Hadassa Alexander from LA was the first person to use ViaHero for her trip to Cuba in May 2016.

courtesy of ViaHero
MJ Slaby

Cuba, Iceland and this week, Japan.

What these three countries have in common makes them destinations for a Pittsburgh travel startup. ViaHero pairs travelers with a local — aka a “hero” — before a trip, to create a personalized itinerary based on local knowledge, according to its founders.

Cofounder Ben Preston, 27, said ViaHero’s first three destinations all have limited information for travelers.

In Cuba, where ViaHero started about a year ago, there can be a language barrier for travelers. Also, Americans couldn’t visit for so long that they might have a hard time finding out where to go and what to do, he said.

Iceland, added a few months ago, also has a lack of information for tourists. “It’s not written about as much as other countries like France or Spain or Italy,” Preston said.

Japan’s language barrier and navigation can be difficult, he said, adding that while on a trip to Japan earlier this year, it was “100 times more complicated” to figure out where he was going.

It was Preston’s love of travel that brought him onto ViaHero’s founding team.

Co-founder Greg Buzulencia, 35, graduated from AlphaLab with ViaHero in spring 2016. Preston was living in England at the time and found ViaHero online. He was impressed, contacted Buzulencia and joined the team.

The Pittsburgh tech community is supportive and several travel startups meet regularly to trade ideas, said Preston, who lives in Boston, but regularly comes to Pittsburgh.

For ViaHero, the goal is to keep adding countries, Preston said, saying possible additions include Columbia, Peru, South Korea, Thailand or Vietnam. Eventually, international travelers could be paired with heroes in any country.

“The long term vision is an Airbnb model,” Preston said.

How to use ViaHero

  1. Go to the website and give details about what’s important to you: Food? Music and culture? Outdoor activities? All of the above? (You’ll pay based on how many days your trip is.)
  2. Then, heroes communicate with you to help plan the trip. Part-time and full-time heroes are fluent in English and sometimes are already working as tour guides or travel bloggers or through Airbnb.
  3. While the planning happens online, final trip details and maps are saved in a phone app, so you can always access it. (It’s worth noting that travelers and locals rarely meet in person, Preston said. Heroes aren’t in-person tour guides. Instead, most interaction happens online before travel even begins, but heroes can help during the trip if needed.)