When it comes to traveling solo, some people want to take a break and sightsee with a group. But what about those who prefer something more intimate, like a private guided tour?
Options are increasing as more people give solo travel a try. When I wrote about the trend last year, some 24 percent of people had traveled alone on their most recent overseas leisure vacation, up from 15 percent in 2013, according to the Visa Global Travel Intentions Study. Among first-time travelers, solo travel was even more popular, jumping to 37 percent in 2015, up from 16 percent in 2013.
One-on-one tours allow travelers to explore at their own pace, be it for an hour or an entire day. And thanks to the growth of the sharing economy, private guides around the world have become easier to find and surprisingly affordable. Below, a guide to local guides.
Global Greeter Network
For those on a budget, this worldwide organization is a terrific way to become acquainted with a city. It’s simple: local tourism boards match visitors with residents who want to show them around — free. Hundreds of places are part of the Global Greeter Network, including New York; Chicago; Tokyo; Buenos Aires; Naples, Italy; and Haifa, Israel.
Keep in mind that the knowledge of volunteer guides varies. If you want an expert in, say, modern architecture, you’re probably better off looking elsewhere. To see if your destination offers a Greeter program you can visit Globalgreeternetwork.info.
Tours by Locals
There are a handful of local guide sites on the Internet, but many are awkward to navigate and have poor-quality photographs, as well as spelling errors. Frankly, most of them seem like something your kid brother set up on a lark. An exception is Tours by Locals, which has guides that offer private at-your-own-pace tours in more than 130 countries. The site is a bit cluttered, but click on the “find a guide” link to select a place and you’ll be able to select a region, then a city, and then see a list of guides in the area. You can read about their background, view headshots, check out reviews from previous customers and communicate before you book a tour — a nice option that many competitors don’t allow. A recent search for a guide in London found a two-hour private walking tour around major sites in Westminster for $153.
Toursbylocals.com has been around since 2008 and says its guides undergo reference and background checks through Thomson Reuters World-Check. That offers peace of mind, and is yet another thing that many other sites don’t offer.
Note: some local guides on Tours by Locals as well as the other sites mentioned here list rates per person (helpful for solo travelers); others list rates per tour. If you’re traveling solo and don’t see rates for one person, message the guide or the site to see if you can work something out.
This cheerful, easy-to-use site allows you to search for “experiences” offered by local artists, teachers, photographers and chefs, among others. There are bright, clear photos of the guides, user reviews and descriptions written by each guide of what you’re getting à la Airbnb. A recent search found a number of compelling options, such as a three-hour culinary walking tour of Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, with stops for specialties such as Hainanese pot stickers, Sichuan chicken, Xinjiang lamb kebabs and Korean kimchi dumplings, for $85 — food and soft drinks included.
In Paris, a guide wrote that she would meet visitors anywhere in the city and show them around their chosen neighborhood (or pick one for them), as well as offer tips about Parisian culture during a three-hour walking tour for $200 (up to three other people are allowed at no additional cost). It’s nice to know, too, that if for some reason your guide doesn’t show up, Vayable.com will refund your money.
Owned by the travel review behemoth TripAdvisor, Viator offers reasonably priced sightseeing tours and activities from a variety of people and companies almost everywhere on the map. Guides have been reviewed by travelers who have already taken the tour, and you may contact your guide before you book. Many will customize their tours to accommodate your interests.
Private tours include eight-hours in Bali with stops at Ubud; a spice and coffee plantation; Kintamani, an active volcano, and the Tanah Lot temple ($60), as well as a five-hour tour in Mexico City focused on the homes and work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, with stops at places such as Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera in San Ángel, the Anahuacalli building designed by Rivera and the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco ($175 for up to four people). Professionally licensed guides have green tags, and if you like you can filter your searches to find them. I’ve used Viator for a couple of small group tours, but keep in mind that the company does not screen or conduct background checks on private guides. For more information: Tourguides.viator.com.
Vacation Rental and Home-Swapping Sites
While sites such as Airbnb, HomeExchange.com and Couchsurfing are not designed for private tours, that does not mean you can’t use them to find one. It’s not uncommon for hosts to leave their guests a list of nearby activities and restaurants; pride of place and being helpful are part of the spirit of many of these companies. If you’re renting or home-swapping and also seeking a guide, ask your hosts in advance if they will be able to show you around, or hook you up with someone who can.
You may also want to try MeetUp, which allows members to find and join free or affordable local activities and events. Search your destination for group walks and outings. Though you’re probably not looking for a group walk, you can message the leaders of the group and ask if they or one of their members might be willing to show you around one-on-one.
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