Getting oriented to a new place can be daunting. There are historic sites and interesting neighborhoods beckoning with food choices too numerous to count. It would be sad to learn later that you missed an opportunity because you didn’t take the time to figure it out.
Fortunately, there are many ways to connect to your new city quickly and with minimal effort and cost. Most cities have walking tours through the historic center. Many of these are free with the expected tip for your guide.
It’s a great way to gain some local knowledge and meet other travelers who have shared interests. We’ve used these to get to know local guides eager to help with brilliant suggestions.
Check the Web
Solo travelers can also consider FreeTour, a Dublin-based tour website with listings in over 120 countries. They have a smartphone app to make it easy to find tours of many cities with a focus on the most interesting neighborhoods.
Tours By Locals is a Vancouver-based company with a global presence. They have been connecting travelers with local guides since 2008, with almost 4,000 guides in 157 countries.
More Responsible Tourism
A friend introduced us to another great idea who was traveling through Thailand. Backstreet Academy was born out of a startup in Singapore that works to help artisans and craftspeople in SE Asia keep their way of life by connecting them to tourists hungry for a more authentic experience.
This is part of a growing push for responsible tourism which strives to bring economic benefit, especially to rural families living in poverty while protecting cultural traditions.
Lonely Planet has been the classic off-the-beaten-track guide since its founding in 1973. It has grown into the largest source of local information in over 100 cities worldwide.
Some travelers feel they’ve drifted too far from their backpacker roots but remain the go-to source for the rest of us. I like their mobile applications, which make it easy to download local info before arrival.
Viator is tightly integrated into the popular TripAdvisor platform. It’s another great tool for booking tours all over the world. We used it to book a tour of the amazing Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira in Bogota with a wonderful local guide.
Airbnb has grasped the idea that they are not only in the overnight stay business.
They even feature experiences more prominently on the Airbnb homepage than places to stay. This reflects the need for the travel business to move beyond the tactical part of booking tickets and rooms and offer more complete travel experiences.
A recent start-up, ChidoTours, is gathering these walking tours into an easy-to-book tool.
Founded by a Mexican-Dutch couple, they are European-focused with plans to go global.
Segway never quite fulfilled its dream of becoming the urban transportation of the future.
Regardless, it has become very popular for small group tours all over the world. You can cover a lot of area in a short time while enjoying a true outdoor experience with minimal physical effort.
What really matters is creating travel experiences outside of our familiar routines. This idea is becoming another wonderful way locals can share knowledge while making a little income on the side.
Sometimes it’s fine to just show up at the main square in Centro Historico. But having applications that give you access to reviews and recommendations can enhance the experience immensely.
Share with us your experiences with local guides. I’m sure there are many extraordinary tales to tell.
by: Michael Wagner