Whenever hard working parent plan a vacation, they want to be certain they are getting the best vacation possible for every penny they spend. Often from the outside looking in, people think vacation planning is an easy DIY project that if they invest the work, they will save some coin. This is especially true when deciding to hire a tour guide.
Before I worked in the travel business, I’d research our family vacation for months – hoping to uncover the places that locals loved. I would crowdsource vacation ideas and try to connect with locals that could offer up some secret intel.
I’ll be honest with you, back then I was on a very tight budget and was trying to scrimp every penny so that my family could take a vacation. I didn’t see the value of hiring a guide or working with a destination specialist. I was convinced I could do it all on my own - without the help of a trained professional.
I was a single mom with 3 kids at the time. The first trip where I acted as a tour guide was our summer road trip to New England. It began as a disaster on several levels.
With the best of intentions, I was trying to prepare my kids for their American history classes the following September. I tried cramming my U.S. history facts into their sweet little brains with engaging car conversations that fell upon deaf ears accompanied by sarcastic eye rolls. The Freedom Trail in Boston instantly deteriorated into a bickering fest that was only interrupted by the trauma of a pigeon pooping on the head of my youngest. By day two of our 7 day historical odyssey, I was out numbered, overwhelmed and exhausted. This wasn't fun for any of us.
As a parent, it's hard enough to get your kids to listen to you on any given day so why did I think they would want to listen to me playing tour guide?
By day 3 I surrendered and bought us guided tour tickets in Salem, Massachusetts. I really didn't want to spend the money but I was defeated. To everyone's delight, our guide was incredible! He walked us through town, told us stories about folks buried in the cemetery and pointed out fascinating facts in the witch museum that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. He took us to Nathaniel Hawthorne's "House of the Seven Gables" and showed us hidden bookcases and rooms where people hid during the witch trials. My kids were so engaged, hanging on his every word.
My kids loved listening to him and guess what? They didn't have to listen to me for a couple of hours. Instantly I became a participant in my own vacation. I could relax and enjoy my kids learning what I had intended from the very beginning. They could enjoy me having fun with them!
I immediately booked us into guided tours for our next three stops of Plimoth Plantation, Martha's Vineyard and a mansion tours of Newport, Rhode Island. I spent more than I had originally budgeted for this vacation but the result was the vacation that far exceeded what I had originally envisioned.Now I know better!
A great tour guide can take a typical tourist experience and elevate it to a whole new level of understanding. They are passionate about putting what you are experiencing into context, sharing hidden local gems and making personal connections. It's not just talking about the history of a destination, it's about making history personal and bringing it to life!
When it comes to family vacations, you can hire a guide for a specific destination or daily activity. This means your guide will accompany you during say a specific hike or museum visit. They rest of the time your traveling will be up to you. In our case, I drove us between our vacation stops, checked us into our hotels, made sure we got to the ferry on time, etc.
There are also vacation options for families where your guide is with you 24/7. With this option, your family will be vacationing with other families together as a group. Your guide(s) will be with you every step of the journey. They will be responsible for your travel between point A and B, handling hotel check in, taking care of all of your tickets etc. They may be the ones guiding the group during sightseeing stops or activities. In some cases, they may hand that responsibility over to another destination expert at specific stops on the tour.
So when making the decision to hire a tour guide on your next vacation, there are some important points to consider so that you can make the right choice for your family....
1. Age Restrictions
When it comes to family travel, many tour companies have minimum ages allowing children to participate. Often these rules are in place to protect the safety and enjoyment of ALL guests.
2. Is Your Guide Good With Kids?
Not all tours or tour guides are family friendly. While a guide may be excellent when it comes to destination details, a family friendly tour or guide will know how to engage children of all ages. In addition, they will have the skill to help build friendships and camaraderie between children and families within the group. It's these memories and bonds that are often the most priceless.
3. Does Hiring a Guide Make Sense?
Often vacation planning parents focus on dollars and cents instead of using common sense. Sure, you can save some serious coin just buying admission tickets to the Colosseum of Rome but booking a guided tour in advance might save you 3 hours of waiting in line.
4. Will a Guide help keep my family safe?
If your family is planning an adventure trip, hiring a knowledgeable and experienced guide can help to keep your family safe. Our tour guide to Machu Picchu kept our group hydrated, insisting we all drink more water than I would have ever imagined but this certainly helped us all avoid the unpleasant symptoms and possible health risks of altitude sickness.
4. Is a Guide Required?
Often governments will require tourists hire guides in an attempt to control over tourism. For example, Ninety-five percent of the Galapagos islands are designated as protected protected areas. Tourists not allowed to visit these areas unless they are accompanied by a park-certified naturalist guide.
5. What's the goal for your family's vacation?
Family vacations are never a "one size fits all" situation. If parents want to relax and participate in their own vacation then booking a completely guided tour with others is a good choice for you. If you're family is planning a big splurge, bucket list trip to a destination or place that you've always dreamed of visiting then by all means hire a guide for those activities. If budget is the highest priority for you, there are phone apps that offer narrated guided tours of cities and destinations. Just realized with everyone plugged into their own device, the experience will be different than being connected and engaged with a professional guide. I would suggest opting for the quality of your family vacation experience over perhaps the quantity of days traveling.
Sometimes you can "wing it", get lucky and book at the last minute but when it comes to family travel, this is a rare situation. Families tend to travel on school breaks so availability can often be a challenge. Very popular guided tours and vacations to "must see" destinations often sell out months in advance. To avoid disappointment, especially with "must see" destinations it's important to book guided vacations and tours as soon as possible. We recommend booking guided tours as soon as your flights and accommodations have been secured.
If you have any questions about guided tours or what type of tour might be best for your family, please connect with one of our team members here at Vacationkids. Our Travel Agents can certainly guide your family to the right tours and guides based on your family's travel style, needs and budget.