Welcome to Part 3 of my “Travel Tips from The Experts.” Tours are the focus of this blog post – including how to find wonderful multi-day tours around the planet that match your needs, desires, interests, and budget.
I’ll also share some great websites offering a wide range of locally-guided day tours, walking tours, and terrific local food events – all designed to provide you with authentic & memorable travel experiences.
I learned most of these tips from the travel gurus at the San Diego Travel & Adventure Show earlier this year. Plus, I have added a few other resources I think will be helpful in planning your next great trip – whether taking a formal guided tour or traveling independently, or doing a combo!
What We’ll Cover:
- Online Marketplaces for Multi-Day Tours & Adventure Trips
- TravelZoo – for great travel deals
- Locally-Guided Day Tours (paid & “free”)
- Local Food Experiences / Home Cooked Meals
Thanks to the following travel experts for their great tips:
- Pauline Frommer – Editorial Director of the Frommer’s Guides & Publisher of Frommers.com
- Rudy Maxa – Travel Journalist, Travel Expert, Radio & TV Host
- Wayne Dunlap – Author of Plan Your Escape® – Secrets of Traveling the World for Less Than the Cost of Living at Home
1) Online Marketplaces for Multi-Day Tours & Adventure Trips
I will confess that before the Travel Show, I was not familiar with these websites – but what a great resource they are for travel planning & research. As you well know, it’s easy to spend hours scouring the Internet where there is no shortage of great travel sites, including those for booking flights, hotels, rental cars, day tours & activities.
However, Stride Travel saw a big gap – that is, none of the mainstream sites made it easy to search & compare the organized multi-day trips (tours) offered by thousands of travel companies. So, that’s what they did – creating an online marketplace focused just on tours along with personal reviews by travelers. And, yes, they have some competitors today.
Pauline recommends the following websites (with the top two her preferred ones):
Even if you are an independent traveler & not interested in a guided tour, these sites can be really helpful with itinerary planning for a particular destination. Experienced tour operators have fine-tuned really good travel itineraries that visit key sights of interest to travelers. So, you just might find some hidden pearls by checking out the different tours. I do this all the time for ideas!
Stride Travel is the world’s largest search & reviews site for tours & adventure trips. They host more than 25,000 tours, cruises, and adventure experiences across every continent – from more than 700 of the world’s best travel companies. (obviously, these glowing words were taken from their website!)
Stride also has over 100,000 trusted user reviews – on the trips, tour companies, and local experts. Once you find a tour you like on the website, it allows you to book directly with the tour company. They are based in San Francisco, California with team members spanning the globe.
The Trip Wing website tag line says “Find the Perfect Travel Experience” – by allowing you to search, browse, and compare tours. The site also says they “curate the best options from the largest and most well-reputed tour operators in the world.”
Plus, they claim to be traveler-focused and highly knowledgeable about the tours they have available. They negotiate the lowest prices available for all of their tour operators, ensuring clients always get the best deal. They are based out of New York City.
Besides the usual online marketplace services with “thoughtfully crafted tours” & itineraries, Tour Radar offer videos and photos, how-to guides, and travel experts available 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. Unlike the others, it appears that actual tour bookings and payments are made through the TourRadar site itself.
Why Take A Guided Tour?
Guided tours of the past have gotten a “bad rap” because of the sometimes-deserved stereotype of large sized groups being led around like sheep by a tour guide with an umbrella waving high in the air. Plus, they might spend lots of time shopping and sitting on a tour bus, seeing many sights from a distance – not getting the chance to experience a destination at more depth.
Luckily, today’s guided tours have really changed to meet the demands and desires of discerning travelers who are looking for more authentic travel experiences & smaller group sizes. In fact, there are many good reasons and certain destinations where a quality guided tour (and great tour guide) can really enhance your experience.
The following two short articles do a good job proving the point:
- Top 10 Reasons To Take A Guided Tour – by Stride Travel
- Why Touring – by Tour Radar
2) TravelZoo – for great travel deals
I certainly bet you have heard of – and possibly are already using – TravelZoo, which has been providing travel deals for over 15 years. It’s free to join. In fact, TravelZoo has 28 million members worldwide. Once you join, you gain access to exclusive travel deals & offers.
