If You're Traveling, Hire a Tour Guide
Tomorrow I will post the introductory entry for our Book Club selection the Giver. No reading assignment for tomorrow, just getting started.
There’s a guy named Tom Delgado that I follow on YouTube and support on Patreon. I’ve never met him (online or irl), but I’m a fan of his work. He’s a tour guide. He mostly does NYC videos but if you search around in his channel you’ll find him in Europe and South America also. My girlfriend was getting into these walking videos that didn’t have any talking, but this channel popped up in our feed and I enjoy it much more. I can see his videos not being everyone’s cup of tea, but I find him funny and I really get a lot out of the history and trivia he lays out. But then, it’s little surprise I would enjoy the channel, as I’m someone who thinks that the in-person guided tour experience is really underrated.
I’ve taken guided tours in Vienna, Badlands National Park, Boston, and Amsterdam, and I’ve always had a great time. Tour guides know cities in a way that you’re unlikely to get from a book or stuff from the internet, and part of the fun is the guide showing you things that you wouldn’t have thought of to visit or look up online. They also have professional incentive to continue to expand their knowledge. A good tour guide can direct you to undiscovered bars and restaurants after your tour, which led to me discovering a great restaurant in Amsterdam that was off the beaten path and that I never would have checked out otherwise. There’s also just no substitute for the interactivity and social experience of having another human being there, someone who you can chat with directly. A good tour is a good hang, informative while still being laid back. And though there are some bigger tour guide companies, they’re mostly all independent contractor/small business deals. It’s an easy way to put your tourist dollars into the local economy.
I think there’s a few reasons why most people wouldn’t hire a tour guide. First is that they simply wouldn’t think of it. Second is frugality. I know travel is expensive and everyone wants to avoid extra costs, but that four-hour tour in Amsterdam I mentioned was only €100, plust I threw in a €20 tip. (The tour in the Badlands was led by a ranger and was free.) A little unscientific searching suggests to me that prices in the range of $30-$50 an hour are common, though some charge different rates depending on the number of people. Compared to a lot of other expenses associated with travel, a tour guide is probably going to be on the cheaper side. The third reason, I suspect, is the biggest hurdle for many: people are afraid of appearing to be tourists. You already know how I feel about that - when you’re a tourist, just be a tourist! Be respectful of the local population, try to put your money into the local economy, and enjoy yourself. Missing out on great experiences because you’re afraid that strangers will see you and accurately clock you as a tourist is a self-inflicted wound. Besides, if there’s such a thing as an unenlightened tourist, it’s the one who learns nothing about the local culture. A tour guide will help you there.
There’s a ton of sites where you can search for local guides. Google will help you, but to get started you could check out ToursByLocals, PrivateGuide, or ShowAround. You’ll have a good time, promise. And you’ll make Rick Steves happy, which is good. The man’s a mensch.