I'm just back from lunch with friends during which our conversation turned to my upcoming trip to Japan.
Within minutes introductions were being made to two Japanese friends of my friends, one in Tokyo and one in Kyoto. Sometimes a local, free tour guide is just a conversation away.
I love nothing more than exploring a city with a local. Yes, I like to see the major sights of a city but my most memorable travel experiences are always connected to locals. I'm interested in the local experience, how they live, what their neighborhood is like, its history and where they like to shop.
And, the bonus of liking this kind of experience is that the guide is usually more than happy to show you around for the pleasure of it. Which, in my experience, makes it a better experience.
Not all of the tips below on finding a free tour guide are about the local experience but they are all great for the budget traveler.
Seven Ways to Find a Free Tour 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 seven ways to help you find a free local guide.
- Ask Friends. Whether at a lunch as above or on Facebook, friends who can make recommendations from personal experience or who can connect you with a local are a great source of trusted information.
- Global Greeters. 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. I have since used Greeter programs in Paris and New York. 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 meet-up 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.
- Free Walking Tours – Lots of Options From Berlin to San Francisco to Tel Aviv and Tokyo, there are free walking tours everywhere. Check out FREETOUR.com, Sandemans, or Free Tours by Foot, all of which list tours in multiple cities. Also, try Googling “free walking tours + (city you're visiting)” to find options such as Hanoi Free Tour Guides or Tokyo Free Guide or Toronto Free Walking Tours.
- 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 You can find expat groups that meet in many cities. Check meetup.com to find a group in the city you are visiting, or check local newspapers or websites.
- Your University Alumni There are numerous alumni websites, communities, and clubs all around the world. A search on Google will help you narrow down the field to your geography of interest.