This post was originally published in 2017 and updated in 2021.
They say when in Rome, do as the Roman’s do. I try to employ this philosophy in other parts of the world as well. As a traveller, I have benefited so much from tapping into local knowledge, connecting with people who reside in a destination and sharing encounters with them. I find it brings a new level of authenticity to my experience and makes me feel a deeper connection to where I take my steps.
The demand for local experiences has always been high. However, these days sustainable tourism significantly recognises this concept as a way to empower and economically advance local populations.
So what exactly is a local experience? Well, a general definition is experiencing a destination in the eyes of a local member of the community, someone who has resided at a place since birth or for long enough to embody its cultural traits. It’s a way to gain new perspectives and give back to the places you visit. It’s a form of connection to a place and its people, both past and present.
You may be wondering how to find these experiences when the first page of your Google search is often filled with travel agencies offering overly-priced, large group tours to the places where every other tourist is trying to visit during their stay. The good news is if you look hard enough there is always a local person or a local organisation that is happy to share their beautiful culture with you, and the below guide is a start to helping you find these kinds of experiences.
I Like Local
I Like Local is a social enterprise that enables travellers to book authentic travel experiences directly from locals in Asia and Africa. Their mission is simple – to Connect, Engage and Empower. I Like Local provides both in-depth experiences for travellers and direct income for local people. 100% of the money asked by the local hosts is directly paid to them and goes towards sustainable community development in these regions. When needed, the social enterprise also collaborates with local NGO’s running community-based tourism projects helping poorer, marginalised communities gain access to additional income.
This Thai social enterprise is a marketplace for local experiences and aims to promote responsible tourism and experiences that contribute towards a social cause. Local Alike works with locals and small businesses to showcase their tours and although the site only offers experiences in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Nan, the community is growing and you can still find some great half-day, full-day and overnight tours. From camping at an Organic Tea plantation in Bangkok to spending a day with local artisans in Chiang Mai, all experiences promote community-based tourism, the right kind of tourism.
Withlocals is a fast-growing database of hosts in various countries that offer you a variety of experiences in their home cities. If you visit their website, you will be presented with a range of cultural experiences involving food, city tours, and other activities. Withlocals currently operates in major cities throughout Asia and Europe but is constantly expanding and looking to become a worldwide marketplace for people to connect and share local culture. Prices vary for all activities but you can sometimes pick yourself up a real bang for your buck. Try some traditional Thai fruit carving in Bangkok, or learn Italian hand gestures in Rome. You’ll be surprised by the range of experiences on offer.
Related Reading: What Do We Mean When We Say “Local?”
TakeMeTour has a range of affordable, cultural experiences in almost every major city in Thailand, and recently expanded to other parts of the Asia-Pacific region. With over 5000 local hosts providing their expertise to travellers you’ll be sure to find something that feeds your cultural curiosity. Be guided on a tour by a person who has lived in that city their whole life, dine in hidden restaurants, visit places off the beaten path, or even take a language class. Let your cultural curiosity turn into cultural knowledge and experience Thailand like a local.
Although AirBnB is a tech giant, their platform does provide exposure for individuals and small businesses to share their local tours. It offers transparency and allows the individual to list their private mediums e.g. website/social so you can support them in the future. When visiting a destination I tend to check out the AirBnB section of the app to see if there are any unique tours that support locals.
Eatwith is the world’s largest community for authentic culinary experiences with locals, available in over 130 countries. The platform connects people who are seeking unique and immersive experiences with hand-selected local hosts, in private homes and exclusive venues. Participate in cooking classes, walking tours or simply enjoy an authentically cooked meal in your host’s home.
Use my code 7B728BBE to get €10 off your first booking over €90.
LocalsFromZero is an upcoming marketplace for local experiences connecting travellers with field agents (aka LFZ Scouts) who know their regions inside and out. The platform aims to “bring tourism back to its roots” and currently lists experiences in Slovenia with the aim to expand throughout Europe and beyond.
Secret City Trails
Secret City Trails is an online platform offering fun location-based riddles that allow travellers to discover a lesser-known side to a city through secret stories and trails. The team behind Secret City Trails works with some of the largest cities in the world, like Dubai and Sydney, and co-creates compelling experiences that bring foot traffic and internal tourism back to city centres. Check their website to find a secret city trail near you.
Lastly, I’d like to give a shoutout to Backstreet Academy who ran a dedicated marketplace of local experiences from 2013 to 2020. Sadly, their platform closed down due to the pandemic however I will always be grateful for what they contributed to so many in the global community.
Do you have any more suggestions for local marketplaces? Join the discussion on Instagram.