Locals on tap

Introducing: Locals on Tap by Urban Adventures! Forget queuing up at the tourism office. Instead, come kick back and swap travel tales while learning where the locals really like to go, on a meet-up in a fun, funky neighbourhood. Make some new friends and fill up your itinerary with tips from our Urban Adventures local expert who’ll be there to answer every question you can throw their way.

Why Locals on Tap?

When I went on my first big trip back in 1996, I didn’t have an email address. There were no internet cafés. For guidance, I’d written down on a piece of paper the names of three places that my friends who had previously travelled through Central America recommended, and put it inside my passport. The result of that lack of preparation was I made some of my best friends in the world to this day. There was no choice. If I wanted to know how to get from where I was to somewhere else, I had to ask someone. If I wanted to know what was good to do around here or where was good to eat, I had to speak to people.

Of course, everything has changed since then, including myself and the way I travel — and some of it hasn’t, in my opinion, changed for the better. I don’t have 11 spare months now just to wander through places at leisure (that is certainly not better!), and now there is so much information that we risk not being wowed at all by the places we visit any more. By the time we arrive, we’ve built up expectations from all our research. Worst of all, there is no longer the need to seek out others to get information. It is all just a mouse click or phone tap away.

Back in those days there was a bone fide safe place to go and meet people, to make friends and ask questions. It was the hostel’s common room. No one had their head in a device because there were no devices. The TV was irrelevant because it was in a language you didn’t understand. All you had was each other, and often the guy or girl behind the reception desk who really only worked there to improve his or her English.

I love the places I visited on that trip but I love the friends I made more, both the other travellers and the locals I met who made that journey amazing.

Now, however, I prefer to stay in a nicer room than a dorm (and my wife and daughter also appreciate that choice)! Sometimes we stay in hotels and sometimes we stay in an Airbnb where we will rent the whole place for ourselves. While in theory this second choice would mean we are met by a local at least, who we can have a bit of banter with and ask for recommendations, our experience has been we are more often than not met by a key locker and let ourselves in. Sometimes there might be a note on the bench. In hotels, it just isn’t the norm to start talking to the person next to you about their travels, and the concierge desk is generally owned by the ‘hop on hop off’ bus company, so real local insights are not really available.

As a team at Urban Adventures, we were talking about “the good old days” and thought, why does this have to be in the past? As a group we were unanimous that ‘it is not what you know, but who you know’ that can make all the difference to your travels. We started to ask our customers, friends, and colleagues and they all agreed — it is just not that easy to meet people on the road these days and that just seems a shame. My old travel buddies say now that I work at Urban Adventures, I’m guaranteed a friend everywhere I go — and they are pretty much on the money there, but what about everyone else?

So we thought: We have this amazing group of passionate local guides around the world who are committed to making sure visitors love their cities as much as they do. Why don’t we, together, create the new safe place where people can meet up, where everyone is open to meeting other travellers, and where a local can give you the full low-down on what is happening in that city right now, much like the hostel receptionist did in the past? Finally we thought, why not host these events in a neighbourhood where a traveller might want to go but may not be confident to check out on their own?

Locals on Tap was born — a new range of experiences where anyone in our community can meet and hopefully be the catalyst to their own great localised memories and friendships.

I implore anyone who has made the effort to get on the road, to truly experience what travel has to teach us.

Don’t spend one more second in your hotel room looking longingly out the window at the atmosphere in the street, or flicking through your phone wondering what everyone else might be up to today, or wishing you had a fun group to hang out with. Book yourself a Locals on Tap experience, bring all your local questions, and be ready to meet some new people and have some fun.

Locals on Tap is available almost every day in over 50 of the world’s major cities for travellers. It is yours to make for yourself amazing experiences and the best kind of memories — those that are shared.

- Tony Carne, General Manager, Urban Adventures

Meet: Mike, our local guide in Toronto

On how he ended up in Toronto...
This is my second round in Toronto. I originally moved here from Windsor, Ontario, for theatre school back in 2003, but dropped out after the first year and moved back to my hometown. But after spending my early 20s doing odd jobs and going back to school a few times, I was having difficulty clicking with a more traditional line of work. I also goofed off a lot and always dreamed about doing comedy. So, I started taking Second City classes in Detroit and doing amateur stand-up. I was making a small bit of money emceeing gigs around Michigan and Ohio but was getting nervous crossing the border five times a week, telling customs officers I was just “visiting friends.” And with Detroit's economy, the Second City Detroit training centre had to close and it just seemed like a good time to think about moving.

