Should you hire a guide when traveling abroad?
So you're traveling abroad to a new country for the first time. You're excited, but feeling a little overwhelmed since there is so much to see, do and visit while you're there. The big question now is should you hire a tour guide to show you the big sights and take you to places only the locals know about? Before you click book, make sure you check out this list of pros and cons of travel guides abroad!
When it comes to travel guides, you'll hear conflicting messages. Some people never travel anywhere without booking a guide while others prefer to explore on their own. There's no right or wrong way to travel abroad. It all depends on your budget, what you want to see and how much time you have! So, do you need a guide?
Immediate/VIP access to big sights and museumsWhen traveling with a guide, you are often privy to VIP memberships and access to things you wouldn't get a chance to see otherwise. For example, if you're traveling to Vatican City without a guide, depending on time and weather, you'll probably find yourself in a three- to four- hour line just to get into the Vatican. With a guide, however, you're put in a much shorter line for people on tours so you'll get in the door 75 percent quicker. In addition, many museums and big monuments work independently with local tour groups to provide their guests with discounts on more than just the sights, like food, drink and other attractions. Plus, many tour guides include payment to the larger museums when you book their services, which means you don't have to worry about paying out of pocket when you're there.
Personal service and safetyIf you're a history buff or love to immerse yourself in the culture of where you are visiting, a tour guide gives a personal look into what makes that country unique. According to Green Loons, guides can be as hands on or hands off as you prefer, which gives you the ability to take the time you want to see the sights but also learn about them from someone who is a specialist on that particular country or city. In addition, when you book the tour, you can work with the guide on creating a personalized and customized tour that fits what you and your family or friends want to do and what places you want to see. In addition to a personalized look at your destination, guides also help keep you safe during rather dangerous excursions, like safaris, deep sea diving or trekking through crowded, bustling streets. As stated in USA Today, guides are often given safety training courses before they are licensed, and are very familiar with the country or city's climate, temperature and terrain.
Ability to learn culture from a local
Tour guides go through training and certification courses before they can give tours and are often recruited locally, so they are well versed in the city/country's culture. In addition to knowing the history of the city, they are also knowledgeable about the new and exciting parts of the city or country, like new dining hot spots, popular clubs or shopping areas and new attractions. In addition, guides often give you a look at life as a local, so you are able to visit places that are less touristy and crowded.
Structured tours and tight timelinesOne of the pitfalls of traveling with a guide is they are often on tight schedules, and you sometimes are rushed through museums, attractions or places where you wish you could have spent more time. This is due to the guides working on set hours or being double or triple booked in a day. In addition, many tour guides are limited to a few attractions or places and aren't able to go off the beaten path. This means you could miss sights you or your family wanted to see originally. To avoid this, travel experts for USA Today recommend getting a guided tour for one day then exploring the city or country on your own the next. That way, you get the pros of having a guide and also get to learn about your destination through your own experiences.
Luck of the draw
When you're booking a guide through a large company, you sometimes run the risk of getting a rude, inexperienced or even pushy guide. Some companies don't give you the name or details of your guide until the day you meet him. Even if you love where you're visiting, a rude or overly pushy tour guide can ruin your entire experience. If you can, ask the company to send you a resume and references for your guide before you book so you can see if she/he is a good fit for you and your family or friends.
The biggest drawback to having a guide abroad is the price! Many tours are charged by the day, not by the person, so if it's just you and two other people, you're often paying the same prices as groups with double the people. Some guides even charge by the hour, so if you go over, you're charged an extra overtime fee which can be tacked on the end. If you're traveling alone or with just a few people, do research prior to your trip and ask for a detailed price breakdown before you book a guide. It may be more cost efficient to purchase a guidebook or hook up with a local guide through a social networking site, like Facebook or Twitter.
For more information on guides, check out this article by USA Today.