Lonely Planet Writer

This couple quit their finance jobs to launch an app to help travellers navigate other cultures

An Irish couple who quit their high-powered finance jobs to launch a travel start-up have now launched an app to help travellers navigate other cultures. Dee (38) from Leitrim and John (35) from Limerick met in Amsterdam in April 2014, and it has been a whirlwind few years. As well as visiting many countries and launching their company, CultureMee, they are now married with a daughter Rosa (2) and have a second baby due in February 2019.

John, Dee and Rosa Lee in Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam. Image: CultureMee

Dee had been working in investment banking in London for a number of years and moved to Amsterdam when she wanted to introduce change into her life. She met John in an Irish pub on her second day as he was working in The Netherlands in a senior finance role, and in 2017, they moved with baby Rosa to Asia for six months, basing themselves in Phuket, Thailand. “Rosa had already been to over 10 countries before moving over to Asia, and by the time we came back, she had been to 23 countries at 17 months old,” John tells Lonely Planet.

Baby Rosa had been to 23 countries by the time she was 17 months old. Image: CultureMee

John and Dee have travelled to over 80 countries between them, and John speaks six languages, so understanding other cultures has always been a passion for him. Dee loves going to new places and meeting locals from around the world and sampling their way of life. “When we go travelling, we want to get away from the everyday experience back home, and try to connect with other cultures,” says Dee. “We find we learn more about ourselves and our own culture when we immerse ourselves in the local way of life, be that the hawker stalls in Singapore, the floating markets in Cambodia or visiting the small family vineyards in Sancerre, France.”

Dee at Taal Lake in Batangas on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Image: CultureMee

The idea for the app was sparked when Dee got really frustrated that the plug used in Zanzibar Island was different to the one on mainland Tanzania. She and John felt there was a gap for practical travel advice and also for advice on different cultures. They felt there was an opportunity to help travellers develop meaningful connections with local people by helping them understand the local dos and don’ts and to get to know cultures on a deeper level.

John and Rosa Lee in Langkawi. Image: CultureMee

They launched CultureMee two years ago and spent a huge amount of time building their content and interviewing people from different cultures around the world. Since the launch of their app in December 2017, they have had downloads from over 140 different countries. They were thrilled to be awarded the “Best Travel Technology Product” at the Global Youth Travel Awards in September 2018.

“If we can achieve success with CultureMee, we hope we can contribute in an impactful way to helping break down barriers between different cultures,” says John. “We are focused on building a community of like-minded people who have a passion for different cultures, which we are doing through our crowdsourced video platform, where people can share their stories as locals or visitors to different countries around the world. We have also seen lots of interest from the business travel community, where business travellers need to understand the different cultures they negotiate with.”

Dee and Rosa Lee in Australia. Image: CultureMee

For further information on CultureMee, please see the website here and the app is available for free from the Apple and Android app stores.