Today’s post was written by Eve (more about Eve at the end of the post), and offers tips and advice for getting the most out of a guided tour. I must admit to enjoying the odd guided tour as I often learn all kinds of things that I never would have discovered by myself. If you haven’t taken the plunge yet, or just want to learn how to get more out of your tours, then this post should help!
For some travellers, the idea of taking a guided tour is a lot like going to the movies and only watching the previews. Sure, you get the general idea of what the city is like, and learn some interesting information about the sites and history of the place. But anti-tour travellers believe that to really get the full experience of your destination, you need to explore on your own and not follow a tour guide around for hours on end listening to canned speeches.
While not all tours are created equal, there are times when a guided tour can actually be a highlight of any trip. On your first visit to a city with an abundance of sites and a long history (like almost any city in Europe) or in a place with sites that can be difficult to access, a guided tour provides context and information that the average traveller might not find on his or her own. And during a guided tour, you can usually see a lot more in a single day than you would by yourself, especially if you spend a lot of time attempting to navigate the city.
Even if you aren’t overly enthusiastic about taking a guided tour, you can get a lot out of the experience if you go in with an open mind and armed with these tips for making the most of the trip.
Choose the Right Tour
It might sound like common sense, but one reason that people don’t enjoy tours is that they choose the wrong one. Maybe the tour only visits one or two interesting sites, or the itinerary is so packed that you only get a few minutes in each spot. When comparing tour options, read reviews and recommendations, and ask questions about the format of the tour.
Some tours offer ample time for individual exploration or options to customize the experience, while others follow a stricter schedule. Ask about the focus of the tour as well. Different tours focus on different facets of the sites. You won’t enjoy a historically focused tour if you are more interested in architecture, and vice versa.
Asking questions before you sign up for the tour is a good idea, but asking questions while you’re on the tour is even more important. Tour guides are there to provide information and insight, so don’t be shy. Chances are they have heard your question or one like it before so don’t hold back. In some cases, the questions that tourists ask help make the tour even more interesting and enrich the experience.
While guided tours can help you see a city’s highlights when you’re only there for a short time, they can also be a valuable starting point when you’re staying for a few days. Take a guided tour on your first day in town and take notes on places that you would like to visit again. Maybe there was a wing of the museum that wasn’t included on the tour, or you would like to take in a spectacular view one more time. Make a note of it, and go back and explore on your own at a more leisurely pace.
While you’re taking notes, use your smartphone’s GPS function to store the location of the places you want to return to. When it’s time to go, you can easily navigate your way back. Use the GPS before you head out on the tour as well. Recreate the itinerary on your phone, so on the off chance you get separated from the group, you can easily re-join them.
It can be difficult to find Rome hotels and restaurants as you walk around the city, for instance, but with your GPS, you won’t go in circles trying to catch up.
Talk With Others on the Tour
Chances are the others on the tour are visitors as well. Chat them up while you’re traveling around the city and ask about their experiences and favourite places. They may have recommendations for restaurants, exhibits or other activities that you didn’t think of — and if you really hit it off, you could make some new friends while you explore the most fascinating sites in the world.
So while you might scoff at the idea of a guided tour as being “too touristy,” with the right mind-set it can actually be a valuable addition to your trip itinerary. And even if the tour is a dud, you haven’t lost anything but a few hours.
About the Author: Eve Shaw is a travel writer and photographer. While she prefers exploring destinations on her own, she also enjoys making friends and learning little known facts on guided tours.