I’ve heard of many creative ways to get a local to be your travel guide but my favorite is by a friend who had a yearning to go to Iceland. She is the inspiration for this post. Her unconventional way to get a free travel guide demands a write-up.
Lavalife. Yup, that online dating service is what she used to find a local to chat with and learn about Iceland long before she ever went there.
She went online and searched specifically for a fellow in Iceland and found a guy from Spain who had been living there for five years. They exchanged emails online for another four years before time and money synchronized (the fall in the economy certainly helped) and she went.
The emails were platonic. The crime rate in Iceland is practically non-existent. And my friend is smart. She went with accommodation booked. The results were wonderful. She was greeted in Reykjavik by a friend.
Here’s her summation of the experience, how he helped her plan and his hospitality:
“He was able to comment on the economic crash the country recently experienced and how it might affect my trip. His first hand information was a bit different than the media’s spin on the situation. As someone who was living and working in Reykjavik, someone completely immersed in the culture, he was able to tell me everything I needed to know to plan my trip. He was an excellent guide and host while I was there. Through him, I met many locals who were equally helpful.”
Now, I wouldn’t recommend Lavalife for all destinations but it certainly worked in this case.
More Ways to Find a Free Travel Guide
As a solo traveler, it’s helpful to have a local to take you around. It helps you slip into the scene and gives you a companion for a few hours or a day. This service can be booked through most hotels for a fee but not everyone has that budget. Plus, there is something special about people who show you their city, not because they’re being paid, just because they love it. Here are a few more ways, other than Lavalife, to help you find a free local guide.
I thoroughly enjoyed the free Greeter Program in Chicago. I asked for a cyclist and we covered a lot of the city in five hours. It was fabulous. Check to see if the city you’re going to has a Greeter program through their tourism office or on the Global Greeter Network site.
Meet-ups through Meetup.com
Are you into rock climbing, raw food, Harley Davidsons, practicing French, social media…? There is a meetup on just about anything that interests anybody. Check out the meetups to be held while you’re at your destination for a great way to meet locals who share your interests. If it’s a group on the move, like walkers or cyclists, you’ll probably get a unique tour of the city as well.
Tweet-ups through Twitter
Are you on Twitter? If so you likely have friends all over the world. If you’re not following tweeple in your destination city, search for them on Twitter and communicate with them for a while. Contact them when you’re getting ready to go to find out if there will (or could) be a local tweet-up when you’re in town.
HERmail.net Great for Women Traveling Solo
HERmail.net is an email-based, international directory of women travelers. It allows any woman anywhere in the world to connect at this site with other females who love to travel.
Free Walking Tours – Lots of Options
From Berlin to San Francisco to Tel Aviv and Tokyo, there are free walking tours everywhere. Google “free walking tours” or go to sites like Sandemans.
5W – Women Welcoming Women World Wide
With about 2500 members in over 80 countries, 5W helps women connect with others around the world, make friendships and have a contact when they travel. Accommodation is often on offer but it is best to keep the first visit short. This is a non-profit membership site so there is a membership fee.
The Expat Community and Your University Alumni
There are numerous expat website, communities and clubs all around the world. A search on Google will help you narrow down the field to your geography of interest.