8 Websites Offering Unique Local Tours Around The World

eating fire While it can be worthwhile booking a tour through a big-name company when traveling, it can get boring seeing a new city in the same old fashion. To do something off beat and interesting, these companies are offering unique tours and activities created and led by locals.

Gidsy

A marketplace for local and unusual experiences, Gidsy was started in 2011 in Berlin by two brothers, Edial and Floris Dekker. The idea was formed in an unusual way, when the hungry brothers were looking for someone to take them mushroom picking so they could make mushroom risotto. Thus, Gidsy was born. The business puts an emphasis on the host, trying to show off their personality and unique skill or knowledge.

“The experiences are better because they’re expressions of an individual’s personality and passion,” explained Edial to VentureBeat. “Instead of attending a yoga class at a gym, for example, you’ll find an expert on Gidsy offering candle-lit yoga classes on a rooftop.”

It’s free for hosts to make a profile and offer their service, and a great way for them to meet new people and make a profit. Some unique tour options include making sock monkeys for charity in New York ($18.88), learning to eat fire in Los Angeles ($25, pictured above), getting a relaxing singing bowl massage in Amsterdam ($19) and partaking in a twilight Berlin underground walking tour ($24.58).HipHost

Founded by Mario Ricciardelli in June 2011, HipHost was started with a “vision of empowering anyone to share their passion and expertise by creating awesome local tours.” The company focuses on allowing travelers to go local in a new city, and also on helping them to save money. You can check how trustworthy a guide is through interviews, personal recommendations and reviews. Additionally, they have a great money back guarantee – if you’re not satisfied, you’ll be issued a refund immediately. Some of their unusual offerings include exploring the haunted spots of Phoenix ($22), a sunrise meditation and beach walk in Miami Beach ($9), a medical marijuana dispensary and music tour of Los Angeles ($76) and a tour that takes you to film locations from the movie “Twilight” in Portland, Oregon ($73).




CanaryHop

Described as a “marketplace for activities, tours, lessons and experiences,” CanaryHop is a helpful tool for connecting travelers with local hosts in a city. The idea for the site, which was cofounded by Andy Samberg in June 2011, came when the founders were traveling through the South of France with their families. After searching the web for hours, they still couldn’t find anything to do. They knew there had to be a better way to make the most of vacations.

“Our solution is to give travellers around the world a diverse set of local activities that they can book for their kids, for themselves and can be accessible by locals, tourists, travel agencies and more in booking travel around the world,” CanaryHop told Tnooz.

CanaryHop is designed around the idea of a canary, or host, and travelers “hopping” along with the tours around the world. You can search via activity, lesson, location, price or level of child-friendliness. And, if you find the same tour cheaper somewhere else, CanaryHop will refund you the difference. Some interesting tours to find on CanaryHop include a scavenger hunt in Denver ($40), a tour through Salem based on the pages of “A Walk Through Salem” and “A Walk Under Salem” ($10), a private sandcastle lesson in South Padre Island ($200) and gladiator classes in Rome ($338).

brewcycle GuideHop

Started in 2011, GuideHop is a “peer-to-peer marketplace for tours and guided activities.” The company aims to connect people from around the world, and help travelers and those interested in making discoveries try new things. It integrates social media by allowing you to post your activities to Facebook and Twitter, and also focuses on giving guides fair rates, while at the same time showing those signing up for tours exactly how much the guide receives from the price.

“Your hotel room should not be what you write home about. An uninspired bus tour of all the obligatory sites shouldn’t be the only way you experience a city,” the founders told Tnooz in an interview. “It’s no fun burying your nose in a guide book but you don’t want to waste your precious spare time on some lackluster tourist trap.”

Users can search by location, activity or top guides. Some of their unique experiences include taking a brewery tour while riding a 15-person brewcycle ($30, pictured above), playing unicycle football in Austin ($15) and a Beatles walking tour of New York ($34).

Triptrotting

Triptrotting is a versatile site that not only allows travelers to connect one-on-one, but also through tours and activities hosted by locals. The idea began to take form in 2008, although the venture was formally founded in July of 2010. When traveling through Thailand, the founders felt like “clueless tourists,” being herded from one site to the next. While they took photos of numerous monuments, they couldn’t help but feel as though making a connection with locals was the key factor missing. They wondered what natives their age did, and from there, the idea for Triptrotting was born.

Triptrotting is passionate about global citizenship, stating on their “About Us” page, “Through face-to-face interaction, people will learn to understand each other beyond cultural differences and boundaries. With the help of the Triptrotting community, we hope to make the world a better place through cultural exchange and understanding.”

