I've actually never been on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Not even during my nascent "tourist" years, when I was still making novice travel gestures, like hanging out at Señor Frogs and touting a crowded Waikiki as the place-to-be. Somehow, in some strange way, I've managed to never let one of those tour buses take me anywhere, ever.
Maybe I'm just showing up at the wrong bus stop…
Regardless, there's something I've noticed about the stories people bring home from their travels, and they fall into one of two camps: those who took the tour bus, and those who had a local guide. And you know what? The ones herded around by a local always have better stories than the bus people. It's a universal constant. Science!
Want to have better stories? Here are a few resources to check out for connecting you with locals who are stoked on their hometown, and would love to spend some time showing you around:
City of a Thousand Welcomes: Excuse me, but who doesn't want to go to a city where you'll be welcomed not just dozens of times…not just hundreds…but one thousand times! Granted, I've visited Dublin and didn't have to shake that many hands, but it really is a welcoming city, and this website wants to connect you to its local populace. Here's a quote from the home page: "You're coming to Dublin? Good! We think you'll have a super time. We'd like to take you out for a cup of tea or a pint while you're here!" Other than what you'll pay at the bar, COTW is a completely free service. God, I love the Irish.
Vayable: Straightforward and clean: visitors to Vayable are prompted to enter their destination city in a search bar, and then are whisked away to a magical web page populated with local activities being staged by Vayable ambassadors. Unlike Facebook or Couchsurfing, Vayable ambassadors have actually applied to wear the Vayable badge, and have thus been deemed tour savvy and ready to guide! Another nice feature of Vayable: all of the payment is handled securely on the website, so the only cash you need to bring to the activity you booked is for your guide's tip!
Triptrotting: Vayable's little brother is probably the closest you're going to get to the tour-side only of Couchsurfing or Tripping: its casual Facebook integration allows anyone with a profile to organize an activity or make themselves available to help out a visitor. It's much more profile-driven than Vayable, but the end goal is still the same. Geocentric comments populate a user's home, allowing travelers to interact in a very direct way with trip suggestions, questions, and random inquiries.
Rent A Local Friend: South America and Europe are the main focus points of Rent a Local Friend, and its premise is much like Vayable: "Local Friends" go through an application process to have their profiles and specialties listed here, and they offer a variety of activities and experiences to a visitor for a set price. At this time, the pool seems pretty small, but if you happen to find your city on the list, I'd highly recommend it.
Visit-a-Swede: Tied for Dublin's resource as my favorite of the bunch is likewise geographically limited, but also seems to promise as rich of an experience. This site hosts over 10,000 Swedes who have volunteered to be hosts and hostesses for various activities around this Scandinavian hotspot, including a meet-up for coffee/beer, cultural activities, overnight stays…even "go for a jog" is an option here. And really, who wouldn't want to hang out with your very own Swedish chef?