We’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the world. In some places, we’ve grabbed books or online guides to help inform our vacation agenda, but in others, we’ve shelled out the money for a private tour guide.
Here are six reasons you might want to consider taking the plunge and hiring a guide on your next travel adventure.
1. They Can Help You Navigate A Major Language Barrier
We’re big fans of learning a few words in the language of whatever country is next on our list: “Please” and “thank you” at the very least are musts in our minds. No one wants to be rude when they are away from home, experiencing another place.
That said, sometimes there are enormous language barriers that can be alleviated with the assistance of a local guide. For example, I studied French in high school and college and could cobble together coherent sentences when we were in Paris. The Romance languages are similar enough that I could do the same in Spain and Italy. But Budapest and Istanbul were another story -- the words and sentence structure were just too different for me to wrap my brain around. In both of these cities, we opted for a guide who helped us navigate the first couple of days on the ground, and it made a huge difference.
2. They’ll Point Out Cultural Differences
A guide can be a huge help when there are significant cultural differences between the place you’re traveling and what you’re used to at home. For instance, they can tell you what to wear -- or what not to wear.
Our guide in Istanbul let me know when and where I’d need to cover my head so as to be mindful of religious traditions and not stand out as a tourist. He also explained why we should always accept invitations to tea (not doing so among friends is rude; Turks make time for hospitality).
A guide in China explained that leaving chopsticks upright in my bowl was a big faux pas, since food offerings are made to the dead in that manner.
Having someone on hand to help you understand these differences can be well worth the cost.
3. They’ll Make Sure You Have A Hassle-Free Time
This is a factor that can make a big difference in your trip -- and one that might not immediately come to mind. Many guides have access to advance admission tickets to the biggest must-sees on your list. This means you’ll get to skip the line and walk right in, saving you both time and hassle.
A good guide will also take the guesswork out of dining, since they know where the locals go to eat (and their favorite dishes!). We’ve noshed at hidden gems around the world that we would never have known were there if it weren’t for our guides.
These folks are also in the know when it comes to transportation, and they’ll tell you how to get where you want to be, safely and swiftly. Guides we’ve hired have helped us navigate public transportation to the point where we felt comfortable enough to take it on our own.
All of these perks add up to a lot of convenience -- plus less worry and guesswork -- when you’re on your trip.
4. They Can Design A Trip That’s Perfect For You
While we love to hit the road, there’s no denying that new places can be overwhelming and tough to navigate -- literally and figuratively. Hiring a guide, especially if you’re traveling solo, can boost your confidence and comfort level during the experience. A good guide will take the time to figure out what’s important to you on vacation and will tailor your time together to those preferences.
Think of it this way: It’s a bit like having a local friend who will make sure you have a good time, hit all the highlights, and find the hidden gems as well. And in the very unlikely case of an emergency, they will be able to help you get assistance quickly and efficiently.
5. They’ll Tell You Everything You Want To Know About A Destination
Have you ever been on vacation, spied something interesting, and wondered exactly what it was, or why it was relevant? We certainly have! We are nosy when we travel. In order to really wring every last drop out of our trip, we want to know what we are looking at, who created it, its cultural context, and what the locals think of it. We apply this philosophy to everything -- from a memorial in a courtyard to graffiti on a wall to a painting hanging in a museum.
A private guide can provide this information; they’re like your own personal curator. They’re there to answer any questions you might have about their city, region, and country. So, ask away! You’ll get an insider’s view and more knowledge than you thought possible.
6. They Can Direct You To The Best Shopping Opportunities
Part of what makes travel so much fun is finding souvenirs for yourself and your loved ones. They will remind you of your trip for decades to come, or let others know you were thinking of them along the way.
Unless you really do your homework, finding quality items from reputable local artisans can be tough. But a guide can steer you toward crafts that are unique to their town, from moldavite jewelry and marionettes in Prague to the best paprika in Budapest and Iznik ceramics in Istanbul. True, they might be getting small kickbacks, but we haven’t minded because we’d rather pay for good quality instead of cheap trinkets not even made in the country we visited. Trust us: Your guide can be a great shopping assistant!
Despite all the benefits we’ve detailed above, it can be strange to basically invite a stranger into your vacation to take an active role. We’ve always found it to be a great experience and the best way to really dig in to a new city or country. If you are willing to make a new friend on your travels and trust them to make your time together special, then you’ll likely find that hiring a guide is completely worth the money.
We understand that not everyone is as gregarious as we are, so if you’d rather not socialize with someone new on vacation, the splurge might not be worth it for you.
A Few Things To Keep In Mind Before Hiring A Private Tour Guide
First, go through a recommended, reputable company. A quick online search will give you a feel for the offerings in a city and what fellow travelers have to say about their service. Many countries license their tour guides to ensure quality, and we’ve had terrific luck with agencies that employ university history majors as their guides.
Second, make sure that you have a full accounting of how your time will be spent each day you’re with your guide. Make sure that your admission tickets are indeed included in the daily cost, and make sure you meet with your guide -- perhaps over breakfast or coffee on your first day -- to discuss what’s most important for you to see or do.
Last, don’t forget to tip generously for good service. If you have engaged a guide for multiple days, tip at the end of your time together. Also consider paying for your guide’s meal when you stop to eat -- they will appreciate it!