Let’s face it, for those of us who write about travel, work in the travel industry, or simply enjoy traveling, 2020 has been a bit of a dumpster fire. Since leaving Spain in early March, I have yet to even cross state lines. And I am one of the lucky ones; my income isn’t dependent on travel. For so many out there, livelihoods and even lives are at stake.

So when I attended a virtual travel conference and stumbled upon ToursByLocals, a company that works with local guides in destinations around the world to create private tours, I was moved almost to tears. Why? In addition to doing their utmost to keep their guides employed, the company has created an interest-free loan program for all the guides they work with, to help them through these difficult times. Amazing!

Furthermore, the company has helped many of those guides transition – temporarily, though I hope it remains a permanent feature offered – to hosting virtual tours, either from their homes using digital resources or live from a walk. For someone like me itching to go somewhere, anywhere, I just had to try this out. The company was generous enough to sponsor a live walking tour of the old city of Dubrovnik, Croatia for the entire team here at The Royal Tour. So I got up at 7am – doing a live walking tour meant it still needed to be light in Croatia – made a cup of coffee, and joined my team for an hour and a bit in Dubrovnik.

Today, we wanted to share this experience with you, so we all wrote about what ToursByLocals created for us. (Each name of a writer also links to their page here at TRT, so if one review stands out, please read more!)

Entering the old walled city

Christian: ToursByLocals is a great option for folks who have a travel itch that can’t be scratched because of Coronavirus. In theory, we live in an era where the sum of human knowledge is available on the internet at all times, but watching videos on the web doesn’t compare to learning directly from someone who is truly on the ground helping you actually experience the Sponza Palace or the thousand-year-old Saint Lawrence Fort. I toured Dubrovnik, Croatia digitally with a group of my coworkers. I count myself lucky to have learned about Croatian history and culture from Michael, a local guide who has a clear passion for sharing his country with the world.

Sam: Nine years ago, I went to Dubrovnik and thought it was one of the most beautiful and fascinating places I had been. However, when I went, I was a poor graduate school student who could not afford a tour guide. On our ToursByLocals journey, the memories came flooding back to me of this incredible city. Michael, however, was able to provide history and context that I had not had on my first visit. I was pleasantly surprised at how interactive and engaging his virtual tour was, and it was particularly fun having him point out the various spots from Game of Thrones. Michael has a clear passion and love for his city which comes through in his tour. While Dubrovnik will capture your heart with its beauty and history on its own right, Michael’s enthusiasm makes visiting Dubrovnik fun and special.

Kathryn: I’ve long looked forward to visiting Dubrovnik and had even been planning a trip there this autumn, until, well, 2020 happened. So I was very excited by the opportunity to explore the city remotely, thanks to ToursByLocals. From the comfort of my sofa in London, cup of tea in hand, I took a late afternoon stroll around the ancient defensive walls of this beautiful mediaeval city. Over the course of a bit over an hour, we learned about the rich and vital role the city played in Renaissance trade and politics. We heard about how the city’s diplomats and merchants skilfully balanced the competing influences of Venice to the West with the Byzantine and later the Ottoman empire to the East, adroitly protecting its own interests to maintain its status as a self-governing city-state independent of foreign powers.  We learned about the powerful legacies of the monastic orders – the Franciscans who tended the city’s sick, the Dominicans who cared for the city’s poor and the Jesuits, who taught the city’s children – and, via our guide’s iPhone camera, peeked around the heavy doors of churches to admire ornate baroque altarpieces. I fancied I could almost catch the scent of incense. The verdict? Our virtual tour didn’t sate my appetite to see Dubrovnik – if anything, it sharpened and intensified it. Obviously, I’d prefer to be exploring the city for myself. But I wholeheartedly applaud any efforts to keep tour guides in business right now, and likewise to connect home-bound travellers like us with the places we long to visit. Do yourself and your loved ones a favour this holiday season and gift them a live experience of a trip with ToursByLocals. 

It was amazing seeing the light change as dusk fell! This is the marina.

Dan: Croatia has been near the top of my travel list for some time now. It is one of those rare countries that is always talked about fondly by fellow travelers that I have come across. So, when given the chance to take a virtual tour of Dubrovnik, the famous walled city, I jumped at the chance to see it. Our tour began on the outskirts of the city. It was a Sunday morning for many of us, but it was near dusk in Dubrovnik. Our guide for the morning was Michael. A personable, experienced tour guide, Michael was the perfect choice to take us through the city. He began by walking down the neighboring hill to one of the three entrances. There were few people about, something he pointed out on more than one occasion. Normally, there would have been thousands of people, but the city was eerily empty on this day due to the pandemic. As he walked through Old Town, he explained the history of the city. Listening to Michael talk, the thing that surprised me the most was how influential historically it was. Dubrovnik was originally called Ragusa and was founded in the 7th century by Greek refugees who were fleeing from neighboring Barbarians. The architecture of the city was truly a marvel. Almost completely destroyed in a major earthquake in 1667, the city was rebuilt in the baroque style that has survived today. Michael led us through the city for approximately an hour before the tour ended. Although I would have liked to see more of the walled city itself and the famous views of the Adriatic Sea, the tour was a perfect introduction to a great city that I hope to visit someday.

Mandy: There are a lot of things to miss in pandemic times, but mostly I miss exploring a new town or area – and I haven’t even felt comfortable doing local travel since March of this year. So when I had the opportunity to take a virtual tour of Dubrovnik, I immediately said yes. We tagged along with Michael, our local tour guide, as he walked us through the Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik which he described as one of the best preserved medieval cities. I would have to agree. The tour lasted about an hour and Michael had tons of fun and interesting information about the beautiful buildings that managed to survive several devastating earthquakes, as well as the history of the city. I would definitely do another virtual tour while I’m stuck inside and I cannot wait to visit Dubrovnik in real life.

As for me? If Michael is any indication of the type of guide ToursByLocals works with, this company truly exists in the penthouse of the industry. I’ve been to Dubrovnik before, but Michael took me down streets I walked on my own, and showed me things I’d never have noticed. My memories came back to me, and were enhanced by his incredible knowledge base, and fascinating factoids. With how amazing the tour was via his phone, I can only imagine how truly awe-inspiring a tour in person would be once we can travel again. Michael and ToursByLocals gave me the closest thing I’ve had to a real travel experience in months, and I can’t wait to do it again!

The “‘main drag” of the old city... and my reflection in my iPad.

This isn’t just hyperbole from a group of writers excited to get something for free. All of us – and I mean all – have spoken of our plan to return to ToursByLocals as paying customers this holiday season. I’m planning a virtual tour of Tokyo with my family in preparation for our rescheduled trip to Japan in 2022, plus purchasing additional experiences as presents for my travel-missing loved ones. Tours can accommodate anywhere from six to ten devices, depending on the guide, and with reasonable costs (under $100 for most virtual tours) that are 100% transferable to a future in-person tour with that guide, there is really no downside in my mind.

So if you are like us, and you miss seeing the world, hop on ToursByLocals and check out their virtual experiences. Take a tour of Tokyo, learn about pirates in Charleston, or head to Dubrovnik with Michael. You won’t regret it!

Thank you to ToursByLocals for graciously sponsoring the team on our experience. The opinions expressed here are our own, not influenced by the company in any way. And again, thank you for being an example of what a company should be doing for those who depend upon it for their livelihoods during these difficult times.

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