In the world of budget travel, the hiring of a personal tour guide probably seems like the first thing to strike from the planning list.
Certainly, this is luxury reserved for the wealthy, who swagger into a given locale and find someone to answer their every question and attend to each detail of the visit.
If that's your view of hiring a personal tour guide, it's time to reconsider the issue.
This is not a guide to spending thousands of dollars for a personal assistant. These hires can last as little as one hour or two, and might come in at less than you'd pay for a mid-range restaurant meal.
Think about investing that small amount of money to amplify the sights and sounds you've spent thousands of dollars to visit.
Who are Personal Tour Guides?
How can it be affordable? Consider this: there are many places in the world where students or retired life-long residents make modest incomes showing people their cities and villages. It's something they do for pleasure as well as income. Their clients typically are not wealthy. In fact, many are simply trying to see and understand as much as possible about the destination. They are budget travelers in search of value and an authentic, memorable experience.
Many of the guides will lead walking tours with small groups. They are unlikely to follow a script. These are native sons and daughters of the area. In many cases, they grew up in the place you're visiting. They'll have interesting stories and insider recommendations for you to enjoy.
Don't think of tours in terms of 40 people boarding a bus for the day. The type of guide you want to hire will cater to small groups and arrange transportation only when absolutely necessary. On a given day, you might even have that guide to yourself.
Walking Tours: Consider New York as an Example
In many cities, it pays to check in with the local tourist development office. They often have lists of people willing to serve as guides. Some work for gratuities alone, while others will charge either an hourly fee or a flat rate for the tour. Many of these experiences will be walking tours.
The next step is to search your destination and the phrase "walking tours." In cities such as New York, you'll find a number of options for walking tours (free and paid) that will focus on a specific neighborhood, people group, or social issue.
For example, Free Tours by Foot offers walking tours, bike tours, tours by day and night, tours in Spanish, and all without a price list. You simply pay whatever you are able. Undoubtedly, some people take advantage of the guides by failing to tip. But most budget travelers will compensate an expert for a job well-done.
Most Big Onion Walking Tours cost $25 USD and generally last for about two hours. Think about the hourly cost and that price becomes a bargain. Big Onion offers historical tours that greatly enhance your understanding of the destination. A few sample titles: "Immigrant New York," "Historic Harlem," and "Upper East Side, a Clash of Titans."
These are two of dozens of options in New York. Your destination might not have quite that amount of variety, but you're likely to find someone willing to give you insight into their home town or neighborhood.
Beyond the educational opportunity, there are practical advantages. A personal guide who will lead you through the unfamiliar and daunting traffic rush in a city is also very valuable. Time is saved, because you do not get lost.
Finding a Good Guide
Unlike New York, not every destination will have a long list of tour companies. In smaller villages, you will need inside information to find the persons or person who conducts the best tours. Fortunately, there are places on the web where you can get recommendations in these situations.
Private-Guides.com is well-established site offers both "tours" (larger groups with buses) and "guides" who will walk you through the sites of a city. Prices vary, but you have the opportunity to shop for something that meets your individual needs. The site claims to offer more than 2,200 tours in 115 countries.
TripAdvisor.com provides a search engine with its lengthy data base of information. Simply type in destination, and personal tour guide in the "what are you looking for?" space. You'll find traveler recommendations for the best personal tour guides. Always view these with a healthy dose of skepticism. Not all of them are fair-minded or legitimate entries.
Fodors.com offers a forum section that includes very specific recommendations, with guide names and even contact information sometimes included. You'll run across some very experienced travelers here, but not all of them are on a tight budget. I found contact information here that led to an excellent tour of Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Beyond the online searches, this is the type of local knowledge a good travel agent will have at the ready. Be sure to ask for a personal guide or walking tour as opposed to a group tour.
Consider adding a personally guided tour or walking tour to your itinerary. If you connect with the right guide, the money you spend will be an investment saving and enhancing the minutes and hours of your visit.