6 Websites That Allow You to Hire (or Become) an Independent Tour Guide
One of the best ways to quickly explore a new city is to go on a guided tour.
Traditionally, if you wanted to take a tour of a city, you’d book one through a big-name company (most cities have one), then get herded around from one ‘sight’ to another with thirty other people like a group of cattle, all while being told the tired, canned speech about each place and hearing the same scripted jokes.
Of course, not all tour guides are like that – some manage to keep their tours fresh and exciting even after years of doing the same thing, but you get the idea.
For those who have embarked on several of these kinds of tours and have grown tired of them, or for those who crave something a little different, a new, off-beat, unique method of touring is currently growing popularity.
More and more independent tour companies (often consisting of just a single person) are being set up around the world, each aiming to offer personal, fun, interactive tours led by people who live and breathe the area.
So how does one go about booking one of these ‘independent’ tours?
There are several websites that allow you to find and book tours with these independent tour guides, each of which offer something unique.
Alternatively, if you’ve always dreamt of being a tour guide (or you just want to make some extra cash on the side by showing people around your local area), these sites allow anyone to sign up and pitch their tours to the world.
Here’s a look at 6 of the best independent tour-related websites:
Vayable is an online marketplace that allows people to “discover, book and sell local travel experiences worldwide.”
If you’re looking for something interesting to do in a new city, it’ll provide you with a list of great (and potentially unusual) options.
Alternatively, if you fancy being a tour guide in your local area, or you have a unique experience that you can share with others (such as taking people on a sailboat around the bay, on a wine tasting tour through a vineyard or to the secret spots in your city that only the locals know), Vayable lets you advertise yourself and earn money as a result of selling your services.
Users can search for specific activities and interests, or browse by city/location. Once you’ve found something you’re interested in doing, you can book it directly through the website.
It is often said that tourism (or unsustainable, non-eco-friendly tourism) is the biggest threat to the environment and to historic sites
Vayable addresses this problem and aims to help combat this problem, as outlined in their mission statement, “As much as the travel industry relies on travelers, it also relies on destinations. A recent report by UNESCO cites tourism as one of the greatest threats to the same global sites by which it sustains itself. Therefore, the survival of the industry translates into the survival of the communities that sustain it, particularly in developing countries. 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.”
Some of the more interesting activities on the site include visiting tea plantations and learning how tea is made in Shanghai, China ($170), going urban spelunking underneath the streets of New York City ($90), going to an ancient sumo wrestling tournament in Tokyo, Japan ($30) and taking the Harry Potter location tour in London ($35).
HipHost was founded in June of 2011 with the idea of “empowering anyone to share their passion and expertise by creating awesome local tours.”
Not only can you browse the extensive list of tours on offer by city and by category (e.g. pub crawls, ghost tours, sightseeing tours, etc.), but you also have the option to request specific tours.
To do this, you simply enter the city you want to explore, the kind of tour you’re looking for, the date you want to do it on, how many of you will be taking the tour, how long you want it to last for and how much you are willing to pay.
Once you’ve posted your request, members of the site (known as ‘hosts’) can get in contact with you and pitch you their ‘customized tour offers’. Essentially, this feature allows you to create your very own personalized tour of exactly what you want.
Users also have the option of reviewing each tour and recommending the tour guide to others and ‘recommended’ tours are featured on the homepage.
One of the great things about HipHost is their money-back guarantee. As they say on their site, “Your host is paid only after the tour is provided as promised.” Therefore, if you’re not completely satisfied, you can get a refund without any problems.
Some of the more interesting tours on offer include a bike tour around the Bay Area of San Francisco ($19), a sunrise walk and meditation session along Miami Beach ($9) and the West Village bar crawl in New York ($26).
In their own words, CanaryHop is “a marketplace for activities, tours, lessons and experiences,” who aim to ”connect people who are looking for a tour of a city, want to learn a new talent, or are interested in discovering new activities with incredible tour guides and activity providers.”
The site was conceived when the site’s owners were traveling through the South of France with their families and couldn’t find anything exciting to do (despite searching on the web for several hours). At this point, so the story goes, they knew that there had to be a better way of finding things to do when on vacation, and CanaryHop was born.
When speaking to Tnooz.com, the site’s founders said: “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.”
While some of the websites on this list are purely based around finding tour guides to take you on guided tours, CanaryHop is far broader than that, as it lets you search for fitness activities (e.g. yoga), lessons (e.g. cookery classes), kid-friendly activities, guided tours and just about every kind of activity.
