Chicago Greeters give anyone a free customized tour of the Windy City

The city of Chicago sponsors one of America's coolest budget travel deals for tourists. It grants free tours of Chicago to vacationers who want one. The volunteer-fed Chicago Greeter program offers individual walking tours of two to four hours, customized to tourists' interests, at no cost.

The Windy City may not have many cheap hotels, but this free program, reserved with advance notice, goes a long way toward making up for that, since it gives a unique one-on-one chance to learn about the city's great architecture, culture, art and history.

Want to see where the best pizza is? The Greeters will show you (and your kids). Curious about Chicago sports institutions or mob landmarks? Dying to see the famous architecture of Sullivan? No problem. The volunteers can make it happen, and the only payment they request in return is your interest and your gratitude.

Chicago isn't the only major city to offer this little-known tourist perk. New York, Houston, and Toronto are other North American cities that will organize free get-to-know-us tours for you. San Francisco offers a steady slate of set City Guides walking tours that you can join for free with no notice whatsoever. Even Paris, which is unfairly smeared as an unfriendly city, has one of its own.

Greeter program aren't just about cheap travel. They're also about seeing a destination the way a local would see it, and getting to know it for what it really is, free of tourist traps and corporate homogeneity.

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