I’ve noticed during my travels abroad, and in my own Country, that, unless people participate a group tour, they very seldom hire a Local Guide.
Big groups are usually meant by tour operators to provide pre arranged programmes and assistance to their passengers, especially those who do not feel confident enough to travel alone or independently, and to supply basic information about the places included in the tours. That is why big groups do usually get local guides.
Independent travellers do very seldom hire Local Guides: they believe they can study everything and collect every information about the highlights they plan to visit on the internet or by reading books.
To me, that is not enough. I believe I need a Local Guide for several reasons, even if I am a big independent traveller. In some cases it was mandatory to get a Guide, for example at sites where access are limited to a specific volume of visitors per day such as the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum of Malta, whose tunnels are very small. In other cases I personally decided to get a Local Guide because the places I planned to visit were very remote and hardly accessible for someone who is not familiar with the area, such as the Salar de Arizaro in Argentina, which takes a 8 hours drives at high altitude during which you don’t see any other human around.
What makes me believe that hiring a local guide is essential is that regardless the volume of studies you have completed in your life, or the amount of books you read to prepare yourself for your next travel, nothing can be compared to the experience of being personally guided around by a Local Expert. In most of the cases, depending on how much you want to learn about the places you go, Local Guides make your whole trip.
So this is my personal list of the 5 main reasons to hire a Local Guide anytime you travel.
1 – Education and training
Education and training are very different from one Country to another. In some places, global history, spanning from the very first known civilizations to contemporary times, is not even included in the study programmes or is limited to a specific period of time our governments want us to be aware of. Therefore the task of a Local Guide is not limited to the description of the artistic and architectural value of a specific attraction, but that of leading you to understand the historical background that made our ancestors to build it that way, in that specific place, at that specific time. Thus, if you do not want to undergo another 5 years study programme, you’d better hire a local guide.
2 – Hidden secrets
Have you ever been to Riga, in Latvia? I have been there twice and hope will get back soon again. While roaming around in the city, which shows quite an interesting art nuveau set of buildings that caught my attention, I also saw, on the roof a building, the silouhette of a black cat. It took me half a day to get to know the truth and the real story behind it. For some reason, in fact, I was not satisfied by the explanations (many explanations!!!!!) I found on the internet, thus I decided to hire a local guide to take me around for a couple of hours, and finally I got the truth about it. She substantiated her reply with plenty of bibliography.
Just think about how many are the secrets that every city hides behind a single decoration, a specific monument, a rounded corner, such as this one in Venice. Nobody knows such secrets better than a Local Guide.
3 – Food
At time of travelling, food is a challenge. Even the bravest of the independent travellers may face some difficulties with local food. For example, in many Countries of Europe, Rabbit is a specialty, such as in France, Malta, Spain, Italy and others. On the other side, Americans do usually get impressed by that and don’t like even to see. However they may sit at a restaurant which was well reviewed on the internet or on a travel guide and may order a plate they don’t like or discover the truth after eating that. In Asia, tradition is to also eat insects such as beatles, ants, or even snakes. If you don’t want to be trapped into your 5* western style hotel only (which in many cases in Asia is the best option) but also want to experience some local insect-free food, you’d better ask your Local Guide. They will understand and point out to you the best possible options.
4 – Language
Although in some areas of the world it is still difficult to get Guides that are seriously fluent in a language other than their own, in most of the cases Local Guides do speak 2 or 3 languages each, which most commonly are English, French, German, and Spanish. As English is still today the most common “passport” language which may also not be your native language, you get to communicate easily with your guide even in case of emergencies or problems. Here in Italy, to be a licensed Local Guide, you must attend a pretty long after-graduation course and pass a pretty difficult exam which is held in Italian, and 2 foreign languages of your choice, at least. Hire a Local Guide and you’ll get to be spoken in a language you know.
5 – Emergencies
Think about getting your wallet or your passport lost or stolen in Istanbul, or Karachi, or Buenos Aires or Paris. Wouldn’t it be good to have a Local Guide that can help you through the process of getting the police record and help you get in touch with your embassy? Despite it might look easy to go through all that, there always are some local regulations and processes, of which you are not aware, that may turn a procedure that might be easy in our own Countries, into a nightmare, simply because we do not understand the rationale behind them and because of the cultural distance between us. A local Guide is there to help you.
From my point of view a Local Guide is not only a person who tell you facts, stories and describes you the heritage of his/her place. A Local Guide is a benefit under many point of views and, in case of emergencies, he/she won’t ever leave you alone with your troubles.
About price: at a first sight local guides may look expensive, especially in Europe and the Americas. However, first of all we have to consider that Local Guides may not work every day, thus they have to balance on and off days as well as high and low seasons. Second of all, taxation is very high in some Countries, thus cutting dramatically the invoice amount that actually falls into the hands of the Guide. Third of all: in case of emergency, you might be willing to pay twice as much to get out of the nightmare.
This post is not about the Local Guides you get for services that are bookable via online platforms such as Get your Guide or Viator that are simple and easy services not involving a commitment by the suppliers to assist you 360° if not for the duration of the service. The Guides I am writing about are those you can contact and hire directly and may stay with you for just 1 day or for more, depending on the extent of the territory they are allowed to cover by law and the time you decide to spend at a specific place.
Moreover, do not mistake Tour Leaders for Local Guides which are two separate professions. A Local Guide can also be a Tour Leader, but not viceversa. A Local Guide can actually be “local”, meaning they can perform services in just one city, or can be of a higher level, covering an area as big as a Region, or in some cases as big as a Country.
Finally: avoid the “free tours” services. These are commonly tourist traps led by non professionals and unauthorised guides who work legally under the coverage that officially they don’t do it for money. Do you know anyone who really works for free? There always are tricks behind free services such as a tip that must not be lower than a specific amount (usually communicated by the end of the tour), or some stops at shops where you might feel forced to buy to allow the “fake guide” to get his/her commission.