woman with earphones in holding a map
Gone are the days of waking up at the crack of dawn to catch a tour bus.

Pay Less and Get More With These Self Guided Tour Options

Skip the Pricey Tour

Unless you’re going to a far flung destination where tourists don’t often tread, pricey guided tours of a location or attraction are often unnecessary luxuries. Gone are the days of waking up at the crack of dawn to catch a tour bus, having to hang around with annoying strangers and paying astronomical amounts just for the tour “experience.”

While there are some things you can do to help you get the most out of a travel tour, in the age of smartphones and the internet, much of that experience (and sometimes more) is now at your fingertips. Traveling is easier than ever before and will continue to be as technology continues to improve.

If you’re still stuck in the traditional walking or guided bus tour mindset, allow us to educate you on some cheaper and ultimately more enjoyable self guided tour options.

Travel Apps

There’s an app for just about everything, so if you own a smartphone, you’re in luck. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of travel apps that cater to very specific needs while exploring a destination.

If you’re looking to get the same kind of information you’d receive during a guided walking tour, just download one of these apps, put on your best walking shoes and enjoy your own self guided walking tour.

For trips within the United States, the free Field Trip app will show you the most interesting attractions and things to do while traveling in a specific city. You can view everything nearby in a list or on a map of your area.

When viewing the map, colored dots will appear, which represent points of interest. Each place is categorized by what it is: attraction, landmark, off-the-beaten-path, restaurant, filming location, art/museum, architecture, etc.

You’ll then see articles, photos and links with additional information on a location, which provides you with a lot more information than a tour guide offers, even for $100 a person.

European travelers will benefit from the extensive knowledge found in the mind of guidebook author and public television host, Rick Steves. His app, Rick Steves Audio Europe, includes a library of downloadable self guided tours for some of the most popular Western European cities.

While some locations include a basic city walk, others have attraction-focused tours for major museums, churches and historical districts.

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Podcasts

Like travel apps, there are also downloadable podcasts available for specific US cities and European countries. A quick search for “walking tours” or “city guide” in the iTunes or Google Play stores will populate a list of hundreds of travel and tour related episodes.

With a smartphone or Mp3 player handy, all you need to do is download podcasts to your device and listen as you go.

New York City has quite a few different audio tours available as podcasts. Soundwalk, a NYC-based sound collective, carefully crafts each of their walking tours around a certain neighborhood or cultural experience and includes a map of the walk with each download.

Using natives as narrators, storytelling experiences and sound effects, you’ll find yourself learning things and going places you’d have never thought of on your own.

The site ItalyGuides.it provides a number of free audio and video guides for six different cities in Italy. Each guide offers narration from American voice actors, a dramatic score and in depth information on cultural landmarks, museums and architectural wonders.

Tours are approximately two hours long and allow the listener to fully immerse themselves in a location, hearing the historical significance of each stop and its place in Italian society today.

Attraction Specific Guides

Self guided travel also extends to specific attractions, with many self guided tours provided for free by the attraction itself. Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg gives visitors a map and guide of the battlefield, offering tips for making the most of an auto tour of the park.

The Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg also has a downloadable self guided tour brochure available for visitors.

In terms of free audio guides, Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art makes self guided tours available for their permanent collection, which includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Monet and Da Vinci.

In Europe, London’s British Museum offers a £5 audio guide that tracks the objects you visit, providing you with a digital souvenir at the end. They also offer a family-style guide for £6, which allows family members to complete challenges in a game-based setting.

Under the streets of Paris, The Catacombs provides a unique audio guide experience as you travel among the bones of six million people. It can be purchased in advance with an online ticket or onsite for €5.

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