Tour Guides & the Downside to Guided Adventures


Tour Guides & the Downside to Guided Adventures

Choosing a tour guide for your nexted adventure
About tour guides and the downside of guided adventures

I had a bizarre dream last night. In the dream, I collected papers from a group of 12- 16 people . They looked the middle-aged touristy types with floppy hats, long shorts, cameras around the necks. I asked aloud if anyone was on meds that I needed to know about. A twitter of chatter ran through them, then I asked: “Is there anyone allergic to anything- like nuts? Acorns?” This brought a bout of laughter through the already eager group. Unfortunately the alarm rang to awaken me before I actually knew where I was leading anyone! However, this dream did bring me today’s post: Tour Guides and the Downside to Guided Adventures.

We had a summer filled with adventures, but this year was different, because this year we had some adventures that left me lukewarm. On one city tour, the driver began spouting off some of his family issues over the loud speaker that had everyone looking at each other in bewilderment. Yes, dude, you have the microphone and a captive audience, but PLEASE– we don’t want to know you that well! Details about the city history would have been much more pleasant. We had a similar experience with a waiter a couple of years back in a steak house. By the end of that meal we knew all about his child, his wife’s up-coming birthday and exactly what this waiter was planning to get her and what they were doing the next week. We stumbled out of there dazed. That one waiter set the ‘bar’ by which all other such encounters are measured.

My daughter and I rode on a horseback guided tour where two of the three guides planned an upcoming party with each other. I felt like I was a teenager in school,  an outcast of an exclusive clique. Oh, they were nice women, but the guests were excluded when they needed to be included. A bit of flora and fauna banter, some hairy trail ride experiences and personal info about the horses we rode (which were rescue horses) would have been neat.

And then there was the rafting. I think sometimes on an adventure, you end up with someone with whom you just don’t gel. I blame myself for a big part of it though, as I let it slip what a great guide we had on our last rafting adventure. This guy had personal issues with that guy (who was no longer there) and let us know exactly what they were. In detail. Whew! Saying that, this guide did keep our safety in mind and also rescued some guide-less rafters along our journey from precarious predicaments, so I think I was the one who started us off on a bad foot on that river trek.

Yeah, I know being a guide can’t be easy. In fact, I may have even bombed the task in my dream. What would I have done if three of my guests decided they wanted to turn back after half a mile or someone broke their ankle  and I was the only guide? Would I have known enough about the trail to keep the group entertained, amused and safe? My experience was but a dream, but real guides face difficult situations on a continual basis. People freaking out on zip-lines, people falling out of boats, unpredictable wildlife encounters. It happens and they have to be on guard all the time, while making the adventure a trip to remember.

 Good rapport is the key to a great guided adventure

I’ve traveled many places and have been lucky enough to be a part of some great guided adventures. The one thing all of those adventures had in common was not the scenery- it was a tour guide with great rapport with the group. In St. Augustine I’ve experienced fantastic tour guides- from Ghost Tours to City Walks. Some guides I never even spoke a word to, but their liveliness and ability to spin a fantastic yarn are what made the tour. They were passionate about St. Augustine and it’s history. Our Savannah guide loved local food and the city’s colorful history. Our sailing guide loved the sea. Those passions catch on quickly. But not all tour guides are created equal.

There are introverts and extroverts. We can’t help which one we are, and even a passion for a subject or area won’t bring a quiet person from their shell. On our latest zip-lining escapade, we had two guides. One was the talker, David, who cracked the jokes and got us going, the other seemed more subdued. The talker was the guide who led the group and told us what to do. And the quiet guy, Slade, was his wing man. I don’t know if they deliberately partnered the guides this way or they each take a turn with different groups on who is the leader and who is the wing man, but it worked perfectly. We had a fantastic experience led by two great guides. And we left in ignorant bliss of their personal lives.

On our Schooner Freedom sail, our two guides mirrored the zip-line guides. The leader Ryan and the wing man (er, woman) Avery.  We found out their love of the sea and cracked some jokes together. Avery was a newbie on the Schooner and Ryan wanted to one day have his own sailing ship, and again, we left without knowing anything too personal. We came for a great adventure and left happy.


Choosing a Tour Guide

When planning your next guided adventure keep these things in mind:

  1. Read the reviews on their website. A lot of reviewers will mention who were their favorite guides. TripAdvisor has some handy reviews too.
  2. If you are already on site, meet your guide prior to your trip and strike up a conversation. Having common interests or concerns can build rapport between you and your group leader.
  3. Some people prefer guides who just guide, and if it’s a quiet hike you desire, or you prefer your own thoughts as your companion, you may consider a less gregarious tour guide.
  4. Trust your instincts. If you are preparing to embark an adventure tour that puts you in any peril, your guide should have safety-first in mind. If you have doubts, you can always request a different guide.
  5. And whatever you do, don’t mention what a fantastic guide you had last time on that trip (like I did!).
  6. Of course, guides like repeat business, so if you had a fantastic time, request that guide again.

Not everyone likes a guided tour. We tend to D.I.Y. a lot of our adventures. Not because we are gung-ho adventurers as much as we have budget constraints. Tight ones. Leading your own adventures gives you the freedom to deter from the planned course. We have often pulled over somewhere just because it looked cool, or taken a side track from the trail because we heard sounds of a roaring river. Some of our best adventurers have been totally spontaneous.  On  guided tours it can depend on your guide, their boss and the size of your group as to whether they will allow flexibility for spontaneity.

However, sometimes guided tours are a must. You can’t travel through Bhutan without a guide. When you are in a strange place, absolutely clueless, a guide is a good idea, if only until you get your bearings. I don’t think I would wing it in a canoe down the Amazon River alone, personally.  I learned so many things on our guided tour of Savannah, Georgia, that I would have never known otherwise. Like the tavern where locals were kidnapped by pirates and forced into service. My sister and I visited sites we would never even thought of on our guided tour of Lucknow (India), like the Bara Imambara Palace- I would still be lost in the labyrinth there without our handy guide!  I had a guide in Morocco who took me and my fellow travelers to his house for mint tea. It was a magnificent place that none of us would have experienced otherwise. Other times, on more perilous adventures, enlisting a  trained guide saves family arguments by putting leadership to a reliable outside person. Our kids have reached the age when they are more likely to respond to someone else telling them what to do than their own parents. And sometimes, like on our sailing adventure, it’s just nice to sit back, relax and enjoy the sunset, letting someone else worry about the tacking and jibbing of the sails.

If you do have a great guided tour, be sure to tip them well at the end of your adventure.  Let the tour operator know what a fantastic employee they have, write a review for their website or on TripAdvisor.

Freedom or comfort. Which do you prefer on your adventures?

Have you ever had any eye-raising experiences with tour guides? Feel free to leave your story below.

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