Travelzoo® publishes offers from more than 2,000 travel, entertainment and local companies. And, each week, they highlight their “Top 20® Deals.” Travel expert Wayne Dunlap highly recommends TravelZoo – saying they offer great deals plus they are “good guys” who work really hard.
3) Locally Guided Day Tours – Free & Paid
Another joy of travel is seeing a place through the eyes of the local people. And a great local guide can provide you with both insider knowledge & personal insights about the destination and the local culture. The right tour & guide can really enhance your travel experience.
There are various websites & companies where travelers can book a wide array of small-group day tours & activities that fit their particular schedule, interests, and budget. The websites all offer easy on-line search & booking, along with traveler reviews. Some of the companies’ tours can be customized.
Caution: Not all tours are the same (ie, group size, guide quality, price) so carefully review all the offerings. Make sure to read client reviews and check any cancellation policies.
Web Sites for Locally Guided Day Tours (paid):
Now owned by TripAdvisor, Viator is one of the biggies! You can search for tours, activities or attractions in more than 2,000 destinations. Their tag line is “Travel With An Insider.” The tours are not usually customizable. They also have section for Viator Expert Tour Guides.
On my recent visit to Barcelona, I used Viator to book a special “Skip the Lines” 1.5-hour group tour of the amazing Sagrada Familia basilica. Our English-speaking guided tour had 16 people and cost 40 euros. It was money well spent!
Tours By Locals
Operating since 2008, Tours By Locals offers locally-guided tours in over 1000 cities and 150 countries. They proudly claim their guides are hand-picked and first-rate – all have been thoughtfully recruited & vetted. You can review each guide’s bio and read verified traveler reviews.
Plus, every tour is private and customizable. You can communicate with the guide through the website’s messaging service to customize the itinerary. Prices are not per-person but a total price for the private group. So, this might not be a cost-effective option for a solo traveler. The website has a good FAQs Section.
Context Tours provides “Tours for the Intellectually Curious Traveler.” They offer expert-led walking tours in over 47 cities worldwide by Ph.D. and MA-level scholar guides! Context gives you the choice of hiring a private guide or booking a small group tour (max of 6 people). They provide thematic, in depth experiences. Sounds interesting!
With Locals is a bit more casual. In fact, it’s a peer-to-peer marketplace, more like Airbnb. It’s a place where local people can offer their skills and experiences to travelers. As a result, guide quality can vary widely – so check reviews carefully.
Currently, With Locals is present in 22 countries & 50 cities in Europe, Asia & Middle East. They offer two categories of experiences: Things to Do & Food Experiences. Once you find the host & experience you want, you can book directly on the site or contact the host (via the platform) to get a personalized offer. To learn more, check out their good “How It Works for Travelers” page.
A good friend used With Locals last year while touring Portugal and had a great experience. I booked a 2.5-hour walking tour of Barcelona in May with them & the system was easy to use. Turns out, our guide was a bit quirky (and not highly knowledgeable) but she did describe herself as quirky on the site. However, it was still great to get an overview of the city & the price was reasonable.
Free & Budget Walking Tours
Below are two other Walking Tour options – many offered for free. These tours are called “free” because there is no set price. Instead, travelers are free to “tip” their guide at the end of the tour – for whatever amount they feel is appropriate.
Global Greeter Network
Global Greeters is a network that connects you with a local in one of their 200 destinations – in the U.S. and abroad. Greeters are volunteers who love their city so much that they want to show their place to visitors – for free. Often, they are grad students who are doing tours for tips. This site was recommended by Pauline.
The website says it this way about the Greeters: Not as a guide, more like a newly met friend. Greeters can show you special places that have a personal meaning to them. They can also show visitors places they specifically ask for – such as parks, the best shopping spots, architecture marvels or city specific hidden treasures.
The Free Tour site, recommended by Wayne, allows you to book tours with local guides in over 120 countries and 250 cities. They offer both “free” tours & affordable, budget tours. Their home page lists their Most Popular Free Walking Tours. Apparently, many of the guides are students working for tips.
