So you’re joining the wonderful world of small-group travel. If you’ve already booked your place on an exhilarating adventure with TRIPS by Culture Trip, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what activities, food and accommodation lie in store. You may be wondering, though, who exactly are our Local Insiders? Well wonder no more. Here, we introduce you to three of them – from Iceland, Egypt and Costa Rica – to explain exactly who they are and what they do.
Our Local Insiders aren’t your average headset-wearing, clipboard-wielding tour guides. They are more like trusted friends with endless local knowledge of the destination they call home, and a passion for immersing others in their culture. They won’t just give you the lowdown on the must-see sights; they’ll also steer you away from the beaten path towards people and places that most travellers don’t get to encounter – especially when travelling alone.
You won’t just be following their lead and listening to what they have to say, either; you’ll get to know them as people and hear their own stories. They’ll enrich your travel experience with expert tips and suggestions on how to spend your free time – and surprise you with secret locations and traditional culinary treats.
Our Local Insiders all have great people skills and know-how to foster a positive and inclusive group dynamic throughout a trip. They’re used to interacting with all kinds of different personalities, and will go above and beyond to ensure everyone has the most authentic experience possible. Culture Trip caught up with three of them to find out more…
Ragnar holds the prestigious title of being our first Local Insider, leading the inaugural TRIPS by Culture Trip departure to Iceland in January 2022. He was also heavily involved in the planning stages of the Escape to Iceland’s Frozen Wilderness trip, which took place over five action-packed days.
How would you sum up TRIPS by Culture Trip’s five-day Iceland adventure?
It’s a really thorough introduction to Iceland, taking you to both the popular sights (such as the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle) as well as some cool, offbeat locations many travellers don’t know about. You also get to taste delicious local food that many people overlook. It’s amazing how many boxes it ticks for the amount of time we have. It’s all about facing up to the elements, immersing yourself in raw, beautiful nature, and diving into the history of the Vikings.
Could you tell us about your journey towards building a career in travel?
Getting outside and embracing the wild is a passionate pastime for me – I travelled extensively around the national parks of the US with my wife, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Now it’s something I relish when showing visitors around my home country.
What would you say to people who haven’t tried small-group travel before and are considering whether to give it a go with TRIPS by Culture Trip?
The TRIPS by Culture Trip concept draws the kind of people you want to travel and hang around with. The positive energy and overflow of happiness throughout the day makes it so easy to relax. I like small groups I can interact with closely, making things more smooth, personal, interesting and fun.
Do any particular moments stand out from the inaugural TRIPS by Culture Trip Iceland adventure in January?
We were debating whether to venture out to the Húsafell Canyon Baths or not, because the weather was crazy that night. In the end, despite the snow, wind and darkness, we decided to just go for it. It was so great to have a group who were willing to brave the weather and do it anyway. That made the whole experience even more epic.
Since graduating from university with a bachelor’s degree in Egyptian history, it has been a life goal for Ahmed Badr to turn his passion into a full-time profession. He’s now lived his dream for more than 15 years by showing travellers around his country – and when he was offered the chance to become the Local Insider for Culture Trip’s Pyramids, Temples and the Nile: the Ultimate Egypt Experience, the concept made complete sense to him.
Why did you take this particular career path?
I love sharing my local knowledge and stories with people who come to Egypt. In this job, I feel like a proud ambassador for my country. You get to know all different aspects about the country when you have a local by your side who is happy to share their culture and show you places you’d never find on the internet.
But one of the best things is getting to know people from all over the world and learning something new about life by sharing amazing experiences together.
What kind of food can travellers expect to eat on TRIPS by Culture Trip’s Egypt adventure?
In Egypt, we eat a lot of things you probably won’t find elsewhere and that you may have never heard of before. There are three dishes I would encourage anybody to try. Firstly, koshari, a mixed plate of rice, pasta, noodles, chickpeas, fried onions, garlic, tomato sauce and chillies. You basically take everything you have in the fridge and mix it all together. It’s an Egyptian classic.
We also have another dish called feteer, which is like an Egyptian version of pizza or pie. And then falafels, which, of course, you can get everywhere, but the ones here in Egypt are different from the rest and always fresh.
