Take a Tour or Go It Alone? How to Decide...

by  Karen Gardiner | Dec 4, 2013
Cairo, Egypt
Cairo, Egypt / Donyanedomam/iStock

Many of us passionate travelers value our independence so fiercely that we can be loathe to hand over our travel plans to an guide, or an organized tour. There are, however, some situations where a guide can enrich the experience or even save you some money. Here are five situations where you should consider booking a tour, rather than going it on your own..

The Nature Trip
Unless you have a background in zoology, you may find your visit to a national park or rainforest to be unfulfilling – or not as fulfilling as it could be. For example, Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio National Park teems with wildlife. You'll find 109 different mammal species and 184 species of birds, from Capuchin monkeys to toucans, three-toed sloths, and parakeets.  But if you don't know what you are looking for – or at – you might miss them all. You can hire a guide right outside the park to take you on a two-hour guided hike. All guides carry large lenses allowing you to see animals you might otherwise miss. They all speak English (it's required) and cost less than $25.

The Adventure Hotspot
You can conceivably go to Mount Everest alone and hire porters when you get there, but you'll likely end up paying more than if you had joined a guided expedition. If you're not an experienced climber and you want to save some money, going on a "Western-guided" tour, which includes a sherpa and a Western guide, means that you'll have full support on the nerve-wracking climb. Plus, some expenses, such as permit fees and payment for a cook, can be divided across a larger group. More experienced climbers can opt for a less supported (but still accompanied)  "Sherpa-supported" or "Sherpa-guided" expedition.

The Port-of-Call
If you're on a cruise, your time in port is usually very limited. Rather than following the hoards of other passengers toward the same tacky souvenir stores and overpriced restaurants, make prior arrangements to have a local tour guide pick you up and take you to places of interest. You'll have a richer experience, and you won't risk getting lost or missing your reboarding time. You can hire guides independently or through the cruise line (although the latter is often more expensive). If you're using an independent guide, do your research before you arrive in port and check their credentials.

The Historic Destination
No matter how much you read up beforehand, it's no match for the depth of knowledge possessed by a local historian or guide. Destinations of archaeological interest, like Egypt, are especially well served by guides. Many are trained Egyptologists and can provide a digestible background of the country's 5,000-year history, and even decipher some hieroglyphics for you. And there's another very good reason to use a guide in Egypt, or other places like it. Given the current instability in the area, independent, non Arabic-speaking travelers can risk straying into an unsafe situation without knowing it. Using a tour guide, in that light, is more highly recommended than ever.

The Place Where the Language Barrier is Just Too Much
Sure, most of us can get by almost anywhere with a few stock phrases and a lot of gesturing, but if you feel that the language barrier would be detrimental to your experience, hire a local, English-speaking guide.

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