Some interesting tour and activity options offered include a nighttime photo tour of New York ($90), a Lincoln Park urban nature tour in Chicago ($55), a Segway experience of Santa Monica and Venice Beach ($128) and a tour of the hidden areas of Berlin ($38).




Vayable

Vayable, which the site defines as “the best way to find unique, insider travel experiences, worldwide,” has the unique mission to better the world through experiences. For example, a study by UNESCO showed that tourism is one of the greatest threats to global sites by which it sustains itself. Vayable tries to respond to this problem.

“… the survival of the industry translates into the survival of the communities that sustain it, particularly in developing countries,” Vayable says in their mission statement. “For many countries, tourism presents the greatest promise of prosperity and economic mobility. Vayable provides these communities with a new, safe and fun way to accomplish this.”

The idea for Vayable came when co-founder Jamie Wong went on a trip to Morocco. Guidebook in hand, she wandered into a carpet shop and began telling the owner how much she wanted to visit the Sahara Desert. Moments later, they were driving for 15 hours through the Atlas Mountains to the desert, where Wong met the shopkeeper’s cousin, Ali, who was head of the caravan tribe. Wong got to travel for five nights on camel, sleeping under the stars and eating bread baked in the sun. When the trip was over, she realized the small amount of money she had spent – well, what she saw as small, anyway – had given Ali and his cousin enough to live on for a month. Wong’s new understanding of the world lead her to want to make a difference. From here, the idea for Vayable was born.

Some interesting experiences they offer include touring Paris by scooter at night ($80), doing a fake hipster tour of London ($24), urban spelunking in New York ($90, shown in the video above) and an educational homelessness walking tour through San Francisco ($20).

weapons SideTour

SideTour, whose tagline is “Challenge the ordinary,” was launched in the summer of 2011 by Vipin Goyal within the TechStars incubator in New York City. They set up travelers and curious locals with hosts who can show them unique skills and facets of the city. While many similar companies use a listing system, where users find an interesting activity and contact the host to arrange to meet, SideTour uses an event outline. Hosts plan an activity for a specific date and time, and then interested parties can purchase tickets. For now they’re focusing on New York only; however, they will be spreading to other cities in the near future.

“We update our site weekly with the most uncommon and unexpected activities, so you’re always in the know with whatever’s going on around you,” says SideTour. “Our NYC-based team curates each and every listing so you can book knowing that a great experience is guaranteed.”

You’ll need to create an account or sign in with Facebook to see events. Upcoming activities they’re offering include having lunch with a monk ($20), discussing national security with an ABC news reporter ($25), getting insider access to Hollywood’s secret weapons depot in SoHo ($60, pictured above) and spray painting your own graffiti tag with an NYC crew ($75).

Meetup

While often overlooked by travelers, Meetup is excellent way to find unique activities to enjoy with like-minded people. With more than 9,000 groups and about 340,000 monthly meetups in 45,000 cities, they boast being the world’s largest network of local groups. You can search for meetup groups that interest you, join, then attend interesting activities and events. The concept for Meetup began shortly after 9/11, when founder Scott Heiferman read the book “Bowling Alone.” He realized the less people interact with those they don’t know, the less they trust strangers. Because of this, they end up interacting less. Additionally, Heiferman used to go see a band he loved, Luna, often times alone. Although he would see the same people at every show, he usually felt awkward going up to them.

“…it’s not just find the people that have a similar interest because the other people that like that band were in the same place multiple times a year, but it’s more about giving them permission to talk to people, giving them license to talk to each other,” Heiferman explained in an interview with Betabeat.

What’s really great is the activities and events are usually free or extremely inexpensive to attend. You’ll have to join the groups to RSVP to events, although there is an option to contact the group moderators. Simply let them know you’re coming to town and interested in attending an upcoming event. While it’s hard to narrow down just a few offbeat groups to join on Meetup, some include:

  • Long Island Role Players- This is great if you’re interested in fantasy-meets-reality role playing games, like “All Flesh Must Be Eaten,” a survival horror game, “Four Color Blues,” a superhero adventure game and “Dungeons and Dragons,” a game of political rule.
  • Sydney Arthouse and Foreign Films- Join this group if you’ll be in Sydney, and are interested in arthouse and foreign films and going to events like film festivals, open-air movie screenings and coffee and drink gatherings with other cinema-lovers.
  • Dublin’s City Life Drawing- This group meets on Tuesdays at a studio in Dublin to draw still life and have constructive discussions. The members also go for drinks afterwards at a local pub.
  • Free Fun in Las Vegas- If you’re looking to save money but have fun in Vegas, this group hosts activities that are $5 or less. They post events like free movies and swimming, $5 improv comedy shows, free farmers markets and free poetry slams.

