See the city like a local on your next vacation

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

vayable

I’m in a constant state of wanderlust, so when I heard about Vayable, a website that allows you to book and offer themed city tours, I was all set to pack up my suitcase and “Experience Bohemian Paris!” Oh wait, that requires a plane. Fine then, I would settle for something a little closer to home: “A Hipster Tour of Williamsburg!”

I set out to experience my first Vayable tour and first time exploring the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. My only reservation about the tour was the idea of showing up on a random street corner to meet a stranger. The tension was alleviated when I met Macie, my tour guide, who explained that all tour guides go through an intense screening process, complete with a Skype interview, “The questions are very personal,” she assured me, “it couldn’t just be a [ro]bot on the other end.”

Macie knew the area well and easily adapted the tour for my interests, taking me to a popular coffee joint where the beans are roasted in house and recommending the Café Mocha, because it was made with locally crafted chocolate, and going to The Whiskey Brooklyn to throw down picklebacks (a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice,) which originated in Williamsburg. We even discovered a pop-up vintage spot together that had to-die-for frocks from the 50s and 70s in perfect condition.

The beauty of Vayable is that you don’t necessarily have to be traveling far to sign up for a tour; you can discover new things in your own city. “You get to meet a lot of interesting people,” said Macie, who was considering going on a Vayable coffee tour during her upcoming trip to Quito, Ecuador.

Launched April 2011, Vayable CEO Jamie Wong was eager to connect travelers to natives that could give them an authentic taste of the city. The idea was inspired by an experience she had in Morocco, meeting a shopkeeper that took her on the trip of a lifetime through the Sahara Dessert. I can relate: during a trip of my own in Amalfi, Italy, my friends and I went back and forth trying to decide if we really wanted to fork over 40 euros for a boat tour around the island. Instead, we ended up on the private boat of an older gentleman who whisked us around in his motorboat for nominal fee and told us stories of the island that could only come from a resident (not to mention he let us drive the boat.) Lesson learned: there is always value in learning from the locals.

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