When I came here, I was pursuing stand-up but I needed a day job, so I started doing tours with a double-decker bus company. I ended up really getting into the history and enjoying the aspects of being a tour guide. But I didn’t really like how I couldn’t connect with the guests. I was looking to move on and a friend started working for Urban Adventures and told me how awesome it was. The company and the idea of walking tours really appealed to me. It seemed like the perfect experience for the guests as well the employee. He recommended me and the rest is history!

On an average day in Toronto...
It's hard to define an average day in Toronto. Every day is different and has an amazing adventure — it’s all based on what you want to do. For instance, yesterday, I did tours all morning and was watching the first inning of Blue Jays baseball on TV when I got a text from my friend that he had an extra ticket. A $10 cab ride later I found myself live at the game! Earlier this summer, I spent a day on the Toronto islands, laying on the beach, swimming, and kayaking in the harbour. Or on a weekend, I might go golfing, or spend a day at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the evening at a board game café. There is no set routine and although I have been living downtown for eight years, I’m still discovering new experiences and adventures. There is always something new to do!

On stereotypes about Torontonians...
I think the stereotype that the rest of Canada applies to Torontonians is that we can be cold and snobbish. When I first moved here from a smaller city, it seemed that way, but it’s just a different lifestyle in a big city. We are very friendly, especially when it comes to guests. People on my tours are always amazed at how friendly Torontonians are, whether we're helping people with directions or holding doors open. Another false stereotype is that people think we talk like Terrance and Phillip from South Park, saying things like rooooof (roof) or abooot (about), but we don’t talk like that at all.

Or some people think that it’s always cold here. Although it does get really cold during the winter, our summers can be extremely hot. On the other end, sometimes other Canadians will give us a hard time because they don’t think we know what cold is compared to them, but in Toronto we have a wet cold that really rattles the bones.

A stereotype that is true? People who visit always go on about how everyone they meet in Canada is so nice. Just look at a Canadian scandal: our prime minister accidentally bumped his elbow into an MP on the floor of the House of Commons and profusely apologised about it five times.

On what people might find surprising in Toronto...
I think the thing that people always find surprising about Toronto is how big we actually are. I always remind my guests that we are now the fourth biggest city in North America in terms of population (Mexico, New York, LA, and then us). I tell people that they need about two weeks to get a good feel for Toronto since sometimes people will only give themselves a day or two.

Another thing people find surprising is how diverse we are. We are very multicultural, and in fact 51% of the people who live here were born outside of Canada. Our city’s motto is “Diversity is our strength.”

On the one thing people should know about Toronto before they visit...
Don’t plan on driving downtown. The traffic can be very congested, there is always lots of construction, you have to find parking, and once you do, you usually have to pay a lot for it. The best way to get around is to leave your car at your hotel and walk, bike, take public transit, or hail a taxi or Uber. Also, note that a taxi from the airport to the city centre can be around $60. Take our new UP express train; it’s way cheaper and faster, and has wifi the whole way.

Gratuities are important, too. If you go to a bar and you don’t tip your sever after getting a beer, you could be waiting awhile for your next one. Make sure you take care of your wait staff.

On what makes him a great guide...
I try to make my tours as enjoyable and memorable for my guests by getting to know them and connecting with them.
I could recite facts ad nauseam, but making a connection and asking questions to personalise the tour will go a lot further, and as a guide, I get a lot out of it too. I like to ask questions about where they are from, what they do, what their culture is like. I always say that I don’t have the luxury to travel the world, but instead the world comes to me and I learn so much! I have met so many interesting and fascinating people on my tours. I’ve met politicians, doctors, teachers, pastors. I've even met a professional bowler, a rocket scientist, and an official rock-paper-scissors referee!

Meet: Damiá and Marialaura, our local guides in Palma de Mallorca

On being a Mallorcan...
I consider myself a Mallorcan even though I was actually born in Barcelona. My father is from our sister island in the Balearic Islands (Menorca) and my mother was born in mainland Spain. They met in Barcelona, but while my mother was pregnant, my father found a great job in Mallorca. As my mother’s family and doctors were all in Barcelona, they decided to have me there where I spent the first few weeks of my life before moving to Mallorca for the rest of it.

