As I stood gazing at the confusing maze of concrete walls in front of me, despite the solemnity of the moment, all I could think of was, “Dang, I am so glad we hired Eric!”
The truth is, as a vivacious reader and avid traveler, I grew up and spent much of my teens and twenties traveling sans tour guide. After all, I thought, what’s the point? I thoroughly research everything before I go to navigate the city, I have Yelp for restaurant recommendations and places to stay, and the rest I can figure out on my own, right?
But that was life before Eric. Eric was our tour guide in Berlin that was leading a group of us around the city. And as much of a WWII buff as I am, I don’t think I would ever would have been able to uncover the city like Eric did. He not only showed us the city, but also how to experience the city.
Pros of Having a Tour Guide
Since traveling with Eric, I’ve learned that there’s plenty of reasons why traveling with a tour guide is a great option for just about any country you visit. Through my own experiences, as well as friends and other travel buddies I’ve met on the road, I’ve discovered that the pros of having a tour guide are pretty much unanimous despite the variety of circumstances.
1. It is Safer
Because I tend to budget on the cheap, I’ve traveled through my fair share of shadier countries where being a young, blonde woman made for a very easy target. Travelling in a group is one way to increase safety, but having a tour guide who is local to the area is the best way to decrease risk when traveling. When you travel with a tour guide, other potential threats see you as already marked, and tend to leave you alone. Tour guides also know which areas of town to avoid, and speak the language fluently. When I was traveling through Colombia, having a tour guide was essential, as my Spanish consisted of counting to 10 and asking where the bathroom was; and American travelers at the time were a big target for potential trouble and threats.
2. They do the Legwork
Visiting a country that’s a bit more off grid than England requires a plethora of visas, medical shots and vaccines, passes, and handfuls of other paperwork. Once you’ve finally taken care of all the logistics to just get to your destination, the last thing you want to do is track down and fulfill even more paperwork to do things there, like fishing or camping, both of which can require permits. Luckily, tour guides often take care of all of the paperwork associated with the activities; because they already know the system they can take care of it properly and much more efficiently than you or I would be able to. Plus it leaves you more free time to enjoy your travels!
3. It Deepens Your Experience
Seeing a famous ancient building like the Parthenon or a world marvel like Lake Hillier is one thing, but it is the story and the history behind these places, the why and how, that truly makes your trip worthwhile and stand out in your mind. The more understanding you have of what you see, the more you appreciate it. That’s pretty much the entire point of school, and your education should only increase once you leave the classroom. While you can try to read every guide book and area history your local library provides before heading out, hiring a tour guide is a great way to learn on the go and see things in person as you learn. Tour guides can ignite your passion and imagination in a way that isn’t possible without the knowledge they provide.
4. You Get the Inside Scoop
There’s plenty of places you can, and by all means should, visit that actually require a tour guide to be present, and are only accessible to those on guided tours. Joining a guided tour is a great way to be able to access remote corners of the globe, hike hidden trails, and see the inside of famous buildings and museums around the world, from hiking Shackleton’s Walk to exploring the Waitomo caves in New Zealand.
Cons of Hiring a Tour Guide
Of course, as is the case with nearly everything else in life, tour guides aren’t the best fit for every moment of your travels. In the wrong context, hiring a tour guide can inhibit rather than benefit your experience.
For instance, on the same trip in Southern Germany in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a tour guide we hired wasn’t the greatest fit for our needs. For one, he was very expensive, and the extra cost put a burden on our small group. For another, he ran late and then had to rush us through the town in order to be on time for his next tour, which didn’t give us a lot of time to really experience what we were seeing and discovering. He also ended the tour by pointing us in the direction of a shop which he was clearly seeing commissions from, rather than suggesting places that were actually of value.
Hiring a Tour Guide is an Investment in Yourself
That said, out of thousands of miles of travel and plenty of tour guide experiences, from full-blown safaris to city walking tours, I’ve only had one bad impression. For the majority of my trips, the cost of the tour guide was one of the best investments in my travels and in myself I have ever made.
Hiring a tour guide helped me to learn more, appreciate the places I visited, and try new things I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. I made great friends all over the world and found that the extra cost and time commitment was a small price to pay for all that I gained.
Considering hiring a tour guide? It just might be the best choice you will make.
Bryn Wied is a full-time travel writer/blogger from Lake Tahoe, California. She's authored several travel articles and her work has been featured on many travel websites and publications. When she's not writing, she's usually on the road travelling across the world with her hubby, Matt and their daughter, Jamison.
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