Michael Medvedev always tries to speak with the locals when he travels abroad. Such connections are what he remembers most about a trip. But often, travelers are unable to form these connections because they can’t speak the language of the country they are visiting.
Medvedev experienced this firsthand when he visited
Shanghai, China. He wanted to learn more about the culture, but the language barrier kept him from speaking to locals.
“It was a completely different world. I really wanted to know more about it, to understand why they do certain things,” Medvedev said. “Not being able to communicate, it felt like, ‘How do I talk to them?’”
Determined to break this barrier between locals and tourists, Medvedev set out last April
to create Travelflips, a line of language flashcards designed to help international travelers relate
to locals face-to-face.
Released in February, Travelflips are portable packs of 60 cards, currently sold in Spanish, Italian, German and French. The cards can be purchased with or without a leather case. Each card features a word, and the word used in a sentence that is often used while travelling. For example, the “good” card also has the pronunciation and translation of “That’s a good idea.”
Medvedev works full-time as a software engineer for Princeton-based Ripen e-Commerce, and enjoys drawing and working on graphic design projects in his free time. He is always looking for start-up opportunities, and wanted to pursue something outside of technology for his third venture.
“Spending a lot of time writing code in this virtual world really triggered me to look for ideas outside of this virtual reality,” he said. “I’ve always been looking to creative projects, something tangible, something object-based.”
Medvedev has always loved travel. But growing up in Russia and moving to the United States at age 24 with his girlfriend and now wife, Maria, he knows how isolating it can be not to be able to speak the language. Now when he travels with Maria and their two children, the family tries to understand the culture and language of each country they visit.
He sees many tourists unable to connect with locals when they travel because of the language barrier, and he wants to help connect them.
“When you see tourists in another country, say in Italy, they’re there to visit to check a box and say, ‘We’ve been to Italy, we’ve seen it,’” he said. “They go without trying to understand it or trying to interact with the locals and understand what they think and how they think.”
While Medvedev always tried to learn a few phrases of the language of each country he visited, he found other language flashcards too extensive and bulky. They were made for people trying to learn a language formally instead of as just a traveler, he said. He created Travelflips so that tourists can learn just enough to make a genuine connection while travelling without overwhelming them.
“To me, even a few words could spark that connection. If you’re in Italy and you don’t speak the language but you know a few words and you can give a compliment or start a conversation, people will definitely open up to you because they will see tourists as more open to them and their culture,” he said.
When he started the process of creating Travelflips last April, Medvedev was responsible for all aspects of design, marketing and manufacturing. He wanted to create something that travelers would keep for a long time and associate with memories from their travels, so he focused on creating sturdy, beautiful cards and a quality leather case for them. He has collected many treasures throughout his travels, including a French flipbook cartoon. He wants Travelflips to be a similar memento for other travelers.
“I wanted it to be something desirable, something they can keep or give away to someone,” he said.
While he drew the designs for the cards and managed the production himself, he relied on help from his friends and family as they perfected the list of essential words and the final design. Professional, native-speaking linguists perfected the pronunciation and translation aspects.
Travelflips sets are currently sold online at Travelflips.com and at The Farmhouse Store in
Princeton. The Strand Bookstore in New York City will also carry them soon. Patrons can choose
between the deluxe version with a leather case for $29.95 or the standard version with a portable box for $16.95.
Medvedev plans to grow Travelflips and add other languages with a goal of hope enhancing the memories of many travelers.
“If they have this memory of meeting a local, they can bring those memories back home because memories are what define your state of happiness,” he said. “It might change their entire travel experience.”