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Some of the best fun traveling is when you’re being shown around by someone who really knows their onions. For this you’re probably going to want a tour guide who is full of esoteric knowledge, who delivers their tour with gusto, and who isn’t afraid to go both off-script and stray from the beaten path. When it comes to choosing a tour, you have pretty much three options:
You know the drill – open top buses and walking tours around a city’s tourist attractions. These are ideal for people who want a snapshot of the city from a historical perspective, along popular and preordained routes. They’re great for seeing the layout of the city and getting to know the most important monuments and buildings, and their cultural significance.
Often the best tours are delivered by local characters who go beyond the call of duty to make the tour an electrifying experience. Some of London’s cockney tour guides who work for the big companies are good enough to keep the locals entertained for an hour. You obviously won’t know what your tour guide is like until you’ve been lumped with them – legend or bore, you have no idea. So to guarantee a good value tour guide, ask friends or people on sites such as Trip Advisor who gave them a good tour and go book with them.
There are many websites and internet forums where you can arrange a tour from a local on a more ad-hoc basis. Websites such as Tours By Locals acts as intermediaries between tourists and guides. The way it works is usually guides update a profile with their availability, speciality and price, along with feedback from the people they have previously shown around. You then choose your guide and arrange an itinerary.
These guides often do it as a hobby or a second income, which means they’re not professional tour guides. This can mean they’re less likely to be reeling off a script, but they can also be inexperienced in dealing with large groups of people. These tours are ideal for smaller groups – even individuals & couples – or people looking to get a more personal or esoteric experience.
Volunteers, tour swaps and couch surfing
There are some groups where locals will give you a tour just because they love their city and showing people around it. These are often run on a city-by-city basis, such as the San Francisco City Guides, which offers free tours of the Bay Area. Alternatively the site Hi Everywhere acts as a portal for tourists and guides who’d like to meet and tour for free.
All this will be old news to Couch Surfers, who are accustomed to being treated to more than just hospitality from their local hosts. As well as finding a place to sleep, the site is also a goldmine of bonhomie and shared knowledge among locals and fellow travelers. You don’t even have to sleep on someone’s couch to join in the fun, either. Many members who don’t have a couch available are still willing for meeting up for a drink or a tour.