I recently took a super quick trip to New York for the Travel+SocialGood Summit (now re-branded as Impact Travel Alliance). The theme of this year’s summit was sustainable tourism, focusing in on the UN Sustainable Development Goals set forth for 2017.
As with all good conferences, TSG set up a handful of tour options for the morning preceding the opening keynotes. Though they all looked like a lot of fun, I selected the Made in DUMBO Tour led by the local-to-Brooklyn expert, Dom Gervasi of Made in Brooklyn Tours.
The meeting point was the Eagle Storage Building, just over the Brooklyn Bridge. Having never done so before, I decided to set out a little early and got off the train on the Manhattan side of the bridge so I could warm up for the walking tour… by doing a little walking. From City Hall to Eagle Warehouse would have taken me about 30 minutes to walk, but I allowed for 40 assuming that I would want to take pictures. It was not enough time. I severely underestimated the amount of foot traffic and just how much I would love photographing all the interesting lines and shapes on the bridge. If you’re going to walk it, give yourself 50-60 minutes.
You’ll see the warehouse off to the right once you’ve crossed the bridge. You’ll also come to a point on the bridge walkway where you’ll think “Oh crap: Do I take these stairs that lead down to the left? Or do I keep walking straight and see if I can exit up there somewhere?” Take the stairs. It feels a little counterintuitive given the warehouse is on your right, but I promise that the stairs are the correct choice.
We met by the entry to the warehouse where Dom was hanging out with a clearly labeled binder. I’m not one to be shy walking up to strangers, but if you’re feeling a little timid look for the white binder (or you can also just look at the “About Dom” on his website–there is a very accurate picture).
Once everyone had arrived, we moved towards the water. We stopped by the DUMBO ferry terminal to learn a little about some of the surrounding buildings, the waterfront, and the boat/ferry system that had existed prior to the bridges and motorized boats that carry folks between the boroughs today.
We wandered along the waterfront, stopping to learn a bit about buildings and local staples like the Empire Stores (which as an industrial architecture enthusiast, I quickly became obsessed with) and Jane’s Carousel. We popped into a famous nearby sweeterie (a term I just made up) and as we were walking to our next destination, we came upon it…..
Typically, one would pose on this street in some high-fashion outfit paired with intense sunglasses. But nah…. the bridge is the star here. I was pretty surprised by the number of intentionally-dressed people were lined up (with boyfriends, friends, and in a few cases…. professional photographers) to get a “casual/candid” shot. All for the IG. • I had no time (nor inclination) to stop long enough to pose because I was on a pretty rad walking tour. More on that to come!
If you’re thinking “hmm… that looks familiar” its because that location- and angle- are all over Instagram. Though we only passed through for a moment, I saw no fewer than 7 different people waiting around to take a fashion-forward photo in front of the bridge (mostly ladies with patient boyfriends and partners in tow). If you want to stop, make a mental note and go back later rather than holding up the tour. I’m sure Dom would be more than happy give directions back after the tour ends.
We crossed under the bridge and walked into a few super cool shops run by locals. A great advantage of choosing a local tour company like Made in Brooklyn Tours is that they have the ability to get visitors into the most interesting cracks and crevices in the neighborhood. Even as an adventurous and curious explorer, our walk brought us into and past places I wouldn’t have given any thought without the context of a local guide.
Now, even though I have the enthusiasm to regurgitate everything I learned and saw, that would mean ruining the mystery for you, dear reader! So instead of doing that, lets talk about some of the benefits of looking and booking local…. tours.
You’re dealing with a person, not a corporation. Not that there is inherently anything wrong with corporations, but you have a better opportunity to ask the tough questions that locals have the best ability to answer. And also, the money you’re paying has fewer channels to travel, so you have the added benefit of knowing that the guide is fairly compensated.
You’re keeping business in the community. Regardless of whether its a walking tour or a food tour– your consumer dollar will benefit the community you visit.
They know the characters. They know where the historical figures lived, where celebrities shop, and who is roasting the best coffee. They’ll have the intel on the who’s-who of the area.
They’ve for the sharp eye for details. Tiny street art? Funny sign? All the intricate details that make neighborhoods so interesting are already on the guide’s radar.
They’re much more likely to go off script. When you book a tour, you need to assume that you’ll be following that tour pattern. However, there may be some cases (usually with private or small tours) that if you express an interest in a certain area (local art, great beer, industrial architecture, etc…) they may be willing to reroute a bit to walk you past something you said you like- or give a history they hadn’t planned on a specific building or landmark. At the very least, they’re usually able to point you in the right direction after the end of the tour. This is one major reason why its great to ask questions and actively participate!
One thing that I specifically like about the Made in Brooklyn Tours is that its really clear that Dom really cares about ‘keeping things Brooklyn’ and supporting small business. He has a great relationship with the shop owners we encountered- and he even utilizes a fair-trade ticketing company (how cool is that?!).
I highly recommend checking out one of his tours if you find yourself in NYC and wanting to go a little deeper with your exploration.
Here’s where you can find more information:
- What is your favorite type of city/walking tour? Architecture? Food? Breweries/distilleries?
- Have you ever utilized a local tour guide?
- What is something interesting you learned from a local along your travels? (Doesn’t need to be from a tour guide, just something you wouldn’t have learned if you didn’t stop to chat with a local)
[Also, just FYI – this tour was organized through the conference, so there has been no compensation – I just had a good time and am super into supporting small, local businesses!]