What’s your fondest memory from any of the tours you’ve run in the past?
I’ve seen some really amazing marriage proposals in my time as a guide. My favourite one was at the Abu Simbel Temples when one guy was ready to propose to his partner, but he realised he’d left his ring on the bus. It was an unfortunate moment, but we were able to sort it out. I changed the group meeting time and ran back to the bus to get the ring for him while he waited nervously and tried to act normal like nothing was going on. Thankfully, it worked out in the end. It’s something I will always remember from that trip.
What are the benefits of small-group travel for those who haven’t tried it before, and are perhaps a little nervous about how it’ll work out?
The most important thing is that it’s completely hassle free. There’s no pressure at all. Especially if you’re visiting a country where you aren’t so familiar with the language and customs, it helps you feel a lot more comfortable and confident when you’re doing it with other people. You know you’re going to be looked after really well at all times and in all situations. Being in the company of other travellers who share similar interests about exploring the world is always a great idea.
For Jose Hidalgo, Local Insider on our Pura Vida: a Jungle Safari of Costa Rica trip, the desire to build a career in travel began in his early teenage years.
What inspired you to become a tour guide in the first place?
It’s a long story. I learned English as a little kid here in Limón (a port city on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica). When I was 14, I started doing mission trips with people from the US as a translator and an interpreter. That was my first step into the tourism industry. I did that until I was 17.
Then I started selling local tours down at the port. A couple of years later, I got in touch with one of the big tour companies and, one day, a guide didn’t show up so they asked me to step in. After that, I started working in Tortuga National Park, which really helped me to develop in my profession. It was clear to me by then that I didn’t belong in an office! So I did some more specialist training, earned my tour guide license and since then I have been working with many different travel companies.
What personally motivates you to work in travel?
I left home by myself and went to the US for the first time to study international tour management in California. As well as showing people Costa Rica, it was my dream to explore the world. After a few years working around the US and the Caribbean, I came back to Limón with the intention of giving something back to my community.
Historically speaking, Limón is a province that feels somewhat separate from the rest of the country, economically and culturally, so I wanted to find ways to develop the tourism industry here. I like to share real, authentic experiences with people when they come to Costa Rica. Sometimes, tourists only see the developed side, and they don’t get a proper insight into the country. That’s why I like the name Local Insider, because we show them what it’s really like to live here.
How would you describe Costa Rica’s appeal as a travel destination to anyone who hasn’t been before?
Obviously we have incredible nature and wildlife here, but it’s the people that truly make Costa Rica what it is. They’re warm, friendly and helpful – it’s all about pura vida. That’s our local saying – pura vida – and we use it for almost everything: hello, thank you, goodbye, good morning, see you later… it’s our way of life. We try to enjoy a pure, simple life.
Another thing I love here is the fruit stands. I always stop by the local vendors and try to look for different tropical fruits that people might not be familiar with, like soursop or papaya. It really adds to the immersion and novelty of travel. I also like to get to know the vendors; to find out about their life, where the fruit is grown, how business has been during the pandemic, things like that. If I’m on a walking trail, I’m the kind of guy who will pull a piece of fruit from a tree, prepare it and encourage people to try it – fresh from the source.
What do you find most rewarding about being a tour guide?
I love being around all the different personalities. You’re always going to have that one person who is really enthusiastic and full of energy, and then you’ll always have someone who likes to keep a lower profile. I love to see the transformation in the group at the end of the tour and how everyone is like a family. It’s like they’ve known each other for ages and they’ve created long-lasting friendships. I’ve had guests who’ve remained close friends for many, many years thanks to sharing experiences together.
You bring together a group of people who don’t know each other, from different cultures and backgrounds, with different personalities, and at the end, everyone has a special bond. I don’t try anything in particular to break the ice. I like to just let it flow naturally and establish a positive energy. Stay chilled, stay relaxed and it’ll all come together nicely. Pura vida.
Ready for an adventure? Join one of our Local Insiders and a small group of like-minded travellers on one of our carefully curated TRIPS by Culture Trip – and steer clear of the beaten tourist path.