Travel Smarter 2012: Use CouchSurfing to ditch your hotel addiction

Hotels are so passé.

How many times have you visited an exciting destination only to find you’re staying in a generic hotel room completely lacking in local flavor? When I visited Greece last month, I stayed in affordable, centrally located hotels in Athens and Sparta. While they offered good service at a fair price, they could have just as easily been in Los Angeles, London, or Cairo.

CouchSurfing offers a better way. With a bit of online networking you can stay in a local home, and it’s free! CouchSurfing is a social networking site linking up friendly people around the world. Once you’ve created a profile, you can search through profiles in your destination and request to sleep in their spare room or couch. No money changes hands, although guests often bring an inexpensive gift from their home countries or take their host out to dinner. It’s a fun way to make friends and makes traveling a richer and less lonely experience.

As I’ve mentioned before, even though I’ve never actually surfed a couch, CouchSurfing has been hugely helpful to me. When I moved to Santander in northern Spain, the local CouchSurfers threw my wife and I a welcome party and 25 people showed up. Soon we knew the best barrios to get an apartment, where to shop, and they hooked me up with a hiking group. The group for Cantabria is pretty active and in the four months I’ve been here I’ve been to several meetings and met lots of people.More recently, local CouchSurfers gave me a ton of information that helped inform my travel series on Greece. One memorable night, two Athenians showed me around the Exarchia neighborhood. We visited some great bars I probably would have never found on my own and I got insights into the life of an area noted for its activism. The two CouchSurfers showed me a park that had been slated to become an ugly parking garage until the locals took it over and turned it into a garden.

On a more somber note, they also showed me the spot where a fifteen-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot and killed by a policeman during a demonstration in 2008. The cop is serving time for murder and the spot where his victim died is now a shrine and political rallying point. Try getting that sort of information from your hotel’s concierge.

Couches can be found in some surprising places. One Gadling blogger has tried CouchSurfing in Haiti, and while I was in Ethiopia, I met someone who was going to stay with some expats in Somaliland.

CouchSurfing had a big year in 2011 that’s making 2012 the start of a new era for the organization. After having its 501(c)(3) charity status rejected, its owners decided to become a for-profit corporation. Currently, all revenues come from the verification service, in which members donate money in order to have their address verified, thus making them more trustworthy in the eyes of other members. There’s no word yet on how else the new corporation plans to make money. This change has not gone without protest, with many members pointing out that the website and network were built communally for free, and therefore should not be used for profit.

A more popular move last year was the creation of the CouchSurfing Cultural Exchange Fund, which offers grants for cultural exchanges between refugee groups and their new communities, classroom-based international information exchange and relationship building programs, and cultural understanding between ethnically or racially disparate communities.

CouchSurfing now has more than three million profiles in about 250 countries and territories–not bad for a group that only started in 2003. While you should always keep safety in mind when dealing with strangers, I highly recommend you try it. I’ve had nothing but good experiences.

[flickr image via CaseyDavid]

Pinterest for travelers: 5 practical uses

Everyone’s jumping on the Pinterest bandwagon, and no wonder. The social media site, where you “pin” inspiring photos of luscious baked goods, bucket-list world landmarks and HDR-enhanced sunsets, provides perfect travel porn. Once you start browsing other peoples’ boards, it’s almost impossible to stop.

But does Pinterest have any practical uses for travelers? Although it seems mostly geared toward of the armchair set, there are a few ways that people planning vacations can get something substantial out of scrapbooking:

Get ideas. The most obvious way to use Pinterest is still the most practical. Already you can find thousands of gorgeous travel photos on Pinterest, not only from regular users, but from noted brands such as The Travel Channel (and yes, Gadling). As more travel companies and destinations flock to the site, the visual resources that are available to people planning vacations will become richer.

Just look at the Visit Savannah boards. Run by the city’s destination marketing organization, some of Savannah’s pins carry practical information, such as the best things to order at local restaurants and specialty shopping. And the I Do board makes you want to redo your nuptials in front of the city’s Spanish oaks. It’s a perfect fit for Pinterest’s wedding-crazed members.

Crowdsource. Most people use Pinterest to put forth their own vision of what a vacation could be. But let’s say you’re taking your first trip to Paris. You could create a Paris board and invite your most Francophile friends to pin their recommendations too. It’s a much more visual way than asking for tips on Facebook.
Coordinate expectations. Planning trips with friends can be tough, particularly if you span income brackets. So the next time you’re putting together a group trip, create a Pinterest board where everyone can contribute.

