Most of us want the local experience while traveling; we want to eat the regional foods in the restaurants where locals line up out the door rather than hanging out in overpriced tourist-targeting establishments filled with fannypack and hawaiian-shirt-wearing tourists, but it’s hard to pull off well in a destination where you’ve never been.
Enter Urbita.com: a social travel website where information about local businesses and activities is provided by locals so you and your comrades can find the authentic local spots with the best cuisine, entertainment, and nightlife.
Launched in January, 2012, Urbita now reaches over 7 million monthly viewers and for good reason. When your friends visit a city or country with which you are familiar, Urbita helps to direct them them to your favourite restaurants and attractions and steer them away from tourist traps with overpriced and poorly prepared fare.
But what happens when you plan your trip to Buenos Aires, and no one you know has been there? Urbita links you to Buenos Aires locals who are passionate about their city and want to share their knowledge with you.
The process is simple. Users simply log on to Urbita.com and search for their destination city. Results may be filtered by activity and how ‘touristy’ the user would like to be. Photos, videos, and descriptions uploaded by users who have traveled to or live in the city are displayed and their locations are shown on maps.
Urbita isn’t just for travelers, it’s an outlet for those who love their home to share their expertise with the masses. Anyone can sign up, create a city board and share their dearest dive bars, beloved boutiques, or even the most efficient bus lines, taxis, or trains for getting to and from a football game. This is where it pays off to read a few boards before setting your travel plans in stone. One local’s idea of the best restaurant in town may not be ideal for you and the kids, and many people have different ideas of what “good nightlife” means.
Urbita has been published in English, Spanish and Portuguese since its birth in 2012, and has become very popular Latin American countries. The downfall of the site’s trilingual structure is that users struggle reading or translating boards written in other languages — or skip them altogether — thus missing out on potentially valuable information. The photos, maps and videos, however, are still useful regardless of the language.
Urbita isn’t for everyone. Some people simply don’t want to leave the poolside in their all-inclusive resort, and some people are more interested in comfort than authenticity.
Travellers seeking authentic cultural experiences, however, should definitely take a look at Urbita. The inside tips to be found are yet another tool in the arsenal of travellers seeking the local experience. On the flip side, locals now have the opportunity to brag about their towns and plug their favourite attractions, thus hopefully siphoning some of the tourism dollars away from corporate-owned tourist attractions and funnelling it toward small, locally-owned businesses. That is where this social network has the opportunity to not only help travellers, but also to help quality local businesses and economies.