You work hard, and you probably don’t get much time off. That means your vacation time is absolutely priceless. While travelling is a favorite pastime of many, it can be stressful. If you’re not the type to camp out at an all-inclusive resort, and prefer instead to immerse yourself in other cultures, you know how difficult it can be to explore a foreign city. The language barrier, local customs, and general insecurity, can put you in some very uncomfortable situations. Luckily, there is an option to help you bridge this gap between exploration and relaxation. Hiring a local guide will give you the experience you desire, without the drawbacks you don’t have time for.
In 2014, I took a tour in Seville, Spain. As the tour wound on, I found myself falling more in love with the unique character and charm of the city. The intricate tilework, sublime gardens, and tales of royal intrigue kept me interested throughout. After the tour, the guide worked overtime recommending restaurants, bars, events, and places where locals go to hang out. Fast forward to 2017, and I have been living in Seville for 5 months with the intention to stay longer. I can honestly say whenever I have guests that I remember all the details of his tour, and take my friends to the same restaurants. His passion and love for this city infected me, and today he lives with a friend in a nearby flat. Taking a tour with a local is the only way to get a true feel for a city. Here are 5 ways hiring a local guide can help you enjoy your vacation:
1. Never Get Lost (Unless You Want To)
Getting lost in a city has it’s merits. There’s a genuine pioneer spirit, and exciting feeling that comes with not knowing where you’ll end up next. However, there’s also the danger of winding up in the wrong alley, or wasting a good deal of your precious time. Taking a tour with a guide will give you everything you need to navigate on your own. If you’re done being lost, head back to one of the monuments from the tour and retrace your steps, or have your guide mark your temporary home on a map. No more asking busy people on the street or hailing a desperate cab.
2. Eat Local
There’s more information on where to eat than ever, but how do you know the information is accurate? In heavily touristic cities, websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp are an echo chamber where tourists reinforce the opinions of other travellers. Who really wants to say that little bistro they ate at in Paris was overrated? These restaurants also cater to you with acceptably stylized food and Western style service. If you want a good recommendation, you won’t get it from a hotel (who often take kickbacks from eateries), or an antiquated book. You’ve got to ask a local, and your guide is there for you, even if it’s not a food related tour.
3. No Lines, No Crowds
Your guide knows what’s crowded and when. That’s because they’re recommending things they like to do, and nobody likes waiting in line. They know off-peak times to get a table at that small restaurant. They can sneak up to the window and buy your museum tickets in advance. Skip all the lines you can and visit more places than you imagined. You’ll come back with more photos, more experiences, and more relaxed.
4. Better Bars
Much like with restaurants, truly local bars are difficult to find. You go out at night to get a feel for the local music, and perhaps even speak with normal people in a relaxed, non-service environment. However, people are often extremely protective of their nightspots and tourists are certainly not hip. A good guide will direct you to friendly cosmopolitan environment that's inviting and authentic.
5. Make a Friend
Even better, if you and your guide get along, for the price of a few beers, they will might accompany you out for a night, as was the case for me. A guide can introduce you to their friends and before you know if you have a small network of people to talk to. While this is not always the case, it does happen. You’ll feel like a local, and you might even make a few real friends along the way.
The basic benefits of guided tours are obvious. Any guide can show you the sites, or dryly explain the history of a city. So, your next question is how do I get in contact with a truly independent local guide? Websites like TourHQ have comprehensive databases of tour guides to choose from. Simply tell your guide what type of a holiday you would like and they will craft the truly unique experience you deserve. Make it a point to pick someone who loves the city they are showing you. Be careful though, of this aspect as well, because if you’re like me, you may find yourself packing your bags for good.
Image credits: https://flic.kr/p/7V1EPm (Garry Knight, (CC BY 2.0))