Understanding a city quickly is important if you wan to make the most of your stay there. Local knowledge is invaluable and there are several ways to find that knowledge – even for free

Lcoal City Knowledge For Free

No need to follow the flag, you can have your own personal guide

Have you ever hired a guide in a foreign city? If so, you’ll know that most of them are a) expensive and b) useless. The only places they usually know about are the standard tourist spots, and they’re in the guidebook anyway, which is more reliable, costs less and doesn’t hang around for a tip afterwards.

You shouldn’t dismiss guides out of hand, though. A really good one, who lives in and loves the city, steers you away from the expensive tourist traps and towards the local haunts. They can take you places visitors don’t see, let you into their lives, become a mentor: even a lifelong friend. And they won’t charge a penny. They do it for love.

But how do you find them?

Find a Friend

If you haven’t already, join Twitter (twitter.com), work up a global following and just tweet for friendly advice in every port. Too much bother? Go to rentafriend.com It lists thousands of ordinary folks worldwide to pal up with, and you can check out their local knowledge by phoning or messaging beforehand. Okay, it’s not free — £16 per month or £46 per year, and most friends will charge, from £7 per hour — but that’s still cheaper than many guides.

Free Meet and Greet

It’s just as altruistic, but a touch more formal. Many cities have networks of greeters, local volunteers who will show you around at no charge. Most are run by tourist boards, so they tend to concentrate on the big sights, but they’re a mixed bunch — many will try to fit a guide to your own enthusiasms. You’ll find a wide selection, from New York to Melbourne, at globalgreeternetwork.info

Couchsurfing

Poosibly examples of the web at its best, these spontaneous global communities take in strangers as house guests for nothing more than the pleasure of their company. The system runs on mouse clicks and trust, and it works — couchsurfing.org now has more than 2m members. What you may not know is that you don’t have to stay with a host, and many don’t. Instead, you can just use the system to find a like-minded friend at your destination, who shares your interests and is eager to show you the best their town has to offer. All members fill in a profile with their interests and expertise — galleries, nightclubs, restaurants, sport, whatever. Find one that matches the side of the city you want to see, make contact via the site, and off you go.