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When is Hiring a Tour Guide the Right Travel Choice?

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You’re getting ready to travel.  You’ve googled your heart out and still aren’t sure your if the choices are authentic, interesting or the overall best places based on your time and budget. You have a list, but it’s becoming overwhelming.

Sound familiar?

Meeting with someone, like a local tour guide, who has extensive knowledge of the area, the people and the history can be a great advantage to learning about a foreign land when traveling. They can offer you an insider’s perspective on the local culture.

How you go about hiring a guide will be based on a few factors: what you hope to gain out of your trip, your budget and how much time you’ll have while traveling.

When is it Right For You to Hire a Tour Guide?

When you have very little time and still want a meaningful experience

Sometimes we get overambitious and try to pack in too many stops in one small trip. Cities on a little map can look so close together when in fact it will often take a lot of moving, carrying bags, and waiting around to get from point  A to B. When you arrive in one city and realize you’re leaving in mere hours with so much to see, a tour guide comes in handy.  He or she can show you exactly what you wanted without the fuss of getting lost and confusing destinations (although these are sometimes the joy of traveling for some of us).

When the language barrier is, simply put, a barrier

A guide can be the liaison between you and local market places, street vendors, people and everything else wonderful you’ll want to experience during your trip.  Knowing the language can help move you along in so many places and help rid the frustration of confusion that often comes when traveling overseas.

When you are visiting a dangerous and chaotic place

Knowing the local language, roads, transportation, customs and cultures in some places can mean the difference between life or death.  A local tour guide can help guide you through places that otherwise would be a trap for a naive tourist.

When you are on a long stay somewhere 

Often times to get the lay of the land early on in your trip, a travel guide is a helpful accessory to show you around so you can make notes of the places you want to visit, or not for that matter, at a later time on your own.

When you are on an adventure trip

Tour guides can often offer life-saving advice on adventure trips, especially if they are indigenous to the area. Although there has been recent controversy lately over the Sherpas around Mt. Everest, these expert travel guides are required by the Nepalese government and ensure safety for climbers during their trek up the mountain.

When visiting a popular destination 

When visiting Athens, you may have the same idea as the millions of other travelers and want to step foot on the Acropolis or the Temple of Zeus.  A travel guide will know how to get around the crowds in these areas and the rights times of day to visit certain attractions.

When you’re on vacation and want to relax the entire time

 If you don’t feel like putting in the effort and time it takes to plan all the places you’ll want to see, hiring a local guide can alleviate the time and stress it would take to otherwise do so.

When Does a Tour Guide Become a Liability?

A good guide is an irreplaceable travel asset, a bad guide is a preventable liability. When you give over your trip to a tour guide, you have to trust that you’re in the right hands. However, there are plenty of cases of guides who are taking in kickbacks from the places they steer you. In some cases, a dishonest guide can steer you to overpriced restaurants, shops and vendors than can double or even triple the cost of your trip. Don’t second guess every selection, but know that you have every right to decide that you don’t want to go somewhere, or ask for an alternative. If a guide is overly insistent that you go to a particular place, consider that a red flag.

How to Hire A Guide

There are many things to consider before you hire a professional guide. For one, your tour guide should be someone who is local to the area, who truly enjoys living there. So how do you find such a person?

Hotels often have a working selection of guides that they recommend. Hotels also often plan guided group tours for travelers and arrange for safe travels. If you’re looking for a guide with specific skills–trekking, art history, scuba diving–a specialized travel agent usually has a complete resource of guides.

But don’t rush to sign on the dotted line. Staffer and globetrotter, Courtney Crockett suggests if the opportunity is available to meet with your tour guide ahead of time. Once you’ve arrived at your destination offer to meet with the guide for coffee and conduct a brief interview.

Here are her tips about topics to ask about:

  • Know the rate of the tour before going, make sure it includes mileage and gas
  • Set the schedule with the guide and let them know ahead of time you are not interested in visiting places outside of the agreed upon areas
  • Ask them if they will be alone or if anyone else will be joining them for the tour (this is especially important for solo travelers)
  • If you don’t have the time to meet up with the person beforehand, do as much research as possible online and asking around.  As an added precaution, pair up with someone else you trust on the guided tour.

Last, but not least, check around with friends and family, social media and other online resources for recommendations. Word-of-mouth and great experiences are things you will want to look for ahead of time.

By Irene Moore for