I had the chance to interview Stew this past Tuesday for my Traveler Tuesday series, I hope you enjoyed getting to know him a little better. Stew is back with a guest post on a topic that he is passionate about (and so am I!). I have done many guided tours, particularly with Context Travel and am a big fan. Stew shares his opinion and experiences on them.
When someone asks me, “Did you take the guided tour?” I immediately think of a bus with 60 people on it — with an average age of 85. It takes 30 minutes to unload at each stop and another 30 to load up the bus for the next stop. It is very frustrating.
Sandy and I travel for history. We don’t take trips to lie on a beach or near a pool. We like to travel to cities and areas that are historically significant and see original buildings. These sites are where historical buildings once stood, and where significant events occurred. We also like to do it on our own.
How does one go about finding the right private tour guide? The first things you must take into consideration are your expectations and what you hope to accomplish. For example, if you’re a foodie and want to explore the food side of Paris, you will want to find a guide knowledgeable in Parisian foods, restaurants, and other applicable experiences. If you’re into history and get that foodie guide there will be a huge disconnect. Look for someone who has firsthand recommendations and reviews from people you know. Consider expertise and expectations before booking.
Another strategy is to use a travel agency. Their reputation is on the line and their guides will be proven. The downside here is the price due to the agency taking their cut. Sandy and I got Jacques through American Express Travel for the Normandy Beaches. He was great! But five years later, we hired Jacques directly to take our kids to the beaches. Hiring him direct was 40% cheaper.
Jacques was born in and still lives in Caen, France. He retired from the Sorbonne about 35 years ago and decided to become a tour guide specializing in the Normandy Beaches. Over the years, he took many of the men who survived D-Day and collected their stories and share those stories with people today. He was also the principal advisor to Steven Spielberg for the beach scenes in the movie, Saving Private Ryan.
I also like to hire my guides and typically look for someone in a particular niche (i.e., French Revolution, Normandy Beaches, Londinium, etc.). I zero in on folks that have that in their resumes and come with academic credentials. For example, we did a walking tour of the old Londinium and our guide was a PhD candidate in Roman history. It was a wonderful 3-hour walk asking very specific questions to get a sense of their knowledge.
We were in Paris in 2013 doing research for one of my books. I hired Raphaelle because she seemed to have an interest in the French Revolution and could answer some specific questions. We spent two full days with her on several themes. For every hour we were with her, she must have put in two hours of research time. It was a fantastic experience.
I could go on and on, but these trips with our private guides are such great memories we could never duplicate on a guided tour. Hire a tour guide… you will not be disappointed.
Stew Ross is a retired commercial banker, turned author, entrepreneur, and world traveler. Having grown up in Europe, he loves to travel for history and now shares it with others. Stew combines travel and history in his latest books. He and his wife (and traveling companion) Sandy live in Nashville with Lucy our beagle.