On the road, nothing really beats a good tip from a local on where to get the best ribs, catch a jazz show, or how to score tickets at a popular venue. Guide books invariably promise to give tourists the local scoop and routinely deliver mixed results.
Travel apps for the iPhone also often make that same promise to turn you into a local. Many of the guide apps I’ve checked out have decent information, but sometimes it’s a bit too niche – tipping you off to all the techno clubs in Miami – or too general, offering to be all things to all people.
PocketSherpa is a relative newcomer and it could be a good travel companion. The application is tied to the website Localyte – http://www.localyte.com – which seeks to connect travelers with “local people who are proud of where they live and want to share their local knowledge. The company dubs such folks “Localytes.
The app’s description promises to connect users with more than more than 40,000 locals in 7,000-plus locations.
Upon installing the app, you have to create an account by giving an e-mail address and creating a password. After that you see a nifty globe that you can spin with your fingers to find a country you’d like to visit. Or just let it spin on its own and periodically offer recent tips from Localytes in various countries.
Once you do pick a country, a menu bar at the top lets you see newspaper links, travel services, and wikitravel entries. You can peruse a list of Localytes or see a recent Q&A about the country. To narrow it down, there’s a search option to find the specific city you would like to visit.
Under the Localyte heading, you can post a question for the local experts. I asked for a recommendation of a good Indian restaurant in my hometown of Washington and two hours later had a suggestion. One of the neat things about the Localyte approach is that each posts a profile you can check out to get an idea of who your expert is. Many of them offer guide, transportation or other services.
You can make direct contact with them to ask about their area of expertise – whether tour guide, personal training, childcare or quite a few other options.
The direct connection to a local is intriguing. But it also raises some red flags, since you are essentially linking up with a stranger. The website, which does not vet its citizen experts, even warns: “The great majority of people in the world have good intentions. However travelers and tourists can be targets of crime or scams.
To help you judge whether you want to take the advice that’s offered, the website offers details about the Localytes’ backgrounds, including what they say about themselves and answers they’ve provided to others’ questions. The Localytes are also rewarded for their answers by the website’s community through an e-Bay-style reputation system.
Unfortunately you can’t access all that information through the app, but the app does present the Localytes in order of their ranking, as determined by the site’s readers. And if they are one of the top Localytes in their country, you’ll see a badge next to their name.
Since it’s free, it’s not too hard to give PocketSherpa a test drive to seek a local tip. Or just check out the Q&A section for your destination to get a couple ideas. For the adventurous, a Localyte could deliver that oft-promised local experience in an unfamiliar city.