Jamie Wong is the co-founder of Vayable, a community marketplace where you can discover and book tours, activities, and unique experiences anywhere in the world. Before Vayable ,she was a creative and strategic consultant for several top tech companies in the San Francisco Bay area and New York. Jamie is a world traveler, mediocre soccer player, and former writer for ''The Daily Show.'' Connect with Jamie on Twitter and Google +.
You're not the kind of person who does what everyone else does. You take the long way home. You get lost for the heck of it. Maybe you even eat the occasional blowfish—potential toxicity is just part of the adventure!
If you have the inclination to travel, you probably want a unique experience. So why would you book a package vacation with a massive, faceless corporation when you could get a distinctive taste of local life?
When you put your faith in a local guide, you get to:
- Have a memorable experience: The joy of travel encompasses all the senses. Hiring a local guide gets you off the beaten path so you can encounter new faces, taste unique food, visit tourist-free sites, and browse local artisans' wares. Memories are made from the unique and unexpected. You're not going to find much of that if you stick to Starbucks and tourism offices.
- See how people live: Letting a local guide show you around gives you a chance to meet and converse with other locals. This makes your destination come alive. We leave our comfort zones to see something unfamiliar and different, yet you'd be surprised at the similarities people share across the globe.
- Support the local economy: Buying local supports local farmers and artisans, as well as the community at large. This helps sustain the very people who make your destination worth visiting. If tourism were a country, it would have the largest economy, after the United States. It's also the top source of GDP for most countries in the world. By booking with a local guide, you're ensuring your money stays in the place you're falling in love with.
- Discover something new: The first time I went to Paris, I made sure to see the Eiffel Tower, visit the Louvre, and walk along the Seine. These are Parisian must-sees — but what did I really take away from them? The Eiffel Tower was tall. The Louvre was big. The Seine was wet. After I moved to Paris, I discovered hidden gems — bakeries, street art, lush parks — that were hidden to me on my first trip. A local guide does the legwork for you: In one day, you can have the experience that I took months to acquire.
- Make a real connection: Exploring a place with a local guide gives you an intimacy and personal connection that just isn't possible with a big company. You can't put a price on an authentic bond with another human being.
We've gone over the ''why''; now, let's get into the ''how.'' People often book with big travel companies because they're safe, easy — and with all those stars floating around the Internet, giving out ratings — quality-assured. Most people in the local tourism industry also have an online presence these days. It doesn't take long to reliably assess who they are and what they're about.
If you wish to establish a personal connection before confirming anything with a local guide, or if you're feeling a little hesitation, I suggest asking these three questions:
- What will we do on the tour?
- How much experience do you have as a guide?
- Why do you enjoy being a local guide?
These questions will give you an idea of what you're getting into. A reliable, experienced guide will have a lot to say about the area and shouldn't hesitate to explain why he enjoys it. At Vayable, we vet each guide, and the tours are handpicked by the destination community. You get the ease of booking a package vacation, but you're guaranteed a more unique trip.
Get Off the Beaten Path
Do you really want to invest your hard-earned money and precious vacation time into hanging around a bunch of other tourists boxed into buses, without ever venturing into the unknown? I didn't think so. Yet a shocking amount of people do just that, every year.
It can be tough staying in a new place; sometimes, you don't even know the right questions to ask. A local guide can help you, and he can introduce you to things you didn't even know you didn't know.
Going local ensures that you will have an authentic, unique experience. And, perhaps more importantly, it guarantees that you'll have an even better adventure.
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