Guided Tour or Private Tour?

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.

Ed Yourdon

NOT this kind of tour….photo credit: Ed Yourdon

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.

Private Tour
Many years ago, I began to substitute the private tour for the guided tour. It doesn’t cost much more, but the quality of time and information is so much better.

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.

Meg Zimbeck inside Chapon Cholocatier

Paris Foodie Tour: Meg Zimbeck inside Chapon Cholocatier

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.

Red London Cab

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.

Private Tour

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.

About Andi Fisher

I'm a lifestyle blogger focused on travel and food. A marketing gal who gave up my job to travel around the United States in an RV with my hubby. I'm now settling into the Portland area where I'm looking for my next career adventure! I love to travel via my stomach. Eating, seeking out local artisans and features to share. I've got more than 26 years of experience in marketing focused on content, social media, and direct marketing and I've mentored many bloggers, old and new.


  1. I prefer the guided tour. thank you for sharing this.

  2. Amazing pictures as usual!

  3. i love the pictures !!!!!!!!!!!

  4. I would take a guided tour but not a tour bus. Thank you for all of these tips. Do you like Anthony Bourdain?

  5. Veena Vinyas says:

    private would be best option

  6. I would take a guided tour, and have in the past in New Orleans. We were in the Garden District and wanted to learn about the paranormal activity in that district from a local’s point of view. It was all together a GREAT experience, but it was more of a walking tour and we didn’t go with a million other people. After our tour winded down, he gave us some great suggestions on some hole in the wall restaurants that ended up to be really delicious.

  7. sherry ann gole cruz says:

    i prefer guided tour so i wont get lost and know more about the country!

  8. Great pics that shows great memories

  9. Ria Alemina says:

    I prefer to take a guided tour. Thank you for the tips!

  10. Judy Thomas says:

    I would love to explore a country with or without the tour guide but I think I would prefer without 🙂

  11. I am doing a mix of both guided and self guided during my trip to France this coming summer. The tours tend to be so expensive and with 6 people having various sizes of budgets we are doing a self guided tour of the Champagne region but a guided tour within Paris – probably as you suggested a Context tour of the food scene.
    Definitely lots to think about when deciding on a private vs group vs self guided.

  12. It really depends on where we are going. In a couple of years, we are planning a trip to Greece and Rome. As I really want to visit some specific places but don’t want to stand in line for HOURS, we will use a guided tour to get us in quicker.

  13. Danielle says:

    Totally private for me 🙂

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