VIDEOS OF Gen Z-ers and millennials—and their cats—may saturate TikTok, but spend enough time scrolling around the social media app and you’ll find yourself led to more surprising realms. Take the travel feeds, which offer a stream of fresh footage shot just about anywhere in the world. Type #travel in the search box and you can watch waterfalls gush in Iceland, elk amble across Wyoming, sunsets unfold in South Tyrol or hungry turtles on the prowl in Zanzibar. Many of the videos are goofy vacation snippets, but in the past few years, TikTokers have matured a bit. Now some are eager to show off their hometowns, which lets armchair travelers dig deeper into destinations and get a personal perspective on a place. While some of these TikTok travel guides simply serve as inspiration for trip-planning, others offer real-life tours, too. Here, we highlight five of the most entertaining.
Deep Dish on Chicago
In Chicago, Sherman “Dilla” Thomas, 40, centers his TikTok videos on the city’s African-American history, exploring topics like redlining, segregation and gang culture. Calling himself Chicago’s favorite neighborhood historian, Mr. Thomas also delves into street names, local architecture, notable figures and the history of deep-dish pizza. A ComEd area operator and voracious reader, Mr. Thomas joined TikTok in November 2020, hoping to find an outlet for his local-history obsession. “I just have to get the stories out of me I guess,” he said. Last year, Mr. Thomas began offering occasional in-person tours, guiding visitors around historic neighborhoods such as Pullman and Bronzeville. His two-hour bus tours stop at places like the Pilgrim Baptist Church, which some consider the birthplace of gospel music, and the Eighth Regiment Armory, where Black soldiers were based during World War I.
Enocha Edenfield, a freelance writer and social media manager in Savannah, Ga., also joined TikTok in 2020, and soon began offering virtual ghost tours. “People aren’t shy about their ghost stories down here,” said Ms. Edenfield, 40, who bolsters her tours of reportedly haunted cemeteries and homes with historical facts. “Once again, the truth is much more tragic than the fiction,” reads one of Ms. Edenfield’s posts about a house that she says was built on the site of an old burial ground for free and enslaved African Americans. She attributes the city’s affinity for spooky tales to its bloody history, marked by both Revolutionary War and Civil War battles as well as slavery, the yellow fever epidemic and hurricanes. Ms Edenfield launched a walking tour company in October offering private two-hour tours six nights a week.
Ranch Life in the Rockies
Another recent arrival to TikTok, Sonya Dodginghorse, 44, opened her ranch in the Canadian Rockies near Calgary to visitors last June. Ms. Dodginghorse, a member of the Tsuut’ina Nation, began posting TikTok videos to help promote the ranch’s equine therapy programs. The videos capture glimpses of Indigenous ranch life, with footage of local rodeos, day-to-day care of the horses and scenic horseback rides. In April, Ms. Dodinghourse plans to begin offering overnight stays for visitors.
Consider the Lobster
Off the coast of Maine, near Bar Harbor, Jacob Knowles, shoots his TikTok videos aboard his lobster fishing boat. Mr. Knowles, 28, said that during the pandemic he and his crew began goofing around with TikTok. Now he posts nearly daily, diving deep into lobster anatomy and behavior, touting the importance of sustainable fishing practices and showing off his “gnarliest” catches, including the fanged wolffish. A fifth-generation commercial fisherman, Mr. Knowles doesn’t offer in-person tours but he’s generous with insider tips on the region, which extend well beyond where to find a good lobster roll.
A Parisian High Flier
In Paris, Simon Nogueira rarely offers in-person tours either, which few visitors will mind. Mr. Nogueira, 28, practices the sport of parkour, or free-running, to leap across rooftops. He grants viewers a rare and stereotype-challenging bird’s-eye view of the bustling city via the video camera he straps to his body. As he put it, “Paris from the top of the roofs is a calm and restful Paris.” Mr. Nogueira is part of the collective French Freerun Family, which teaches private lessons indoors and outdoors for all ages and levels. Rather not backflip off a rooftop to take in the skyline? Mr. Nogueira recommends more conventional places to observe the city from above, including the top floor of the Galeries Lafayette, the Sacre Coeur basilica and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.
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Appeared in the January 15, 2022, print edition as ‘A World Tour, One TikTok at a Time.’