On an average day in Mallorca...
In the summer, people spend the days being pretty busy: going fishing with a friend, having a walk in the plaza of the village, showing the island to a friend who came to visit, or heading to a festival. It’s also common to go to the beach after work. The sun sets very late here in the summer (around 9:30pm), so it gives you plenty of time to do stuff during the day and still make it to the beach before it's dark.

In the winter, the days are shorter and colder, so people relax more. We’re pretty outdoorsy, so even in cooler weather we’ll go hiking in the mountains or plan big dinner parties with friends around the fire.

On stereotypes about Mallorca...
I think the biggest stereotype about people in Mallorca is that we are all on holidays. Most people come for our beaches and our weather, so for them, Mallorca equals vacation. Visitors are usually surprised to find that people live here year-round and that there is a rich local culture. Although that’s mostly our fault as we promote the island as sun, sand, sea, and fun!

On what you should eat in Mallorca...
At the bare minimum you need to eat sobrassada (cured sausage), ensaimada (a pastry), and gató (almond cake). You’ll find a lot of other delicious dishes in local restaurants and bakeries, too.

On what makes Damiá a great guide...
I think people enjoy my tours because I am very flexible. A tour never turns out the same way twice! If the conversation in the group is interesting and I get to a place where I planned to explain something else, I might keep it for later and continue the current conversation. This way it doesn’t feel like I’m following a script. The tour is more interesting as a two-way conversation.

On how Marialaura ended up in Mallorca...
I’m from Italy and I met my husband in Paris during a European internship. We travelled for over a year around the world, but in the end we wanted to come back “home,” so we decided to live in Mallorca where Damiá is from. Moving here was hard as I had to learn another culture, but it turns out it’s not too different from my Italian culture. We share the Mediterranean Sea and many other things.

On an average day in Mallorca...
Most locals who work in an office start work at 9am and take a break at 11am to grab a coffee at a local bar. At 2:30pm, some people come home to have lunch and a short siesta nap (never more than 20 minutes), then head back to work at 4pm. Around 6:30pm when you finish work, you’ll typically meet your friends for a beer or head to the beach. Dinner is around 9:30pm and at midnight, we go to sleep.

On Catalan...
Catalan is the main language spoken in Mallorca. Many people think it is a dialect of Spanish but it is a separate language.

On village festivals...
People in Mallorca love their village festivals and they happen year round. Some last an entire week, and people eat, dance, and participate in lots of activities. They are crazy about festivals here!

On why you should consider Mallorca in the winter...
Mallorca can also be a great winter destination. They have great hiking and climbing spots, local festivals, bike services, and none of the crowds that come in the summer.

On what makes her a great guide...
I love to welcome people. I love to travel and I want people on my tours to experience the island from a local point of view. I have fun and I think they can have fun if I have fun. I particularly love Urban Adventures travellers because they share our commitment to local travel.

Meet: Nikki, our local guide in NYC

On being a native New Yorker...
A lot of natives take the city for granted but I was lucky that my grandparents instilled a love of the city in me from an early age. We were always going to shows, parades, and museums. I was also made very aware of our family history. I knew the stories of how my family struggled to build a new life here that would be better for future generations. I feel a responsibility to enjoy the city and appreciate living in this house that my great grandparents bought with money they saved penny by penny. Because that’s what they worked so hard for.

On an average day in NYC...
It’s hard to say there’s a ‘typical day’ in NYC as everyone is so different. We have everything from bankers who take the subway (or private cars) during rush hour and work until late at night (at which point they go to fancy steakhouses to network), to aspiring artists who work two different waitressing jobs, then run to auditions in between and go to rehearsals at night.

I think what we all have in common is we’re busy. Super busy. I don’t know a single person who lives here who lives a chill, relaxed life. There’s just so much to do. Every night, so many events. People end up packing their calendars.

About once a month I go to the theatre — we just have such an incredible theatre scene in NYC. I actually rarely see Broadway shows, mainly because of the price, but also because they tend to be more commercial. The off-Broadway scene and off-off-Broadway scene are much more accessible and tend to be more inventive and relevant. I usually go with the same few people and we grab drinks afterward to talk about the show.

On the local NYC...
I can name two friends off the top of my head who live in Manhattan. That’s it. Everyone else lives in Queens, or Brooklyn, or even the Bronx or Staten Island (most of those boroughs tend to be natives). Manhattan’s just too expensive. Yes you have to see Times Square and Central Park, but you should at least get out of Manhattan once — that’s where the more average New Yorkers live. There are definitely local spots in Manhattan (outside of Midtown), as people hang out there often, but at the end of the night, everyone leaves Manhattan to go home.

