There is a lot of buzz about travelers’ growing demand for local experiences. Of course this doesn’t mean people really want to live like a local. I don’t know anyone who wants to go to the dentist, meet the plumber to fix a leak, or deal with daily commute traffic on a vacation. And in poorer countries vacationers certainly aren’t looking to live like the majority, without electricity or water, working long hours, and eating rice or noodles every meal.
Traveling like a local is code for experiencing the best of a destination in a less touristy way. This might include finding some hidden gem of a restaurant that only the locals know about. Or maybe a walk through a neighborhood with super cute buildings and shops. Or a tour of all the best hill tops for taking good pictures of the city. Creative locals can offer some really unique experiences.
This demand for local activities has led to new peer to peer tours and experiences companies vying for attention and customers. Airbnb launched their own experiences service, integrating the acquisition of a Spanish startup, Trip4Real. But there are also lots of smaller companies. Many start in just on one country or region of the world. There are variations: some focus on just food experiences while others offer a full rage of tours and activities. The unifying theme is that these are unique experiences, offered by a local.
In theory these locals aren’t professional tour guides. They just want to make some extra money and share favorite parts of their hometown with visitors. In reality, I sometimes find “peer to peer tours” from big tour companies on these platforms. It’s hard to vet every single offering on a tour platform. Companies that do this end up with much higher quality experiences, but that comes with a price. Those that allow tour guides to self publish activities are generally cheaper. With these you have to rely on reviews from others to assess the quality of a tour.
I’ve found some super unique experiences on peer-to-peer tour platforms. For instance, my tour of a Buddhist temple with a female priest in Japan. And I enjoyed a delicious day in Penang visiting my guide’s favorite food stalls which were filled with hungry locals. But I’ve also been “guided” to a flamenco performance for tourists that I could have easily booked directly myself.
My favorite activities tend to be food tours and cooking classes. And I think these are more likely to be genuine local experiences. People inviting you into their home for a meal are rarely professionals. And those offering street food tours may actually do this for a living, but it’s not hard to make me feel like I’m really getting a local introduction to the food. Companies like Traveling Spoon and BonAppetour focus exclusively on food. But most tours and experiences companies offer a lot of food-focused activities. And while I enjoy wandering alone through markets eating everything that looks interesting, I find it’s more fun when I have someone telling me what I’m eating and pointing out stuff I wouldn’t have thought to try. Also these guides help you find the best stalls in the market.
If you’re looking for a unique experience on your next trip, check out my spreadsheet of peer to peer travel companies. Filter on category = activities. You can also filter by country and by type of activity (i.e. food).