Taking a tour is a wonderful way to get a great deal of knowledge about a destination or a site in a short period of time. If you’re a traveler along the trendsetter end of the spectrum you may be thinking that guided tours aren’t for you – however, there are tour companies and guides that cater to almost every type of traveler. There are a couple of things to look for when you’re trying to pick a tour that can greatly affect your experience:
- Is the tour guide local? A guide does not necessarily have to be local to be a good guide, but it certainly helps them provide local knowledge and also helps keep some of your economic benefits in the community. It is incredibly helpful if a guide can pass on stories that they have learned over their lifetimes in the community.
- How big is the tour? There is nothing inherently wrong with large tours, but they tend to be less dynamic. This means that tour guides with large groups (greater than 10) tend to have a standard script for their tours and stick to it fairly closely. It can be tough to ask questions on large tours, and in many cases questions are restricted to the end of the tour – this is done simply because if everyone on a large tour asked questions the tour would go nowhere fast. On smaller tours(less than 10), guides can get to know their group and tailor their talks to the individual interests of the group.
- What is the make up of the tour group? This goes hand in hand with tour group size. If you are taking kids on a tour, they can quickly become bored with the standard tour script if it is heavy on facts and dates that they might not find interesting. However, if you are on a smaller tour with a quality tour guide, they will be able to include fun facts for kids that can keep them engaged, include more bathroom/snack breaks, etc. to make their experience enjoyable.
- Has the tour guide been trained? Similar to being local, training doesn’t necessarily make the tour guide, but in a lot of cases it helps. Just like any job, tour guides should be properly trained in customer service, topical knowledge that directly relates to the tours they guide, and in some circumstances, basic first aid and emergency preparedness. Training in any one of these areas can make for an enjoyable and safe tour for everyone.
My absolute favorite tour company is called Context Tours. Context offers very small tours that are designed for the intellectually curious traveler. Their tour guides all have at least a Masters degree (and in many cases a Ph.D.) in the subject matter for which they guide tours, meaning they have an incredible wealth of knowledge to share. Context tours are capped at a maximum of 6 travelers, so they can really get to know you and tailor their content to you. Because of this, they have no set scripts, which tends to lead to much more dynamic experiences. The only caveat is that their tours tend to be quite a bit more expensive than some other options out there, but I have never once regretted spending the extra money and have consistently had excellent experiences.