You’ll spot quickly where problems could occur. Let’s say one person pins a Michelin-starred restaurant, while the other pins a taco stand. That could open up discussion about budget limitations, and what kind of meals you’ll be eating. Likewise, you’ll want to make sure that the friend pinning serious powder for a ski vacation meshes with the friend posting spa treatments. Use the photos to form an itinerary that appeals to everyone.

Buy gear. Pinterest’s Products boards have become the most controversial, after users discovered that the site was embedding affiliate links into pins. The Gifts section, where prices are displayed on the pin, is divided into dollar amounts now. But like most social networking sites, Pinterest is continually evolving – and category breakdowns are sure to emerge.

Sharing vacation photos. Facebook has become the web’s largest photo sharing site, with billions of pictures. In fact, people post so many photos on Facebook that almost nothing surprises anymore. While Pinterest, which celebrates the pretty, will probably not become the place to post family reunion photos, a vacation board is a great place to share your best envy-inducing shots.

Travel writer Chris Gray Faust is using Pinterest to help plan her sister’s destination wedding. Follow her boards.

National Geographic and AllTrails.com partner on map website

National Geographic and AllTrails.com join forces for online maps!National Geographic Maps and AllTrails.com have announced that they are joining forces to create a new online resource for adventure travelers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. The new venture will provide a wealth of information on hiking trails from across the United States, while mixing in elements of social networking and member generated content.

AllTrails.com already sports an impressive database of more than 40,000 trails and a membership that tops more than 200,000 users. Those members rate the trails on a scale of one to five stars, while also sharing their personal experiences and tips from their favorite routes as well. The site includes detailed information on the hikes, such as overall length of the trail, change in elevation, allowed activities (hiking, mountain biking, etc.) and a measure of how potentially crowded it could be. In short, it’s a one-stop shop for anyone looking for new hikes in their area or for suggestions for other places to trek throughout the country.

Visitors to AllTrails.com are encouraged to create a member profile, or simply sign-in using their Facebook account, and contribute to the growing community of hikers, backpackers, and other outdoor enthusiasts there. The site automatically recommends trails close to home, and allows users to save routes to your “favorites” lists, while also making it incredibly easy to share those same hikes with others. The site also includes a reputation system that allows members to follow other users whose interests match theirs, while also building a following of their own.

In the weeks ahead, AllTrails will expand their site and introduce a new premium service that will offer exclusive online access to National Geographic‘s iconic line of maps, including their Trails Illustrated and Topo! Series. These maps are incredibly detailed and are a fantastic resource for hikers and backpackers everywhere. Perhaps best of all however, is the fact that this deal extends to the AllTrails mobile app, granting access to those Nat Geo maps while on the go as well.

There is no word yet on how much the new premium service will cost, or when it will officially launch, but it is likely to be a popular one with outdoor enthusiasts. Nat Geo’s topographic data is second to none, and having access to it in a digital format will certainly be a major feather in the cap for the AllTrails website.

Five ways you can screw with travel companies via social media

The travel industry is interested in what you have to say. Everything. I know this seems crazy. I mean, when was the last time you felt an airline employee was actually listening to you? Well, that sector is among the travel businesses paying close attention to you.

I saw on PRNewser yesterday that travel and hospitality companies are using online monitoring tools to keep track of what you tweet and post while you’re on vacation. This should come as no surprise, of course: it’s standard practice in any business to monitor online customer behavior (how do think Amazon generates such awesome product recommendations for you?). What you may not realize is that this is an opportunity with endless potential for mischief.

So, you have the travel industry’s ear … what are you going to do with it? Here are five ideas for you:1. Take it seriously: you could always start from the belief that you should tweet and share responsibly. After all, the folks monitoring you will do a better job of meeting your needs if you tell them what exactly they are.

Of course, there’s no fun in this …

2. Livetweet the most boring details you can find: imagine being the public relations jockey stuck monitoring a hotel’s @ reply stream as it fills with such observations as “the carpet is still beige” and “yep, that’s a mighty fine shower curtain”.

3. Say a thousand words the easy way: pictures, pictures, pictures! I suggest taking snapshots of every piece of silverware at every meal and asking for the travel company’s social media slave guru to comment on each.

4. Ask mundane questions: imagine the person on the other side of the computer growing red with frustration as you ask how to get from the pool to the bar … and you gleefully offer thanks packed with emoticons.

5. Complain: it’s the American way!