Tour Guides vs Guidebooks: 10 Reasons Why Humans Win Everytime

In Stories
Guidebooks may be packed with pretty pictures and fast facts, but they’re not going to take you off the beaten path and they’re certainly not going to help you avoid the crowds. (Especially when every other traveller has the exact same guidebook.) If you’ve had your share of average holidays and your photo album is packed with run-of-the-mill pictures, it could be time to consider hiring a guide for your next adventure. Not only do tour guides uncover hidden gems in any destination, but they’re also passionate about what they do and they’ll help you get the most bang for your buck. But don’t just take our word for it; we asked half a dozen guides from across the globe to share their thoughts on why guides have a hand up on travel books. Here’s our list of the top 10 benefits of hiring a guide.

1.  Make the Most of Your Time

As the saying goes, you can make more money but you can’t make more time. So when it comes to those precious holiday hours, you want to make the most of what you’ve got. According to Jenny Phillips from Murder Mystery History Walks that’s where tour guides come into the picture. “Guides are mindful of economizing time whenever possible so tourists don’t have to waste valuable time getting lost and trying to find their feet in a new destination,” she says. Gary Scott from Right Path Adventures says guides also turn average holidays into awesome adventures by showcasing the best of what’s on offer in a fraction of the time. “I have done all the research to make sure that my clients can see the best of what is on offer in just a couple of days without making all the mistakes I have,” he says.

2. Tailor Your Tour

Not all tours start in front of a crowded bus with a driver barking out boring facts – most guides will bend over backwards to suit their client’s needs. Michael Fox from Boyne Valley Tours says one of the biggest bonuses of small group tours is that you can set the pace to suit your style. If museums aren’t your thing or shopping isn’t your bag, give it a miss. Most guides will tailor tours to suit your interests if you let them know what you have in mind. “Most guides operate at a pace that suits the customer, and no two tours are exactly the same. I find out what people like and suggest changes to the tour as we go along,” he says.

3. Gain Behind-the-Scenes Access

A bit of research and planning can go a long way when you’re preparing for a holiday, but it ain’t going to get you behind the scenes access. Many tour leaders work alongside major attractions to provide exclusive customer access, meaning that guides hold the key to some spectacular sites that are closed to the general public. In fact, there are a number of destinations which are completely off limits without a guide — check out our list of the Top 10 places you can’t see without a guide. Whether you’re after a city tour or an adventure getaway, tour guides can take you there. You’ll also experience sites that you wouldn’t otherwise see, and bring home better photos to show off to your pals.

4.  Get the Low Down from a Local

Guidebooks provide a great overview if you’re traveling to a new destination, but there’s only so much a book can do. Jenny Phillips says tour guides know the best picks from the bunch and they’ll help to “fill in the blanks” where guidebooks fall short. Meanwhile, Crystal Langford from Kootenay Horse and Carriage says guides provide a more personal and authentic experience because they often have a connection with the place they operate their tours. “Historical and geographical facts are good to know, but stories from locals make guests feel like they’re part of the community, even if only for a day,” she says. Crystal also points out that guides aren’t in it for the pay cheque. “They do it because they love what they do and they want to share it with others,” she says.

5. Travel Safely

You can have too much of a good thing on any holiday, but safety isn’t one of them. You’ll never regret having too many safety precautions up your sleeve if anything goes belly up on your next adventure. Captain Tom with BC Whale Tours says traveling with a guide provides customers with piece of mind that they’re safe, even if they are completely out of their comfort zone. “If sh*t is about to hit the fan, a guide is going to be a lot more effective than a book,” he says.  Gary Scott says hiring a guide is worthwhile if you’re planning to try adventure activities like climbing, trekking, scuba diving and rafting. Not only are they familiar with the terrain and weather conditions, but they are also aware of danger zones and are equipped with the knowledge to get you out of trouble if things turn sour.

6. Access Up-to-date Info

It’s not much good traveling with a guidebook from the 1980’s, and even the latest resources can have outdated information which may cause a few hiccups in your holiday plans. Captain Tom says teaming up with a guide will minimize your chances of being thrown off course, as they are privy to the latest information and insider knowledge. “I wouldn’t rely on a guidebook as my only source of information, as it is usually just one person’s opinion who explored that area for a brief time. They can also be out of date as things are always constantly changing,” he says. Whether you’re looking for concerts, opening times, restaurant info or venue locations, guides will keep you in the loop.

7. Push your Boundaries

The best memories are made when you step outside of your comfort zone, and tour guides are great at breaking the shackles. Whether that means trying something new on the menu, hiking a challenging trail or shredding new terrain on the ski slopes, guides will help you to exceed your expectations. In fact, ski guide Crystal Rose-Lee says that’s the best part of her job. “The best tours are when you have a group of open-minded people who are willing to try something different,” she says. “We [guides] love sharing our passion with people who are keen to learn and laugh as they go.”

8. Skip the Queues & Avoid the Crowds

One of the easiest ways to chew through your valuable holiday time is to wait in queues and jostle crowds. But don’t despair; this one is easily avoided by hiring a tour guide. Many guides can provide VIP access to popular tourist attractions, meaning you save time and cover more ground. For instance, the Vatican Museums have a separate entrance for tour guides, and visitors to the Palace of Versailles can shave up to two hours off waiting times by traveling with a guide. Tour guides also know the quickest ways to get around town so you can avoid elbowing your way through the throngs.

9. Break Through the Language Barrier

A smile goes a long way when you’re traveling in a foreign country, but it won’t order you dinner and it won’t help you with directions. A language dictionary may help find you a bathroom, but a tour guide will make your life a lot easier when you don’t know a lick of the mother tongue. And if you need to purchase climbing permits or fishing & camping licenses on your holiday, things can get hairy if you don’t parlez the language. Tour guides not only break down the language barrier, but they also have a better understanding of how local systems work and they’re less likely to be cheated.

10. Sit Back and Relax

Holidays are all about escaping the daily grind, but between flights, hotel bookings and transfers, they can quickly become more stressful than work. By hiring a guide you can sit back, relax and enjoy the views as they take care of the rest. Michael Fox from Boyne Valley Tours says this is where tour guides are worth their weight in gold. “Guides can provide the full package, including transport, guiding, local knowledge and companionship for solo travelers and family groups,” he says. Meanwhile, Captain Tom says guides not only take the guess work out of your holiday, but they are passionate about what they do and they want to show you a good time.

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