Know Before You Go: Tour Guides Share Their Top 10 Travel Tips

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Tour guides know a thing or two about work/life balance; many of them travel the globe showing travelers the best picks from the bunch. But there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work involved, and tour guides encounter the same challenges as every other traveler – language barriers, lost passports, flight delays, and the perpetual struggle to find the best trip at a reasonable price. We asked half a dozen guides from across the globe to share their hard-earned travel wisdom so you can take a page out of their book on your next adventure. Happy travels!

1.  Read up on Local Customs and Etiquette

You can get away with wearing a itty bitty bikini on the sandy beaches Down Under, but you’ll raise a few eyebrows if you rock the same outfit in Dubai. Every culture has its own customs and traditions, but it’s up to travelers to do their homework before heading to a foreign destination. You don’t want to be the one who gives a “thumbs-up” sign in Iran where the gesture roughly translates to “up yours,” and you should probably avoid waltzing around Asia with your shoes on inside when it’s considered obnoxious to do so. Suzanne Rushton with Vancouver Photowalks recommends reading up on local customs before you go to avoid potentially awkward moments. “I’m glad I found out that it’s improper to show your shoulders in Indonesia before I went so I could pack accordingly and be respectful of the Islamic culture,” she says. This is what guidebooks are for: do a little research before you leave and it’ll go a long way to improving your travels. Just be sure to ditch the guidebook when you arrive and hire a guide who’ll give you a way-more profound and entertaining experience.

2.  Sort out your Phone or Data Plan Ahead of Time

Bragging rights are part of the appeal of any holiday. Whether you’re planning to pin brag-worthy shots on Facebook, tweet your travel tales or call your pals back home, it pays to set up a phone plan ahead of time. International roaming can cost a pretty penny and you don’t want to find a whopping phone bill waiting for you back home because you received a few phone calls and didn’t change your internet settings. If you’re planning to make calls or log on to the net, check with your cell provider beforehand. Gary Scott from Right Path Adventures recommends that travelers should turn off their roaming features and stick to wireless networks when traveling abroad. Alternatively, you can just turn off your phone altogether and savour the moments with your new friends.

3.  Check the Weather Before you Go

As Aussie rock band Crowded House so eloquently put it, “Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you.” However, Mother Nature doesn’t always play ball, so it’s best just to check the weather before you head off. John Barry from Capital Personalised Tours in New Zealand says travelers to his neck of the woods should be extra mindful of the UV rays and wear loose clothing that covers arms and legs, a wide-brimmed hat, or, at the very least a high-SPF sunscreen. (The ozone layer is thinner in Australasia and Antarctica.) Andy Hunter from Storybikes in Scotland has one piece of advice: “It’s a wise person that carries a coat on a fine day”. Meanwhile, Mia from Brewery Hops of Ireland says travelers can’t always expect to see sunshine in the midst of summer where she’s from so it’s important to be prepared for anything. But keep your chin up, she says; “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing and the wrong attitude.”

4.  Call your Tour Guide

Traveling in numbers can be a mixed bag; you can meet life-long friends or end up playing a perpetual game of “dodge that guy with the annoying laugh.” If you’re planning a longer getaway, Gary Scott from Right Path Adventures says it’s worth talking to your guide once you’ve booked your trip to discuss your goals and expectations for the tour ahead. “A guide will usually bend over backwards to help you accomplish what you want to do if they know ahead of time what your expectations are,” Gary says. Meanwhile, Ray Andrews from Boutique Tours Australia says talking with your guide will allow you to determine whether the tour lines up with your expectations. His advice: “Don’t turn up on the day with a wish list and find the tour is not for you.”

5.  Grab yourself a Decent Camera

A point ‘n shoot camera is a great way to fill up your photo album, but you’re not going to bring home the money shot with a pocket-sized camera (or your phone), according to Ray Andrews from Boutique Tours Australia. Sure, you can have a camera with all the bells and whistles and still shoot dud pics, but you’ll certainly increase your chances of capturing great shots with a fancier set-up. Ray’s secret is to leave the compact camera at home and invest in a decent-sized lens. “If you want to take good wildlife photos, don’t expect too much from a compact camera. The bigger the lens, the better the shot.” Photography guru Suzanne Rushton recommends taking as many pictures as you can to boost your chances of capturing great shots. If you’re still struggling to get those excellent photos, though, consider joining her on an informative photo tour.

6.  Don’t Forget your Cables

It goes without saying that you can take the fanciest camera on your travels, but it’s not much help without a charger or spare batteries. The same goes for your laptop, phone and e-reader. As a self-confessed digital diva, Suzanne Rushton’s hot tip is to pack your cables so you can charge your gadgets on the road. “I need adapters, cables and power… I’m the one at the airport sitting on the floor next to the outlets and I love when airplanes have USB jacks,” she says. A universal travel adapter is another handy tool that will keep your laptop and iPhone juiced up while you explore foreign countries.

 7.  Check that your Guide Ticks all the Boxes

Regulations differ across the board, but it’s good to bear in mind that some guides require certifications to work in the guiding biz. Mehlika Seval from MeliTour in Turkey says it’s worth checking that your guide is licensed before you hand over your hard-earned cash. While this does not apply in all countries, there are government requirements in countries such as Turkey and Japan which stipulate that guides must be licensed or registered to practice. Mehlika says it’s worth checking the status of your guide to ensure they are practicing by the book, and to avoid the chance of your tour being cancelled at the last minute.

8. Read up on your Visa Status

Don’t let your holiday end before it begins. Be sure to check the visa requirements for your travel destination before you jet off. Our well-traveled guides also suggest getting onto this one sooner rather than later, as the visa process can take longer than you think. Visas for some countries such as Norway for example can take several months to come through, while other countries will allow you to buy a visa when you arrive at customs. Bear in mind that visa conditions change from year to year, so it’s a good idea to read up on the requirements even if you’ve traveled to the country before.

9.  Pack Smart

Shoes or boots, jacket or pullover, exercise gear or dancing shoes? Packing can be tough, but let’s be honest; half the stuff you lug with you doesn’t make it out of the suitcase. Less is more when it comes to packing your suitcase, but there are a couple of clever knick knacks that have a special place in any travel kit. Gary Scott carries headphones, a book, eye shades and a headlamp with him everywhere on his travels, while Suzanne Rushton swears by a scarf and FM radio transmitter for her iPhone. But most of our guides agreed that ear plugs were a must if you’re traveling on the road. Not only will you get some shut eye on the plane, but you’ll be well rested for the duration of your stay.

10.  Buy Travel Insurance

If you’re considering traveling without insurance, consider the axiom from Murphy’s Law book; anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. If you head off without insurance, that overseas adventure can turn into an expensive nightmare. Gary Scott says it’s not worth the gamble. In fact, he recommends that all of his guests take out comprehensive travel insurance before signing up to any of his trips. “You never know what may happen, especially when you book a trip many months in advance,” he says. There are a couple of things to bear in mind when you’re booking your insurance policy. First of all, ensure you’re covered for all activities you’re planning to do on your holiday and don’t leave it until the last minute in case you have to postpone or cancel your travel arrangements. That way, you can relax and rest assured that you’re covered no matter what life throws at you on your next jaunt.

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