Being the able-bodied adventure seeker that I am, I once scoffed at the idea of taking a guided tour. I had images of piling in and out of giant passenger busses, being subjected to awkward tour guide jokes or not having the freedom to explore and do my own thing.
But as I continue to tick countries off my list I now recognize the value in the guided tour.
So here’s what I’ve learned and how I’ve come to acquire this new insight.
1. It’s not your grandma’s tour bus
Or in my case, it was. When I was in my early twenties, my 80 year old grandmother and I went on a trip to Ireland. I booked us on a tour that took as around the south of Ireland and for 3 days, Poa Poa, myself and roughly 20 other 20 somethings were driven around in a coach to kiss the Blarney Stone, peer over the Cliffs of Moher, drink Guinness while listening to Irish folk music and it was….grand.
Could I have organized the travel plans, rented a car and attempted to perilously drive on the other side of the road? Could I have booked BnBs for us, mapped out our route, navigated the roads (sans google maps of course)? Yes…I could have done all those things but it would have been a lot of work, a lot of responsibility, and a lot of stress.
There are occasions for multi-day tours on coaches. Don’t be ashamed to take them.
2. When we met the second most poisonous snake in the Amazon
Deep in the Amazonian jungle of Peru, our guide (aptly named Guido) and another local gentleman whose main responsibility involved a machete took us on what was called a “Jungle Walk”. They scraped tree bark for us to eat, taught us the plants that would give us water, found ants the size of my vitamin C pills…and told us to hang back as THE SECOND MOST POISONOUS SNAKE IN THE AMAZON slithered across our tracks.
This was truly an experience that would have been impossible without the expertise of a guide.
3. Bang out the highlights
I’m of the personal opinion that if it’s a tourist attraction, one should check it out. Devote some time to stop and see the highlights and spend the rest of the time a la Anthony Bourdain (ie getting lost, taking it slow and avoiding the tourist traps).
See also: The Most Useful List of Travel Tips on the Internet
I favor bicycle tours. You cover a lot of ground, see a city’s highlights and get a bit more in depth knowledge from your guide.
4. When the tour is the experience
A rib boat that skips over waves and can maneuver inside caves carved out of lava, a ride up a glacier on snowmobiles, zip-lining across a ravine…all of these are tours but they have been experiences that are now emblazoned in my memories and moments that I truly cherish.
Find an experience that speaks to you. Spend the money and consider it as making an investment in your travel memories!
5. Learn a new skill to take home
What if instead of watching a Flamenco show in Grenada, you took a Flamenco lesson? Or instead of simply buying chocolates in Belgium, you learned how to make chocolates from a chocolatier! I’d like to learn how to surf…or at least try to learn how to surf. I’m hoping to make that memory in Morocco? Or Costa Rica. Or Australia. We’ll see.
Learning something new from a country which you have visited is probably one of the best souvenirs you could possibly bring home.