Perhaps it's the American mindset of independence, but the concept of working with a travel guide is not as popular for seasoned travelers. I admit that for many years, I was of the belief that traveling on my own offered the most authentic travel experience given that I could vacation without a schedule or a timeline – and not be bothered by a so-called expert guide.
In addition, since my research skills are pretty decent, I felt comfortable scouring guidebooks and online destination websites to come up with my own itinerary. But, I was wrong.
Traveling on my own worked until the hotel I made a reservation for was not as advertised (even with the use of Trip Advisor) or the restaurant listed in the guide was closed or the popular activity was booked solid for the next 3 days. This is not including all the museum or historical site visits to which a group tour just didn't provide that level of local, interpretational knowledge necessary for understanding the context of what I was seeing.
When I think back, the best travel experiences have been when I had a private guide for a tour through Bangkok, Sitka, Chiapas, Alonissos, or even Costa Rica.
Over the years, I've realized some of the advantages for working with a guide:
- Personal Service - guides can be as hands-on (or hands-off) as you prefer. If you want a guide to accompany you to all the museums, historical sites, and local activities to get an insider's view of the area, then you can receive that superior service – without having to pay a lot of money.
- Flexible Schedules - guides work in accordance with your preferences and tastes. If you want to extend your stay in a particular area for an additional day to relax, go to an art museum, attend a special performance, learn about a local tradition, eat at a local restaurant or see another historical site, your guide can ensure that the day will be in accordance with your tastes.
- Licensed Personnel - reputable guides are licensed by local tourism authorities after having received additional training in languages, history and current issues. Therefore, you can ask as many questions as you want. As an example, our guide in Chiapas, Mexico (pictured above) was getting his Masters in Social Anthropology and explained to our small group of six how Catholicism and Protestantism over the centuries played a major role in the development of the small communities we passed as we made our way to the Tonina Archeological Site. Then, at Tonina, he explained the significance of the Mayan architecture, community layout and traditional customs.
- Better Access - small groups whether it is you and your loved ones or a group of 10 are able to venture into areas that an independent traveler or larger groups cannot, thereby enabling you to have a more unique travel experience.
- Look Like a Local – it just goes to show that if you travel with a local, you'll look like a local yourself, which adds to the authenticity and fun of the travel experience.
Of course, as with everything, no two guides are alike and one person who professes to be an expert guide may not be an expert at all. Here are a few questions to ask to weed out the professional guides from
- Is the guide licensed and by which government authority?
- Is the guide licensed only as a driver/commentator or as a walking tour guide as well?
- What training has the guide received?
- Does the guide speak English (or French, German, Italian)?
- Would the guide be able to offer assistance with restaurants and other activity suggestions?
Guided travel as well independent travel (which offers access to a local guide but not one that accompanies you to all the sites) is offered on all Greenloons trips. However, if you are traveling through Europe and prefer access to a guide for a certain portion of your trip, the website Private Guides in Europe may offer some assistance.
There are reputable local guide services available all over the world. That being said, a guide when chosen correctly can greatly enhance a travel experience.