On New Yorkers...
That ‘gruff New Yorker’ is such an old stereotype. The city was terrible and dangerous in the 1970s and 80s, so people were definitely tough, but today I think people are pleasantly surprised when they meet New Yorkers. We're actually super helpful and more than willing to point you in the right direction or suggest a spot for a great slice of pizza. We might be blunt and not spend a lot of time with you but that’s because we’re busy. Very busy.

What people have to remember is that this is a BIG city with A LOT going on. Everyone's in a rush and trying to do 1,000 things at once. And even though you're on vacation, we're not. NYC had 60 million tourists (!!!) in 2015 (our population is 8.4 million). So those crowded NYC streets? Your fault, not ours! The best you can do as a visitor is be conscious. Be conscious of space — if you’re strolling down the sidewalk, make sure to stay to the right and leave room so we can pass on the left. If you stop to take a picture, get out of the way first.

We're also pretty blunt and practical. So if you're asking for directions to the F train, we're going to first ask where you're going because we probably know a better way to get there.

On what makes her a great guide...
I think I’m a good guide because, as a New Yorker, I take it really personal if someone doesn't have a good time in my city. So I’m going to do everything within my power to make sure you have a great time. All of the main complaints about NYC (too crowded, too expensive, no public restrooms) are all things that can be remedied — or at least, I can prepare you for them and show you how the locals get around this. I make sure to include all of this practical stuff on my tours because I know you’re going to enjoy my tour, but I also want to make sure you enjoy the rest of your time in what I think is the greatest city in the world. Because what a missed opportunity if you don’t!

On the one thing you need to know before you visit NYC...
The pretzels are terrible. I don’t know why we’re still famous for them. Don’t waste your carbs on a pretzel — get a hot dog instead.

Meet: Sofia, our local guide in Mexico City

On being a native Chillangua...
‘Chilango’ used to be slang for people who moved to Mexico City but now people use the word to refer to anyone living in Mexico City.

On typical Mexican meals...
A traditional breakfast is a huge meal around 10am or 11am that includes chilaquiles, tortillas, rice, and beans. But locals on a more modern schedule typically grab a sweet bread and a coffee on their way to work. There are bakeries all over the city selling sweet bread.

Lunch is around 3pm, either at an inexpensive fonda (with food that you would have at home, with a different menu each day featuring tortillas, rice, beans, meat, cactus…) or snacks (garnachas) from the street vendors, like tacos, corn or huaraches (fried masa with toppings). Dinner is around 9pm with, again, some combination of tortillas (you can make thousands of dishes with tortillas!) and rice and beans, etc.

This sounds very heavy but there are lots of light and healthy options as well, like soups, salads, and dishes loaded with veggies.

On what makes Mexico City so unique...
Mexico City is huge (like, over 8,000 people per square kilometre huge) and, like any big city, that means tons of things to do. Museums, restaurants, new neighborhoods. But unlike in some other cities, you’ll find Mexicans very warm and approachable. If you ask for directions, they’ll strike up a conversation. It’s the best of both worlds.

On what you need to watch out for...
Like any other big city, you should be careful of pickpockets in crowded areas or on the metro. Public transportation is very safe, but you have to be wary of taxis. Only take a certified taxi or Uber to avoid being overcharged.

You shouldn’t drink the tap water in Mexico (for fear of getting the infamous Montezuma’s Revenge). Only drink bottled water and if you buy one of the delicious juices sold on the street, make sure to get only juice (not mixed with water). Or if you get a shake, make sure it’s made with milk. Brushing your teeth with water from the tap is totally fine — you just don’t want to ingest it.

On the only time you’ll see Mexicans wearing sombreros...
On Mexican Independence Day and if they're in a mariachi band. That’s it.

On how to do tequila shots in Mexico City...
A proper tequila shot in Mexico goes like this: first, salt your lemon slice. Then, squeeze some lemon juice into your mouth. Next, pop the lemon slice in your mouth and drink the tequila shot.

On what made her want to be a guide...
I really like my country. I know it well. I’ll often be giving a tour and see something that amazes me and impresses me. I want to share that, to have others experience the same awesomeness I see. I can share the local culture, local tips, or a local place, and I want people to see that in my city.