4) Local Food Experiences / Home Cooked Meals
Have you noticed that Food & Travel are deliciously linked? Like, duh, of course, you say! This quote from a 2017 Travel Pulse article (highlighting a AAA survey showing Americans’ strong desire for food-focused vacations) says it perfectly:
“There is no better way to learn about a destination and immerse yourself in the local culture than by experiencing its unique food and dining customs.”
So, with the explosion of interest in food & regional / ethnic cuisine, there are websites focused on offering travelers local food experiences around the world. Here are 3 of them (recommended by Rudy Maxa):
Eat With (formerly VizEat)
EatWith is the world’s largest community for authentic food experiences with locals – in over 130 countries. Their tag line is Exceptional Culinary Experiences Worldwide. Their offerings include dinner parties, cooking classes, food tours & supper clubs. Their hand-selected hosts share a passion for bringing people together through food.
To experience the magic of “social dining,” first check out all the different options in a destination city. Then select your favorite food experience & book a date that works for you. Through the online platform, you can chat with your host directly if you have questions or special requests.
In case you wonder what happened to the well-respected VizEat, here’s the deal. VizEat was founded in Paris in 2014 and has a large presence in Europe. In 2017, VizEat purchased the US-based EatWith platform. Early in 2018, they rebranded the company, using the EatWith name for all their food offerings. Their offices are located in Paris, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, San Francisco and London.
My Excellent Barcelona Dining Experience With EatWith
When planning my recent visit to Barcelona with my good friend Regina, we were both excited to try a local food experience – which would be the first time for both of us. After checking out a couple different websites, we decided on EatWith’s “Catalan Dinner Party” with hosts Eva & Olga in their home.
The EatWith website was easy to use. While searching, we could check out potential hosts & see their menu, plus photos of the food & the venue. When we booked Eva & Olga’s “Catalan Dinner Party,” it showed a max group size of 6-8 people. The cost of the 2.5-hour dinner party was 50 euros per person.
By the way, the fabulous evening turned out to be 3.5 hours! And we enjoyed the most amazing home-cooked gourmet meal, plus great conversation with our two hosts and fellow dinner guests (3 Germans, 3 Americans). I am now a “true believer” in this type of “social dining” experience while traveling – and will definitely seek out others in the future.
To learn more about our dinner experience, check out my Barcelona Blog Post: 10 Peak Experiences You Can’t Miss. Experience #8 is all about the Catalan Dinner Party with photos.
Meal Sharing brings people together over home cooked meals in over 150 countries. Their mission is to build communities through shared resources, facilitate deeper cultural exchange, and encourage people to cook at home to enable a healthier lifestyle. It’s all about connecting people through food!
Through the website, you can find a home cook making meals – simple to gourmet – whether across the world or across the street. Hosts set a day, time and price for the meal. They can make money by filling their table with travelers and locals alike.
Just like with EatWith, guests pay through the website platform & can communicate with the host through Meal Sharing’s secure messaging system. Plus, guests and hosts can learn about each other through detailed profiles and confirmed reviews – providing a level of security for all.
Traveling Spoon connects travelers with local, vetted hosts to share the joy of a homemade meal in their home and learn about their cultural and culinary traditions passed down through generations. I love their cute tag line: “Travel off the Eaten Path!”
They offer 3 unique experiences with their hosts (100% private) or you can pick a combo:
- In-Home Meals (1 ½ to 2 hours) – food & conversation
- Cooking Experiences (3-4 hours) – learn to cook with your host in their kitchen
- Market Visits (1-2 hours) – explore a nearby market with your host
I hope you are feeling inspired & excited by all the amazing possibilities for exploring the world and meeting local people through authentic, immersive experiences.
Gosh, the power of the Internet & all these innovative websites (and apps) really do make travel easier, our world smaller & help to better connect us with other members of our human family!
BON VOYAGE & HAPPY TRAVELS
Comments: Have you used any/some of these different websites? What was your experience?
Photo Credits: Photos are a mix of mine plus stock photos from DepositPhotos.
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