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Thursday, April 24, 2008

5 good reasons not to use a guide

I've been getting asked for recommendations for guides recently, not guidebooks but guides tourists can hire to show them around a place. Other than specialist guides, I don't recommend them, because I believe guides get in the way of a good travel experience and here are 5 reasons why:
1) guides lessen the impact of
culture shock: and a little culture shock is not such a bad thing. Cities like Shanghai, Cairo and Mumbai can be a crazy, chaotic and confusing for first-time visitors, but that's what travel is about - putting yourself in unfamiliar circumstances and embracing the exoticism. You don't want someone setting right your wonderful sense of disorientation.
2) guides get in the way of those assault-on-your-senses experiences: one of the coolest things about travel is visiting places where you're blown away by the sights, sounds, feels, and smells of the place, like a Middle Eastern souq and bazaar, especially a spice souq or fish market. These are places where you want to take it all in, listen to the strange sounds, inhale the fragrant aromas, touch the textiles, enjoy the play of color and light.

3) guides give you
their perspective on the state of things: whether it's a destination's history, society or politics, unless your guide was born in the place, is a long-term resident or holds a research degree, the guide's take on things is rarely that of an insider and not necessarily one that you want. You don't know the source of their information. Unless you can be sure you're getting a local perspective or that of an expert, you're better off reading books, talking to locals, and deciding for yourself.
4) guides ruin your chances of interacting with locals: because you're with a guide it's obvious you're a tourist for starters. Guides have their rehearsed lectures and schedules, and chatting to locals, accepting spontaneous invitations to a meal or into people's homes is generally not on their agenda. You also don't know the relationship the guide might have with locals; it may not be a good one.

5) guides make everything too easy: part of the fun (and frustration) of travel is figuring stuff out - deciphering signs, reading labels on packaging, learning how to buy a bus ticket or SIM card. There's a sense of accomplishment when you learn something for yourself and can do things that locals in that destination do everyday - there's a sense that you're fitting in. And you don't want anyone getting in the way of that.


Wendy said...

I think using a guide can also make you miss out on good local cuisine. Guides will typically take you for that lunch break to a touristy restaurant where food can be bland in an attempt to cater to foreign palates or just really bad.

Lara Dunston said...

Yeah, I never do get why some people think our 'foreign' palates can't handle their food. We've experienced that a lot actually. That's probably worth a post too... thanks!

Kalyan said...

Absolutely Lara. Before venturing out, I prefer reading a couple of blogs and talking to couple of travel-maniac-friends. This way I enjoy encountering the unknown (which is not completely unknown anymore).

Lara Dunston said...

Yes, I agree... getting lost can be fun. I have been in Calabria and I have been trying to create some walking tours (not always easy in towns with limited 'sights') and I'm sometimes so reluctant to because some towns are just made for getting lost in!

I will be posting on guides next week though, as I've just had a fantastic experience using highly specialized guides in Rome a couple of weeks ago - the experience was so enriching! For now, I have a book to finish researching in Calabria, but I promise to write more on the topic next week.

Thanks so much for commenting!!