The guided tour guide (n°2)

Posted on Sep 4, 2017 in Time out to reflect

As I anticipated in  post n°1, I learnt a lot about vacationing just by doing it in the last 30 years (in the picture: a tour I had on Mount Etna, summer 2016).  Of course my critical spirit was sharpened by  working in the travel industry and especially by becoming a tour guide in 2009.

When you deliver travel services everyday, you start expecting a lot when you are on the other side …in short: we (tour guides) are the worst customers a tour guide might have! 

But we also exploit every personal trip to improve our own  service. And this is a list of what I learnt while I was guided:

  1. you do not always need a guide! Sometimes it is nice and inspiring to get lost and find your way just by asking people passing by… My rule here is to have a guide for max  50% of the time I spend in a new country. You need some “alone time” and a good guide is the one giving you advices on how to spend your time on own, after providing a general overview of the destination.
  2. on the other side: you might need a guide exactly when you think you do not need one! When you have been more than once in a city and you feel familiar there, that’s when a guide can take you discover the real, inner soul of that place.  As I always say, you need at least TWO trips to every place you visit: the first is just to get acquainted and inspired, the second is when you really enjoy!
  3. a very important requirement in a guide is a good command of the language you are going to use to communicate. A guided tour is a relationship – although very short – and if you cannot understand each other enough, well…. it cannot work!
  4. second requirement is honesty: I do not only mean he/she has to be fair with all the money issues and defend you when you risk to be ripped off in restaurants, shops, taxis and so on. I refer to “intellectual honesty“: facts about his/her country have to be presented in an unbiased manner as much as possible. Of course a guide has a personal perspective, but I do not want to just hear that everything works perfectly and all is wonderful and beautiful. I’m looking for “real life”, pros and cons.
  5. a guide should be punctual: again, I’m not just talking about being on time, but especially about being prompt, attentive, able to prevent problems and give good advices, quick in answers (even before meeting, in the crucial moment of planning) and well prepared on the agreed program.
  6. experience: a guide has to be an expert, having travelled extensively  the area covered by his/her services. He/she should know the best way to reach a venue, how long it would take, where my hotel is, where are the good restaurants….
  7. lastly, and this is not a requirement (as I respect privacy and discretion) but a wish: a guide is a living “component” of the country I’m visiting and learning a bit about his/her life is another way to understand this country. I’m always curious to know about their studies, travels, family… what they like eating or doing in their free time and if these aspects are unusual or common in that country.

Once you have chosen the perfect guide, another hard part of the planning is choosing the perfect activity!!! Trust your tour guide, but they need some help to know what you like.

  • You do not need to visit an art museum if you never do that in your everyday life. Be honest with yourself, there’s nothing wrong in disliking art and finding history boring. If you like markets and trekking, just to name something else,  tell your guide  and there might be wonderful opportunities (a personal example: in my recent trip to Bali, one of the main attraction was the Monkey Forest, everybody go there, but it’s not my cup of tea and I was scared … so, I struck it through without ceremony)
  • Touristy things: everywhere you go there will be touristy activities; most of them are grounded on the history and traditions of the city you are visiting (for instance: a gladiator class in Rome or a Mozart concert in Wien), so do not spurn something just because only tourists would be there. But make sure of the quality of the show before spending money there: again,  your guide can be helpful.
  • “Oh no! Not another church”: this is a frequent feeling of our guests here in Italy… maybe they reach Rome after visiting Milan, Venice, Florence, Assisi….. tons of churches in every city!!! But they hide this feeling (sometimes they just blame the kids, “you know… they get tired….” ) and step inside the hundredth church with a fake smile, just to be polite. Well, you do not have to! I totally understand now, this trip in Bali was enlightening: first temple was amazing, on a cliff. And what about the second, on the shore of a lake? And the biggest of all, on the slope of a volcano? Awesome! But as a matter of fact I was more interested in learning about ceremonies, the dress code, the beliefs of modern faithful instead of visiting an endless row of shrines that – after a while- looked all the same. If your guide is not filtering for you, be clear and tell out loud when it’s too much. The bottom line is you are on holiday and you have to enjoy what you do.

And now the last part of my recent “meditations” about vacationing: what happens when you travel with a teenager? Stay tuned!