Wed, May 9th, 2012 - By

On Getting a Tour Guide… or Not.


Do you like to get tour guides on your trips? In the past couple of years, I’ve changed my mind. I use to be a bit of a tightwad when it comes to tour guides, thinking that I can just get what I need online and figure it all out for myself. It didn’t help that I’ve been burned by money wasted on some of those cheesy double-decker bus tours, not to mention being fleeced by “free” tours that include mandatory drink stops and forced tipping at the end.

But don’t do what I did and let the bad tour guides get the best of you. Sometimes a tour guide is worth it. Sometimes a tour guide is a must! Here are some tips on when to get a tour guide… and when not.

tour guide

When it Makes Sense to Get a Tour Guide…

  • When you’re pressed for time.  Tour Guides can take you on an express tour of an attraction, or help you save time – if you only have a few hours for something, you don’t have the luxury of just wandering around haplessly.
  • When there’s lots of details involved.  Historic locations or places that have a lot of detail can use a guide to help explain everything. For example, once I went on a guided hike where the tour guide explained how the adjacent volcano pushed the river all the way over to its current location, pointing out the difference in vegetation on each side of the river. It’s a small detail, but one we wouldn’t have appreciated without the pointer.
  • When the tour provides an otherwise unbeatable experience.  I’ve had experiences where tour guides can get you access to things you otherwise would miss. Or sometimes the guide IS the experience – like those part-boat-part-bus tours. If the tour makes for an experience you just can’t get otherwise, perhaps it is worth the effort.
  • When safety is at stake.  If you’re going to be heading into difficult territory – and by that I mean anything from hiking on rather difficult terrain, to going on an exploration in a rather politically unstable area. A guide can mean the difference between enjoying your trip and not making it back home!
  • When it’s required.  Sometimes, unfortunately, you have to. Try to check reviews or forums in advance to find out if the tour is worth it.

When to skip the tour…

  • When you’re just not that interested.  If you really aren’t going to listen or get excited about the topic, then why waste the money? Ditto if you’re extra tired and could do yourself a favour by catching a nap back at the hotel.
  • When there are plenty of other options.  Guided brochures or audio guides available? That might be a better choice for you. Options are always good.
  • When it’s FREE….  I always say you get what you pay for, so double-check when a tour is free. Is it free with admission tickets? Ok great. Tours that’s just free? Well, why? Who’s really paying for it? I very much dislike those free walking tours in many European cities, so definitely have your guard up and ask questions when it comes to free.
  • When the tour appears just as cheesy as it really is.  Check the reviews. As I learned personally, lots of tours out there are cheesy gloss with no real value. When in doubt, skip it.
Do you take tours on your trips?  If so, how do you decide whether to go or to skip?

Photos by: Redmond, Seth Anderson

Andy Hayes

Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Seattle, Washington. When not soaking up the Pacific Northwest lifestyle or enjoying life on the road, he is spending time hanging out on his own travel lifestyle magazine, Sharing Travel Experiences.

Posted : Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 at 10:00
Category : Holiday Tips
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