Local Travel Movement

St Lawrence Market in Toronto Canada

I think there is a shift happening in the kinds of travel experiences many people are seeking: a drift away from traditional sun and sand vacations towards a more meaningful type of trip. The cruises and resort vacations will always be popular, but it seems more and more people are seeking out moments of cultural authenticity, deeper local experiences, and ways to connect with their chosen destination. To me, these are the elements that define the essence of the local travel movement and what this new breed of travelers are seeking.

Cultural authenticity. People are seeking cultural experiences that are REAL. Travelers want to eat local food, see local art, touch (and buy) local craft items, and meet the people who live in the destination. They don’t want replicas, menus “tamed” for foreign tastes, or actors in costumes parading before them. They want to see the culture as it is, not how gift shops package it.

Deeper local experiences. It means cultural immersion at a level not possible at a resort or at an airport souvenir shop. Travelers might want accommodation other than the big hotel chains, or even a homestay. They might want  a meal at a restaurant only locals know about, to learn a local dance, or have a revealing and enlightening conversation with a member of the local community. Many want to plunge as deeply into the experience as possible and try as much as they can. As a student of anthropology, we would call this “participant observation”, where the observer participates in whatever activity their anthropological subject is doing to help better understand the culture. It’s not just a “when in Rome” attitude these sorts of travelers have, it’s more of a “going native” approach to interaction with a sincere interest and curiosity about the local culture at the heart of it.

Connecting to the place. Travelers want to connect to the people and the place they are visiting and create a meaningful travel experience through those connections. They want to feel like they have done more than just relax and recharge – they want to feel as though they have learned something and or they have become more aware of themselves and the world in which they live. For travelers who seek a local travel experience, it is difficult to do so without some sort of “in” or way to connect with locals. A tourist with a tourist map in hand will likely only find the tourist attractions and sites with the budget to advertise in tourist publications. It’s difficult for most travelers to find the deep, authentic experiences on their own, especially when time is limited. The best way to travel local is with a local guide. In anthropological research, this guide or “informant” is essential – a person who can interpret their culture or help explain things to the anthropologist (or in this case the traveler). The trick is finding a guide who is aware enough of their own culture to explain the finer idioms and nuances (without a mere shrug of their shoulders) and lead the traveler quickly past the souvenir stands and tourist attractions, off the beaten path and down the back streets into the communities to show them how people really live.

Something I’ve left out of my definition of local travel is the benefit to the local community. It is quite possible to have a local travel experience that does not in any way benefit the local community, but I think the best kind of travel is done when issues of responsibility and sustainability are addressed and considered as important as the accommodation and destination itself. Are the hotel staff paid a living wage? Does money spent in a store or hotel stay in the community, or are profits sent off to a foreigner’s bank account? Is the food local, or is it imported at a great environmental cost? Will visitors continue to benefit the community indefinitely? Ideally, local travel done correctly – done with the benefit of the community in mind – result in a win-win for both the traveler and the people they encounter, from the local shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and taxi drivers to the local tour guide.

Where does Tour Guys fit into the local travel scene?

  • Our guides live in the cities we operate in. A Tour Guys tour is done by a local guide showing you the places they know and love. We share ways to best get around town, the coolest things to see and do, and often ways to save you time and money while visiting!
  • Tour Guys supports local businesses. We’re a local small business, and when we suggest someplace to shop, eat or grab a drink, it’s not WalMart or McDonald’s. It’s not a Starbucks (although we like them). We want our guests to spend their money in a way that maximizes the benefit to the local community – at independently owned and operated establishments!
  • Our tours are designed to give our foreign guests a better idea of what it’s like to live, work, and play in the city. We want them to understand why we love our country and the city we call home as much as we do. We also want our local guests to see their city in a new light and hopefully fall in love with it even more deeply than before! We think our tours are a nice mix of great stories, personal anecdotes, advice and opinions – all wrapped up in a nice walk with a friendly local… That would be us of course.

For more on the growing local travel movement and to get involved with (or inspired by) it, visit Local Travel.

Tour Guys gets some international press!

