Interview: how an overnight train in Morocco spawned a travel brand

After sleeping on beaches, on overnight trains and in dodgy dorms, one traveller decided to do something about security on the road

TravGear talks to Rob Schlipper, Founder and CEO of Pacsafe. Founded in 1998 by Schlipper and his travel partner Magnus McGlashan, 2018 marks Pacsafe’s 20th anniversary. They created Pacsafe with a simple vision: to offer secure gear that would allow travellers to focus on making memories instead of worrying about their belongings.

Pacsafe is currently running the #PacsafeBeMore competition will turn one lucky winner’s dream into reality with a two-week, all-expenses-paid vacation to anywhere in the world. To enter, applicants can submit a 60-second video sharing their personal ‘Be More’ declarations for 2018 (“In 2018, I will be more adventurous”), and where they would want to go for a two-week holiday. Submissions can be uploaded via the Pacsafe website, on its Facebook page, or via Instagram using the hashtags #PacsafeBeMore and #Country of submitter (e.g. #USA). The deadline to enter is 23 February, 2018.

TG: Where did you get inspiration for Pacsafe?

RS: “It was while I was sleeping on my backpack on an overnight train in Morocco – that got me thinking about it! The idea kept growing with me as I travelled more – sleeping on beaches, overnight trains and dodgy dorms, anxiously crossing sketchy borders and having my passport stolen. We began with one product – a lockable eXomesh net to fit around any backpack –  inspired by seeing fellow travellers wrap chicken wire around their bags to protect against theft! Twenty years on, we’ve created bags that work as portable safes, backpacks that are easy to lock yet hard to break into, and wallets that help prevent RFID skimming – really innovating the travel security space.”

TG: How difficult was it to make your idea into a business?

RS: “Very difficult. Like most start-ups we began humbly, working in a cramped apartment with upturned garbage bins for seats and laptops as thick as phone books. I would say that the biggest challenge, but also the biggest benefit, was that I had no experience in what I was embarking on – so I wasn’t deterred by the road ahead. Therefore, I had the constant belief that my idea could be realised into a product. There were very discouraging moments, but also great triumphs. And like most things in life, the more work you put in, the more you’re going to get out of it. That’s not just on a financial level, but in terms of being rewarded with a better outcome. For me, the biggest reward is seeing a Pacsafe bag on someone’s back in a customs queue, or a tote slung over somebody’s shoulder as they navigate a packed city street.”

TG: Do your travels continue to give you new ideas?

RS: “Definitely. I’m always product testing on the road. Through travel, you’re in touch first-hand with trends as they evolve and mature – whether I’m trekking from Rajasthan to Delhi, or exploring Myanmar. I also get inspiration from other travellers I meet, or ideas I see while traveling. They aren’t always necessarily related directly to travel products, but they inspire fresh thinking around new ideas; ideas that ultimately give you the peace of mind to do more and see more of the things that excite you. That’s the inspiration for our Be More competition – challenging people to do more of what they love, be more open to new experiences and see more of the world around them.”

TG: What’s driving the current spike in theft-proof travel gear?

RS: “There are many reasons – the increase in travel, the increase in media reports on theft. People are travelling around with more high-value gadgets, and especially when it comes to backpacks, a lot of people need their hands for their devices, so it’s easier to sling a backpack on your back. It’s certainly a growing market – not just anti-theft but backpacks in general. Other brands are coming into our space because they’ve seen our success, which is creating more noise in the marketplace.”

Portions of this interview originally appeared in the South China Morning Post