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I was really interested in taking a tapas food tour while in Spain to learn more about this particular aspect of their culture. Plus who am I to say no to food and beer? When WithLocals asked if I’d be interested in a tour in Madrid, I signed myself up.
I met up with my tour guide, Enrique, ready to hit the town and taste some tapas. Seeing as it was our first day in Spain, I was rather groggy and tired from jet lag.
As we wound our way through the streets of Madrid, he talked about the history of tapas and the role it plays in culture. While no one is completely sure of its origins, there are a couple of fun origin stories for it. One was to ensure workers, who would spend money on cheap beer rather than food, would actually eat preventing drunken workers and accidents. Another is the plate of tapas that would come on top of your drink would prevent dust and dirt from landing in your cup. Regardless of the origin story, tapas is an awesome thing.
On our tour, we visited three locations with a variety of items. Each plate was definitely small which is true to tapas style. Along with it came a small glass of beer. We tried a variety of items from Spanish tortillas (my favourite!) to croquettes (cold, but tasty) to sandwiches (a little disappointing). Most places were quiet with few patrons. I realize this is partly our fault for starting the tour so early (even though we started at 7!). Also, one of the places he normally visits was actually closed the night we were on our tour which was disappointing.
Talking to Enrique was fascinating. I was pretty out of it from lack of sleep, but my boyfriend is always full of questions and kept the conversation going. We talked about all sorts of things from basic tourist questions like the top things to see inside the Prado museum to personal stories like his experiences living abroad (he lived in LA!) to heavier topics like LGBQT+ rights in the country and the political situation in Spain. It was really interesting to hear about the world from such a different perspective and Enrique was an open book. He was just as curious about us as we were him.
It was these conversations that made me believe in the WithLocals mission. They aim to connect travelers with locals through food and experiences to create personal connections between people and build bridges between cultures. Getting to know a place on a deeper level allows for more immersive experiences. Not to mention, in a world full of violence, more knowledge of other cultures, perspectives and way of life cannot hurt.
So how does it work?
Their website allows travelers to look for and sign up for unique food, tours and activities with a local during their travels. Primarily, they offer experiences in Southeast Asia and select cities in Europe, with more popping up each week. It is a great way to get an experience beyond the typical tourist route.
Should you go on a tour with WithLocals?
Because each of the tours are run by locals based on their specific skills or knowledge, each city is a little different depending on its people. I found that there were a variety of tours available from exploring the city with a guide to cooking classes to food tours like the one I went on.
To decide on whether or not it is worth it for you to add a WithLocals experience to your itinerary, it’s best to look at what is available in the city and your comfort level in that city. It’s a great way to get an introduction when you’re in a new place or if you feel you need a guide to help you navigate a new environment.
Any other considerations?
While this can vary from tour to tour, don’t expect the food tour to be a meal. We had a couple nibbles, but it was far from being filling and we still needed to seek out some food after. I can imagine other food related tours where you enjoyed a meal at someone’s home would be more substantial.
Like many other services that operate using the sharing economy, the website offers the ability to leave reviews. After your tour, you’re prompted by their system to write one as well. Furthermore, the website also has verified hosts which means that a member of the WithLocals team has personally guaranteed the quality of the experience.
Payment is easy through the Withlocals website which uses Paypal or a credit card and you only pay once a host has confirmed your booking. After that, communication with your host is easy with their built-in communications system. It helps to keep phone numbers and emails private.
While it is unlikely that I would want to repeat the tour I went on, I think there is still value in the experiences you can get through WithLocals. However, it can be really hit or miss depending on the tour, the host and what you end up doing. My tour guide was fantastic and really knowledgeable, but the tapas side of things was a little lackluster.
Would you go on a local led tour? What would you like to see or do?
Disclosure: I was a guest of WithLocals. As always, opinions are my own.