During the 2010 Winter Games, a number of media outlets contacted us about our free tours. Reporters from Canada, Korea and the United States were taken with the idea that anyone would offer their services for free!?!? We’ve received great feedback, and today were mentioned in an article on MSNBC.com

An excerpt from MSNBC…

Walking tours

Tour books are great, but sometimes you get more insight and insider tips by taking a walking tour led by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic local guide. Vancouver offers plenty of options, including the neighborhood tours offered by Vancouver Urban Adventures ($25 to $80), the “Sins of the City” tour offered by the Vancouver Police Museum (about $15), and the culinary and cultural A Wok Around Chinatown tour ($68) which includes a Dim Sum lunch.

Also available, are free tours led by the Tour Guys. This collective of local tour guides works just for tips, so you decide what to pay after joining a guide on a stroll through Stanley Park, Gastown and Downtown, or Granville Island and the West End.

Tip: Steve Woodall of the Tour Guys says visitors can often save 50 percent on the cost of eating out in Vancouver by snipping the 2-for-1 coupons in the free weekly papers such as Westender and The Georgia Strait

A big thanks to Harriet Baskas for including us in her article, and for her enthusiasm towards our free tours! To date we’ve gotten shout outs from MSNBC, The Globe & Mail, The Georgia Straight as well as dozens of blogs & travel sites.

Click here for a link to the full article.

A True Canadian Feeling!

Last night our city welcomed the world with style, and one of the best moments for me was Shane Koyczan’s slam poetry. He did an amazing job of capturing what truly makes us Canadian, and I felt that it deserved a shout out from all of us here at Vancouver Tours Guys. WELL DONE SHANE! Go Canada Go!

“We Are More” by Shane Koyczan
When defining Canada
you might list some statistics
you might mention our tallest building
or biggest lake
you might shake a tree in the fall
and call a red leaf Canada
you might rattle off some celebrities
might mention Buffy Sainte-Marie
might even mention the fact that we’ve got a few
Barenaked Ladies
or that we made these crazy things
like zippers
electric cars
and washing machines
when defining Canada
it seems the world’s anthem has been
” been there done that”
and maybe that’s where we used to be at
it’s true
we’ve done and we’ve been
we’ve seen
all the great themes get swallowed up by the machine
and turned into theme parks
but when defining Canada
don’t forget to mention that we have set sparks

we are not just fishing stories
about the one that got away
we do more than sit around and say “eh?”
and yes

we are the home of the Rocket and the Great One
who inspired little number nines
and little number ninety-nines
but we’re more than just hockey and fishing lines
off of the rocky coast of the Maritimes
and some say what defines us
is something as simple as please and thank you
and as for you’re welcome
well we say that too
but we are more
than genteel or civilized
we are an idea in the process
of being realized
we are young
we are cultures strung together
then woven into a tapestry
and the design
is what makes us more
than the sum total of our history
we are an experiment going right for a change
with influences that range from a to zed
and yes we say zed instead of zee
we are the colours of Chinatown and the coffee of Little Italy
we dream so big that there are those
who would call our ambition an industry
because we are more than sticky maple syrup and clean snow
we do more than grow wheat and brew beer
we are vineyards of good year after good year
we reforest what we clear
because we believe in generations beyond our own
knowing now that so many of us
have grown past what used to be
we can stand here today

filled with all the hope people have
when they say things like “someday”

someday we’ll be great
someday we’ll be this
or that
someday we’ll be at a point
when someday was yesterday
and all of our aspirations will pay the way
for those who on that day
look towards tomorrow
and still they say someday

we will reach the goals we set
and we will get interest on our inspiration
because we are more than a nation of whale watchers and lumberjacks
more than backpacks and hiking trails
we are hammers and nails building bridges
towards those who are willing to walk across
we are the lost-and-found for all those who might find themselves at a loss
we are not the see-through gloss or glamour
of those who clamour for the failings of others
we are fathers brothers sisters and mothers
uncles and nephews aunts and nieces
we are cousins
we are found missing puzzle pieces
we are families with room at the table for newcomers
we are more than summers and winters
more than on and off seasons
we are the reasons people have for wanting to stay
because we are more than what we say or do
we live to get past what we go through

