Global Greeters
Credit: Holger Leue / Getty Images

The best way to get to know a city isn't by following the tips in a guidebook or on an app. There is no substitute for a local guide, no machine or volume that can offer a cocktail of advice, opinions, and tailored suggestions. But how is a stranger in a strange land to find such a wayfinder? Simple: Look up a Global Greeter.

The first Global Greeter program was established in New York City in 1992 and the network of friendly locals has since expanded into more than 60 cities worldwide. The United States has chapters in Chicago and Houston, but Europe has the highest concentration of greeters, who also work in Australasia, Africa, Asia, and South America.

What can you expect? On a recent visit to Melbourne, which has the second-oldest greeter program in the world, we were shepherded around the city by Ian Hopkins, an urban transportation planner who enjoys spending some of his free time showing off his city. Ian guided us through the city's bustling central business district and down back streets abuzz with trendy restaurants, shops, and hangouts. Four hours after our walk began, Hopkins delivered us back to our meeting point. We were no longer lost and we suddenly had a kinship with the city (Go FC!).

Such an itinerary is typical – all global greeter programs follow the same basic format: The greeter visits are provided without charge and trips are undertaken on foot or via public transportation. Some greeter organizations won't accept tips or donations, but others do. You should offer to buy your new friend a beer along the way because that's just good manners.

More information: Find out if your destination has a Global Greeter program in place by visiting the network's website. From there, you can link directly to the city of interest and schedule your visit. Some organizations – the ones in Melbourne and Chicago – meet at the city's main visitor center. Others, like the one in New York, meet at a predetermined location close to the neighborhood you plan to wander around.