Before you start envisioning your standard tour guide standing in the front of a crowded bus full of tourists – much like a moving fish tank for the locals to gawk at – barking out boring facts about things you couldn’t care less about, there are many different types of travel guides.
Many travel guides these days are independent, self-promoting individuals who are experts in a particular area. They usually take very small, intimate groups to see those sights and restaurants that only the locals know. Even travelers who prefer checking out things on their own may find that hiring a private tour guide, especially when you have a short amount of time and don’t know your way around, is the best way to really enjoy your time in a particular place.
There’s no right or wrong way to travel to and in a new region of the world, but how you go about it depends on a few factors:
- Your budget
- The amount of time you have
- What you want to see and do
The kind of travel guide we’re speaking of here is not one of the fast-talking touts who pester anyone with a suitcase at the local point of entry. Instead, we’re talking about a real live local who knows the area you are visiting and can take you to the places you never knew existed – even introduce you to the locals.
1. Immediate access to things you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise
Something you may not know from the travel books is that many museums and monuments round the world work with independent local travel guides whom they can trust to bring in visitors and not require the services of the on-site staff too much and as a result, they’re more willing to allow privileges to those traveling with a known travel guide.
When traveling with a travel guide, you’re often privy to access to things you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. For example, if you’re traveling in Rome and want to see the Vatican, you’ll wait for hours in a line but with a guide, you’ll get in a lot quicker. A local tour guide will also best understand the quickest ways to get around the new area just like you know how best to get around in your home town.
2. The ability to learn about the culture from someone on the inside
One of the first and most important benefits of hiring a local travel guide is the chance it gives you to learn about the culture from someone on the inside.
A good local travel guide will be able to explain the local culture – that is, why people are doing what they do every day – from the insider perspective. They should also make sure you, as a foreigner in a new place, don’t feel out of place.
3. The flexibility to tailor your travel to what you want to see
While most travelers think of standard tour buses packages when they think of the term tour guide, there are many private travel guides who will tailor the experience to include the sights and attractions you want to see instead of taking the standard tourist route.
Hiring a private tour guide gives a traveler an individual experience with a personalized touch and avoids the crowds. Plus, in most cases, the tour price includes discounted admission into the attractions as well as all of the subway, bus, taxi and even boat fares – a fact that can help offset the cost of hiring a private travel guide to the budget traveler.
4. Insight, companionship, and a little more security
In some places of the world, the bureaucracy and red tape makes it difficult for a foreigner to get anywhere; in other places, it’s simply not safe to travel alone. For many travelers – and especially solo travelers – the value of having a local expert show them around and negotiate with the locals is priceless.
Of course, the added security of 1. knowing where you’re going (or at least looking like it with a guide striding by your side), and 2. having another person along with you when you explore means a little extra security. No one plans to get robbed or kidnapped, but it’s much less likely with a local at your side.
When should you hire a private travel guide?
There are some trips when it really helps to hire a private travel guide. These include:
- When you have very little time. Business travelers have learned the value of a private tour guide when they have just a little time in a place and still want to have a meaningful experience.
- When you are visiting a relatively dangerous or chaotic location. Anyplace with a reputation for being dangerous or unpredictable means a private travel guide can help keep you safe and out of tough spots.
- When you are visiting a particularly popular location. A private tour guide will know the tricks and tactics to help yoy get the most out of a heavily visited location by going before or after the crowds, for example.
- When you’re on a long stay and want to really know the area. Hiring a private travel guide at the start of a longer stay can help you get your bearings for the area and will often leave you with a list of things to explore on your own.
- When you’re taking an adventure trip. Unless you’re an expert at your chosen activity and the local region, weather, and topography, hiring a guide could be a matter of life and death. In some regions, foreign visitors are required to hire guides.
- When you want to hand over the boring logistics. The hassle of obtaining tickets, timing reservations, checking operating hours and figuring out the details is easy stuff for any experienced travel guide and often paying them is simply worth it for the value you get.
- When the language barrier is too severe. When you don’t speak the local language and the locals are unlikely to speak yours, hiring a private tour guide can be invaluable.
Finding a good travel guide can be a challenge since many don’t have a website or market themselves. Often, however, asking other tourists or the locals once you get there can garner a good recommendations. Some websites have begun popping up to advertise local guides as well as giving you an idea of their credentials.
What should you look for in a travel guide?
A good tour guide will have been living in the region for some time because they chose to. They may have grown up there and never wanted to leave, or they may be foreigners themselves and found the region you’re visiting and became a local. Either way, there’s a reason they are where they are and doing what they do – it’s because the love the area, they know the area, and they like sharing it with others.
Just remember while a travel guide is especially helpful when you don’t know the local language, the common language of smiling and knowing a few basic words and phrases will get a traveler pretty darn far too.