CanaryHop is dedicated to being the cheapest of its kind, which is why they state that if you take one of their tours and then find it advertised cheaper somewhere else, they’ll refund you the difference in price.
On neat feature they have is a handy ‘add to my wish list’ button on the page of each tour, which lets you create your own list of ‘dream tours’ on your profile.
Gidsy is all about finding unique, fun things to do in a particular area. Such as “off-the-beaten-path walking tours guided by locals, nature hikes with wild cavemen and cooking classes hosted by professional chefs.”
Gidsy also has a strong social element, which is why they encourage you to connect your Facebook account to their site so you can book activities with your friends and invite friends to join you on activities you’ve already booked. You can even see which activities your (Facebook) friends have done, and which ones they liked.
How did the site come about? Edial and Floris Dekker (the site’s founders) explained to VentureBeat.com: “We were looking for someone to go mushroom picking in Berlin because we wanted to make a mushroom risotto and we couldn’t find anyone who could help us with that. That’s when we came up with the idea of Gidsy. How great would it be if anyone could organize a robotics workshop, city walk or cooking class?”
Gidsy is all about allowing the hosts (i.e. the people running the activities) to show off their personalities and unusual quirks, so that no two activities are the same (regardless of what they involve). As Dekker says, “The experiences are better because they’re expressions of an individual’s personality and passion. 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.”
Gidsy also do a great job of looking after both the activity organizers and their customers and pride themselves on making the whole experience easy and safe for both parties: “It’s free to create an experience listing. Gidsy takes care of money transaction fees, customer support, cancellations, refunds and marketing in return for a 10 percent service charge. If a cancellation occurs more than one week before an experience, organizers keep 50 percent of the charge; if it’s less than two days, then the organizer is paid in full. To protect users, organizers do not receive payments (via Paypal) until at least 24 hours after the experience.”
Unfortunately, Gidsy’s search feature leaves a lot to be desired, as there is no option to enter in specific keywords (such as “yoga”). This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if their categories were more diverse and specific, but with all activities put into one of 15 general categories (such as ‘history’, ‘sports‘ or ‘shopping’) finding specific activities that you want to do can be a little difficult.
Some of the more interesting activities on the site include going on a wine lovers’ getaway in Barcelona ($55), hunting for antiques in Berlin ($12) and Canyoning through the “Suicide Gorge” in Cape Town, South Africa ($50).
In their own words, GuideHop is a place where “a peer to peer marketplace for tours and guided activities,” where “anyone with exceptional knowledge of a place or particular hobby can sign up as a guide and post their tours.”
As they say, “Big corporate hotels, mega-resorts, and multi-million dollar tour operators are so yesterday. GuideHop guides are unique, authentic, local, genuine, trustworthy, exclusive, and most importantly people like you.”
While GuideHop is a relatively new website (as it was only launched in 2011) and is still in the beta phase (hence the slightly clunky design), it already has quite a following as it allows you to integrate your social media accounts (i.e. Facbook and Twitter) into the site.
As the founders said in an interview on Tnooz.com, “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. 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.”
So how does the whole thing work? “Customers browse through a range activities in their city to see which unexpected new experience will grab their interest. With photographs, videos, written descriptions, and reviews from other customers, they can get a clear sense of what they’ll be embarking on.”
Their leaderboard section (although difficult to navigate to) provides a list of the top guides, giving you an idea of which ones are the most reliable and which ones offer the best tours.
Some of the more interesting activities on the site include visiting the Altun Ha Mayan archeological site in Belize ($69), a 5-day Mt. Kenya trek ($782) and playing ‘unicycle football’ in Austin, Texas ($15).
Triptrotting is a site that aims to help you make connections with local people when traveling.
As they say on their site, “Our mission is to connect people with similar interests from different corners of the world, who otherwise would have never met each other.”
As well as encouraging and facilitating travelers and locals to connect one-on-one, Triptrotting also allows these traveler-local interactions to develop by offering guided tours and activities that are hosted by locals.
During a trip to Thailand, the site’s founders grew tired of being carted around from one ‘sight’ to the next, and were left wondering what Thai people their age did.
Triptrotting is just as much about meeting up with local people as it is about doing activities/going on tours.
They’re very big on the idea of Global Citizenship and improving cross-cultural relations, as their ‘About Us’ page states that “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 of the more interesting activities on the site include an 8-hour bicycle tour of Hampton Court ($96), riding a Segway around Beverly Hills ($128) and exploring the canals of the Chao Phraya River by long tail boat in Bangkok, Thailand ($37).
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