As the holidays are such a popular travel time, we’re gifting you with a free lesson: how to be your own tour guide. A little research can go a long way—the more preparation you do in advance, the more time you’ll have to relax and explore. Furthermore, preparation does wonders for group synergy; rather than debating the day’s plan over a lengthy breakfast, you can agree on a loose agenda in advance, so the group can wake up and seize the day.
And, while hotel concierges and travel agents are your friends, sometimes their abundance of information can be overwhelming. Knowing for certain a few things you’d like to do will help productively guide conversations at the front desk—if you’re in Prague and insist on seeing the John Lennon Wall over the Museum of Communism, for example, this will lay the groundwork for personalized recommendations. Do a little digging about your destination using these sites and apps to find truly unique cultural experiences…on your own schedule!
Before you take off on any adventure, use the web to bone up on basic destination information. Sites like Fodor’s Travel have suggested itineraries based on location as well as the duration of your vacation. If you’re traveling on a shoestring, check out Millennial-focused Indie Traveller. If you’re traveling with a posse of kiddos, find tips on Family Vacation Hub. Creating a rough game that groups various city activities by proximity to one another, eliminating backtracking and reducing travel time between attractions.
You also might want to spend a few minutes on your destination’s Wikitravel site, where you’ll find a laundry list of fun facts about the place you’re about to visit. Jot down your favorites in an easily accessible place—whether it be the “notes” app in your phone or an actual notepad—so you can whip out a historical anecdote at a moment’s notice. For bonus points, research the locals’ favorite spots for when tummies inevitably rumble or the clock strikes five. Save these locations in an offline mobile map, like Citymaps and Maps.me, so you always have instant access.
A to B and Beyond
The best guidance typically comes from locals—but if you don’t have access to real-life residents, not to worry. You can still leverage pro tips with the Detour app—a beautifully produced audio GPS walking guide narrated by natives. Detour is location-aware, so the audio is synced between your group members—plus the narrative and navigation follow you through every twisted alleyway. Some of the hidden gems it points out are hiding in plain sight, while others are destinations unto themselves. So far the guide is in 10 cities, including Berlin, Marrakech, San Francisco, Paris, and Barcelona.
If Detour hasn’t made it to the locale of your choice yet, you can still follow an excellent tour on the Field Trip app by Google, which points out hole-in-the-wall restaurants along with major landmarks. Or—brace yourself—you can use the old-school approach: a real human tour guide! I love being able to ask the guide locals-only questions, plus the group setting makes it easy to meet other travelers. Group tours are often budget-friendly, and operators like Sandeman’s and Free City Tour are in most European cities.
Imagine if you could sort through photos to find the prettiest street to walk down. Streetography is a new app that does exactly that. Its grid looks like a pastel block party and is interactive so you can pull up photos from multiple sources. This app lets you filter the photographs by date, by source (photos taken only by teenagers, for example), by neighborhood and more. It’s a fantastic tool to gauge an area’s vibes before you go and make sure you don’t miss a Kodak Moment.
“Excuse me, where is the….1) Bathroom? 2) Bar? 3) Bus stop?” Nail those phrases and you’re set. Bravolol is an excellent tool for learning a new language when your objective is learning phrases. If you’re permanently relocating to a foreign country, you may want to dive into verb conjugations in the past and future tense…but if this is just a short stint, phrases are your bilingual highway to success. On Bravolol’s website or app, you can practice more than 800 commonly used phrases, sorting them by greetings, emergencies, eating, shopping, romance, numbers—the app even has a talking parrot so you can repeat the phrases back to him.
Bravolol offers guidance in Spanish, French, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, German, Greek, Vietnamese, Hindi, Russian and more. Finally, technology that improves human-to-human interactions! The key to having success in a foreign country lies in communicating with locals. Ten guidebooks can’t top the insider knowledge of one native.
You prepared, you came and you conquered. After pretending to be a local, it may be hard to ever board that plane back home! But if all else fails, you can always stay on indefinitely…as a professional tour guide.
The world of Connected Travel starts here!
Annie’s based in Los Angeles but hails from Portland, Oregon. Sort of. She moved to six states by the time she reached middle school, and continues to move around the US and abroad – call her a nomad, but she prefers “Location ADHD.” After studying abroad in New Zealand, Annie circled the globe, graduated from USC, and circled the world once again. For one year she lived out of a backpack everywhere from The Philippines to Nepal to Slovenia to Norway. She’s a curry connoisseur and passionate explorer, taking the road less traveled, the “trail” covered in vines and swarmed in exotic bugs. Foreign lands feel like home, and Annie loves encouraging more and more people to utilize their passports and experience a new culture.