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.
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).
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).
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 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, 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).
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).
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.