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I'm planning a trip to Melbourne, which is only a short plane trip away from Sydney, and currently I'm planning on using the same information sources to plan my trip that I'd use for anywhere else in the world (Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, WikiVoyage).

There's the possibility that I'll be sightseeing with someone visiting Australia for the first time.

I'll have a slight advantage in that I've been there before, so I can give my opinion on certain attractions, but apart from that, I won't be able to give the overseas tourist any "local knowledge".

The situation wouldn't be much better if someone were visiting Sydney (where I live), either. I'd be able to tell them about Sydney's transit system, and what time things close, and what suburbs are a bit dodgy. But in terms of places to visit, I'd only be able to list places that are fairly well known.

Is my lack of "local knowledge" unusual? What can I do to improve my local knowledge?

Related question: How do you avoid "tourist traps" when traveling to a country where you do not speak the language? , except that I'm supposed to be the "local knowledge" to avoid such "tourist traps"!

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tweaked to be relevant to cities and countries, as there can be advise for both. Hope that's ok. –  Mark Mayo Jan 20 '13 at 2:02
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@Andrew This is nothing unusual. I didn't even ever visit some of the touristy spots in my city. I would be a terrible guide. –  Bernhard Jan 20 '13 at 11:50

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Your question reminds me of a quote from a quantum mechanics teacher I once had:

Only after teaching a subject twice, one may begin to understand it.

Apart from hosting the occasional Couchsurfer, I have no experience myself in being a tourist guide. But I guess: to become a better tourist guide, be a tourist guide. I think in many places, tourist guides are often student jobs, relying not (only) on professionals but also a lot of amateurs. Therefore, if you're genuinely interested in becoming a better tourist guide, you could apply to be one in your own city or region, maybe during the summer months (or weeks). I'd expect that this means following a few classes and then heading out in the city centre. You'll tell the same story on every trip but might get different questions on every trip, that you would need to figure out. That's probably a highly effective way to learn the touristic information for your city or region.

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Despite how cheesy this may sound, read the Wikivoyage entry on your city or a travel guidebook if you are expecting to be a tourist guide for someone. Guidebooks such as Lonely Planet (or anything else really) can help you give a historical background on famous landmarks and then you can talk to your friend about that and your own knowledge. There are some 'touristy' activities that simply don't engage in when you're a resident.

One other thing that I do often is to look up food or photography groups within your city. Many of these organise free walking tours around the city and this can be an excellent way of exploring aspects of the place you live in, and when showing around a friend, such a walking tour feels more personal / intimate than going on an organised tour. They can also help you discover hidden gems within your city you might not have been aware of.

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When, while travelling, I visit some friend, the things that I enjoy most are:

  • meals at home, or at least in local restaurants. I remember a small restaurant in a famous beach resort in Portugal with no tourist inside, while tourist traps where only few hundred meters away.

  • local life explained. Christmas time in Tuscany has so many customs that you can't understand if you are not with a local friend.

  • shopping. A mall in Stockholm or a bazaar in Istanbul is not the same as a tourist or as a foreign friend.

In short, the best tourist guide is someone who makes me practice: si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more.

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One option is to go on a tour of your own city.

It sounds odd, but it's really not - I've often been on a city tour and found people from that city on it. Sometimes they're with out-of-town friends, or are new to town, but there's no reason not to!

Sydney, for example, has the hop-on, hop-off bus that you could take.

Obviously that'll still only take you to the 'tourist' spots, but you'll find out more about the city.

In Vancouver, in discovering what is on and available to see and do, I keep an eye on Inside Vancouver and similar websites, as well as the Vancouver subreddit to see what's going on, events, festivals and so on.

On twitter there are usually events and tweets about ongoing stuff and promotions.

In addition if you like the history side of things, check out your museums. They'll have a wealth of information that will help.

Your library is likely to have - obviously books - but also sometimes guest speakers about your city, workshops and the like.

Volunteer! Most major cities have a volunteer website or two, and that can range from working with homeless, helping out at the zoo, at big sporting events (the London Olympics were famous for their friendly, helpful volunteers) and so on.

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+1 ask a Parisian if he got to the top of Eiffel Tower, I bet he didn't! I think that knowing your city starts with visiting touristy places, and just hanging out. And then knowing the neighbourhoods, your way through the city, some restaurants/bars/venues/where the library(with free wifi...) is, this kind of random tips/tricks. At least that's what I want/need to know about a city, as a traveller –  Vince Jan 20 '13 at 21:43

protected by Ankur Banerjee Jan 24 '13 at 12:54

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