Click Here for an Offbeat Experience
A NEW generation of travel-sharing Web sites matches travelers with knowledgeable locals for offbeat, authentic and mostly very economical experiences — across the globe or across town.
Witness, for example, Kieren Wuest, a business analyst from Sydney, Australia, who was in San Francisco not long ago for work. On his one morning off, Mr. Wuest, an amateur photographer, was looking for something slightly grittier than riding cable cars and shooting Victorian painted ladies. An Internet search led him to Vayable.com, where he found a $37 walking tour led by an author and artist who had spent 15 years documenting the city’s street art scene.
The guide, Russell Howze, is one of a growing number of artists, chefs, biologists, college students, authors, urban beekeepers, expats or hobbyists of one kind or another who are using travel-sharing platforms like CanaryHop, Gidsy, SideTour and Vayable to market their particular brand of expertise.
For the package-tour averse, this means a vastly expanded menu of opportunities. Want to take a private lesson with a Mongolian circus contortionist in Las Vegas? Learn about New York City’s garment district with a costume and wardrobe stylist? Fish a private bay off Qamea Island with Fijian royalty?
“Each experience is as unique as the person offering it and the person taking it,” said Jamie Wong, who co-founded Vayable last year. “It’s the way we all want to travel but haven’t been able to until now.”
These new services rely on free listings to fill out their catalogs. Some (SideTour, Vayable) put considerable effort into curating their offerings, vetting guides to be sure that they can deliver what they offer. Others (CanaryHop) leave it to peer reviews and the judgment of its users. Each handles online transactions between the parties, often charging travelers a small service fee and taking a 10 to 20 percent commission from guides on confirmed bookings.
When Jamie Wong was 8 years old, her third-grade class from the San Francisco area spent a week in Arizona with their pen pals on the Hopi reservation.
“We got an inside look into their lives, their families, their cultural traditions,” she said. “That was my first impression of what traveling was. That was what we wanted to do with Vayable: to link up travelers who wanted to go deeper with local experts worldwide.”
Years later, she gave up a job at “The Daily Show” in New York, moved back to the Bay Area and started building Vayable. The platform has grown to 1,500 guides on every continent but Antarctica. Users — either “explorers,” as Vayable calls them, or guides — create profiles and agree to follow guidelines. Travelers can search activities by city, then book their own experience or join another tour. All guides are screened.
Sample Experiences: Hookah and tea tour in Istanbul (three hours, $45); fly-fishing with the mayor of Kenai, Alaska (two days, $1,350; includes lodging and jet); dining with a Fijian king ($250 for up to six people). Also, a tour of East London street food ($48); a midnight street-food crawl in Queens (three hours, $48); a Harley-Davidson motorcycle tour of Versailles and Rambouillet (six hours, $310).
A version of this article appears in print on July 8, 2012, on page TR3 of the New York edition with the headline: Click Here for an Offbeat Tour.