I believe that the currency of travel is time. Whether you are a first time traveller or a frequent flyer, you should seek to maximise your time, savour your great experiences while side-stepping the unpleasant ones. This is precisely why I seek out the services of a professional, knowledgeable and savvy travel guide whose job it is to meaningfully curate my travel experience.
Arguably, there are those who enjoy going it on their own. They are easy to spot, armed with fan folded maps, GPS, and pocket sized guide books, they prefer to seek out serendipity rather than have it be handed to them on a platter. Technology and connectivity makes it much easier for such a traveller, so do the reviews, tips, advisories which can be found on just about any app.
So what are the real benefits of incurring an extra travel expense by hiring a personal travel guide or even joining a small group tour and is it worth it? From my experience, the answer is a resounding YES! Here are 5 reasons why I think you should always use a guide when you travel.
1. Bridge the Language Divide
Not speaking the language can be a big deal when you travel. While the likelihood of getting around in a major city where the language on the street is not your mother tongue is good, there is one caveat: the more off grid you travel, the more difficult it becomes to communicate. Funnily even when you do speak the language travelling within a country where the dialect changes from town to town can be challenging, like in China, India and even some parts of Italy. In this case it’s easy to see how a local guide can be a valuable asset in helping you get around.
2. You’ll Save Time
Unless you are planning not to leave the hotel, then you can skip this part. But if your intention is to explore busy, crowded places then having a travel guide comes in handy. One bad turn, not getting off at the right station or standing in the wrong line may be common travel mistakes, but they can cost you valuable hours. Having someone to navigate you through the clutter saves not just valuable time but also energy.
Of course important to discuss with your guide are the sites you really wish to visit beforehand. They can purchase tickets in advance or make special arrangements according to your request. I usually schedule my guided session on the first or second day after I arrive. In that way, I get a general overview of the place and then time permitting I can always return at my leisure and linger on the things that real peaked my interest.
3. Put Your Safety First
Even in the biggest, brightest cities you can always find a dodgy area. I am not referring to guys in trench coats selling watches and selfie sticks, or aggressive hagglers with wide toothy grins that try to drag you into their stores. Instead, I am thinking of places that are off limits to tourists. The ones where you really want to avoid finding out from Lonely Planet that you maybe on the wrong side of town, while you are on the wrong side of town. Knowing where to go or not go, and when to leave is crucial at times; without being overly dramatic this information can help you get home. While a travel guide is by no means a bodyguard, a professional guide’s duty is to ensure your safety, as well as, limit your exposure to the unknown.
4. A Guide Enriches Your Experience
On my last trip to Sicily I visited a local chocolatier, it was so crowded it was impossible to even see the cashier. Amidst the chaos, I had a spontaneous idea, I wanted to get behind the scenes and find out how they made their magic. In less than two minutes my guide had arranged it all and I was whisked away into the kitchen. Without her connections, this experience would not have happened. A good travel guide can circumnavigate many situations and create their own magic. Part of which, is their ability to bring things and places to life, linking the present to the past. I always come away with a deeper appreciation of a place, but more importantly an understanding of how our world has always been interwoven.
5. Insider information Promotes a Sense of Belonging
There are details about a place that you would never read in a guide book, like the fact that wealthy Phoenicians used slaves to warm up their marbled toilet seats before they sat on them or that the nuns snuck meat into chocolate patties to satisfy the Lenten cravings of the priests. Having someone to share information about a community or country where they live, work and are rooted is priceless. Whether its local legends, unwritten history, or oral fables your guide will let you have the real scoop on things. They share information and also a sense of belonging.
So how do you find a professional travel guide? One of the best places to start is at your hotel. Usually your hotel concierge will recommend a guide that has been tried and tested. TripAdvisor or the internet are also good places to search, but be sure to check out the reviews before booking.
Travelling does not come cheap. Most of us save long and hard for our vacations so you may agree that cutting corners on something that could actually enrich your experience, save you time and leave you less exposed to the unknown is not the best travel decision. Trust me on this one, booking a travel guide either ahead of your trip or while you’re at your destination is absolutely worth it.