Enhance your travels with a knowledgeable guide
by Jennifer Mitchell
Traveling with a private tour guide might sound like a luxury for the one percent, but with the proper research and planning, the price tag might be lower than you think — and the money spent will be well worth it. Depending on where you’re traveling and what you’re hoping to take from the experience, a private guide might actually help you get the most bang for your buck.
A private guide is great for travelers hoping to learn as much as possible about a destination. Local guides are incredibly knowledgeable about popular destinations and local favorites. They know when the most popular tourist destinations are the least crowded and they can take you to the most authentic restaurant in town. Their deep knowledge of the history and culture of a destination provides context you wouldn’t find in a book or online. And as an added bonus, they know how to get around, saving you from getting lost or sitting in traffic caused by construction or road closures.
There are a number of ways to go about finding the right guide for your travels, but it starts with deciding how much time you’ll need with them. Private guides are available for various types of trips, from two-hour tours of NYC in a classic convertible to two week trips to Vietnam and everything in between.
Below are recommendations for why and how to find the right private tour guide for your travels.
Hire a Tour Guide for an Excursion
In many destinations, you can find private guides for hire for quick one- to two-hour excursions. This option gives travelers a unique and customized experience that doesn’t break the bank. And because it’s a shorter time commitment, it relieves some of the stress of finding a guide that’s also a suitable travel companion. Here’s when we recommend hiring a private guide for an excursion.
For expertise on a specific landmark or destination:
If you’re planning to visit a museum, landmark or historical site, a private guide can provide additional context, answer questions and customize the information to you interests. These guides offer in-depth perspectives on the significance and history of the destination, giving you a more comprehensive experience.
When visiting extremely popular locations:
Though you might not feel you need a guide to navigate popular tourist attractions, they may be able to get you deals and after- or before-hours access, saving you time, money and the frustration of pushing through crowds.
For an authentic, off-the-beaten path adventure:
If you’re revisiting a destination or are looking for a more authentic experience, local guides are the way to go. They can take you to the non-touristy portions of town and uncover local hidden gems.
Hire a Tour Guide for a Day
There are some day trips that aren’t possible — or wouldn’t be fruitful to tackle — without the expertise of a guide. Unlike group tours, hiring a private guide gives you the flexibility to travel at your own pace and to customize your adventures. Here’s when to hire a private guide for the day.
For an adrenaline-inducing adventure:
If you’re planning an active adventure like mountain climbing, white-water rafting or ziplining, a certified guide is an absolute must. Not only will they help navigate the trip, but they’ll help you return to safety if you encounter any issues.
During a nature excursion:
For those going on safari, scuba diving or taking a hike to explore wildlife, an expert guide will know when and where to go to find the plants or animals you’re looking for. With an experienced eye, they’ll be able to point out wildlife that’s otherwise hard to spot. They can also lead you away from the poisonous plants and dangerous animals you may be unfamiliar with.
For a destination that requires proper etiquette:
There are many countries, cities and attractions that require a certain code of conduct. A guide can ensure you’re following the laws or rules and help you maintain proper etiquette. For instance, if you’re visiting a mosque in the Middle East or a Buddhist temple, you’ll need to take off your shoes before entering to avoid offending people inside.
Hire a Guide to Accompany You on a Trip
Sometimes, traveling with a private guide for the entirety of your trip is beneficial or necessary. In these cases, we recommend doing quite a bit of research and meeting or Skyping with a few top options to make sure you find the guide that’s the right fit for you.
When there’s a language barrier:
If you’re traveling to a country where you don’t speak the native language, a bi-lingual guide will help you communicate, read signs and travel without frustration.
When traveling to dangerous locations or landscapes:
It’s vital to hire a guide when traveling to a destination with a reputation for being dangerous, whether due to the terrain, climate, governing body or crime. Your guide will keep you on a safe path and step in if you find yourself in a tight spot.
For cramming a lot into a short window of time:
If you’re trying to explore a large area in a few days, a guide can help you prioritize and move quickly from destination to destination.
How to find the right guide for you
No matter your needs, there are a number of ways to find a private guide. If you’re looking for a guide to take you through a tourist attraction like a museum or gallery, call to see if guides are available for hire through the museum. For day trips, you can turn to the Local Guide Association, which works with licensed guides. You can search for guides who specialize in specific interests, social issues or groups of people that are of interest to you.
Hotel concierges may also be able to provide guide recommendations, but it’s always a good idea to double check the recommendations online. Though hotels typically ban agreements between concierges and guides that are pricey tourist traps, those relationships are not always carefully monitored.
If you’re hoping to book a private guide before arriving at your destination, there are a number of websites and online marketplaces that connect travelers with knowledgeable guides. A few of our favorites are listed here.
- Urban Adventures offer customizable "create your own" private tours in addition to small group experiences.
- Tours by Locals offers private tours in more than 130 countries. You can read about the guide and see reviews, and you can communicate directly with the guide before you book a tour.
- Viator Expert Tour Guides (owned by TripAdvisor) and Private Guides are two additional well-established platforms for tours and private guides in many countries around the world.
- Airbnb Experiences are not primarily geared to private tours, but the platform does offer some experiences that are private or lend themselves to small groups and customization.
Finding a guide that can accompany you on your entire trip is a much more daunting task than finding a guide for the day. We recommend talking to a travel advisor and friends you trust who have traveled with a guide before.
Things to know before you search for a private tour guide
- Be able to describe what you want in a tour guide. Are you looking for a guide to show you around the city, take you on adventures, introduce you to local hidden gems or tailor a tour to specific interests like street art, craft beer, local wildlife or history? How active would you like to be on your trip? Are you trying to cram in as much as possible, hopping from destination to destination or are you hoping to move at a leisurely place? Make these decisions in advance and be sure to discuss them with potential guides to find the right match.
- Always ask what is included in the price and what costs extra. Are meals and tickets included? What about transportation? To avoid unexpected costs, get a detailed rundown of what you’re paying for and what costs might pop up along the way.
- If you’re hiring a guide for the day or afternoon, be sure to check on the cancellation or rescheduling policy. This is especially important if you’re planning an outdoor excursion that could be affected by the weather or a multi-stop trip that could be affected by travel delays.
Have you traveled with a private guide? If so, we’d love to hear about your adventures. Share your experiences in the comments below or on social media using the hashtag #NoSmallPlan. Map your travels and get personalized travel map t-shirts for your family and friends who enjoyed the private tour together.
Jennifer Mitchell is a blogger, comedian, freelance copywriter and travel enthusiast.