and learn who we are
we are students
students who study the studiousness of studying
so we know what as well as why
we don’t have all the answers
but we try
and the effort is what makes us more
we don’t all know what it is in life we’re looking for
so keep exploring
go far and wide
or go inside but go deep
go deep
as if James Cameron was filming a sequel to The Abyss
and suddenly there was this location scout
trying to figure some way out
to get inside you
because you’ve been through hell and high water
and you went deep
keep exploring
because we are more
than a laundry list of things to do and places to see
we are more than hills to ski
or countryside ponds to skate
we are the abandoned hesitation of all those who can’t wait
we are first-rate greasy-spoon diners and healthy-living cafes
a country that is all the ways you choose to live
a land that can give you variety
because we are choices
we are millions upon millions of voices shouting
” keep exploring… we are more”
we are the surprise the world has in store for you
it’s true

Canada is the “what” in “what’s new?”
so don’t say “been there done that”
unless you’ve sat on the sidewalk
while chalk artists draw still lifes
on the concrete of a kid in the street
beatboxing to Neil Young for fun
don’t say you’ve been there done that
unless you’ve been here doing it
let this country be your first-aid kit
for all the times you get sick of the same old same old
let us be the story told to your friends
and when that story ends
leave chapters for the next time you’ll come back
next time pack for all the things
you didn’t pack for the first time
but don’t let your luggage define your travels
each life unravels differently
and experiences are what make up
the colours of our tapestry
we are the true north
strong and free
and what’s more
is that we didn’t just say it
we made it be.

Top 10 Things to do in Vancouver

I have put together a list of the top 10 things I like to do in Vancouver. I have left out the big festivals and once-a-year events, because unless you plan to be here while they are happening, they would be of little use to you on this list.

Top 10 Things to do in Vancouver (in no particular order)…

  1. Take the False Creek Ferry or the new streetcar to Granville Island to check out the public market, the artisan shops, or the floating homes.
  2. Wander Stanley Park’s 250kms of trails either on foot, or by bike. Get off of the Seawall and into the park for a whole other experience! If you have the time, check out the Vancouver Aquarium…it’s REALLY cool!
  3. Check out the Chinatown Night Market or Richmond Night Market for a taste of local culture.
  4. Let your taste buds experience Vancouver’s best microbrews at Steamworks, DIX, Yaletown Brew Pub or Granville Island Brewing.
  5. Have breakfast or brunch on the patio at Joe’s Grill (Davie Street, Denman or 4th…they’re all fantastic and CHEAP!). For a fancier breakfast (and more expensive) check out the patio at Glowbal Grill and enjoy the fresh made mini-donuts.
  6. Catch live improv theatre at Vancouver Theatre Sports League. These actors are amazing and will have you laughing all night!
  7. Take the Seabus to North Vancouver and explore the natural beauty of the Lower Mainland. Whether you take the bus to Lynn Canyon to explore the amazing park, experience the rush of crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge, or soar to the peak of Grouse Mountain either on their gondola or with a tough hike up the Grouse Grind. The North Shore has so many beautiful places to explore.
  8. Wander 4th Avenue in Kitsilano (Kits) to check out all the funky shops, then wander down Yew to Kits beach to take in the magnificent views of our breathtaking city.
  9. Take the Skytrain to Commercial Drive (Broadway Station) and check out the local art hung on the walls of the coffee shops & cafes along the Drive.
  10. Experience Vancouver with a local tour guide who can share with you all of their favourite activities & hot spots on a Tour Guys walking tour!

If you have done any of these things, tell us what you thought (or not)! Whatever you do, get out there and enjoy Vancouver!

Tour Guys Vancouver Meeting Place

Tour Guys Vancouver Meeting Place

All Tour Guys Vancouver Walking tours begin in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery of Georgia Street & Hornby Street. Sadly our Olympic Countdown Clock has been removed, and is currently being replaced. Temporarily our tours will meet at the construction site where the clock once stood.

Meeting Point

From Burrard Station: head south one block to Georgia Street, and head east one block to Hornby. The meeting point will be on the south east corner of Georgia & Hornby.

From Vancouver City Centre Station: head west two blocks on Georgia Street to the corner of Hornby. The meeting point will be on the south east corner of Georgia & Hornby.