When is it worth booking a tour guide?
Visiting a new place can be daunting. You’re putting yourself in a foreign land, with only the knowledge acquired through Google, family, friends and your travel agent.
It’s easy to feel intimated or overwhelmed with the opportunities to explore. Just this morning I bobbed onto TripAdvisor to finalise my Barcelona 3 Night itinerary and I was met with 558 things I could do as a tourist in Barcelona. That’s a lot to cram into a short city break – so how don we whittle it down?
One way to make sure you see the main sights is to book a tour, but with so many tour options covering so many different interests, it can be very difficult to decide whether to bother at all.
So when is it worth booking a tour? Let’s consider the pros and cons of organised tours… and the I’ll decide whether to bother booking one or not!
The benefits of a booking a guided tour
You don’t miss a thing
If you’re a bit lazy when it comes to pre-holiday research or you have serious FOMO, then booking a tour ensure you’ll see the main tourist hotspots and get an overview of the historical, artistic or natural significance of each site. Easy win!
The tour guides have geographical knowledge
Being on a tour means you don’t need to concern yourself with the location of the places you’re going to visit. Be it a walking tour or a bus tour, if you’re a crappy navigator you could save yourself a lot of frustration by leaving directions to the experts.
If the places you’re visiting are quite spread out then a tour can actually be a cost effective way to transport yourself between them, so it’s still worth considering a tour even if you got your orienteering badge from the guides when you were 10.
History and Narrative
You get more from being guided by someone who has in depth knowledge of the cultural significance of a tourist attraction than by simply walking to it, looking and snapping pictures.
If you’re less inclined to read tourist information or buy a paper guide, then booking on a tour is a great way to get some background whilst you snap away on your camera and upload pictures to Instagram. Multitasking. Boom.
Exclusive access & Special treatment
Sometimes the tour companies have a deal with the attractions so you can effectively cut the queue and therefore see the attractions faster. Similarly, they might have access ‘behind the scenes’ so you might be able to get closer to some art, artefacts or simply a better view.
Security and safety
I’m not encouraging anyone to visit somewhere which is ‘unsafe’ but there are certainly places I would like to visit where there is economic deprivation and a higher risk of criminal activity. If I wanted to explore these areas I would book a tour because local knowledge and security would be important to my experience and would let me relax a little bit more (which is what I want from a holiday)!
It’s efficient, and requires little to no planning!
Book a tour in a few clicks, turn up and let someone else do that hard work for you. It certainly sounds attractive!
When is it best to go it alone?
There are some really annoying people in the world and it’s very possible that you’ll be stuck on a bus with at least one of them for the duration of the tour. I’m a sociable person, but being forced to socialise with random people in a confined space is not everyone’s cup of tea!
There are some tours which are ‘free’ or request only a small donation at the end of the tour. Others are pre-bookable with varying fees depending on the inclusive activities and the size of the group.
Either way,the decision to book a tour is obviously swayed by budget.
Sometimes you don’t want to see everything in the tour
If you only really want to see 50-75% of the places and attractions in the tour, is it really worth it?
When we visited Hong Kong, we took a half day tour and there were some things we weren’t that bothered about seeing (such as a jade showroom). Lesson learned? Only book tours which contain everything you want to see, but not much else.
Want to hang around somewhere longer?
When on a guided tour, you’ll typical jump off the bus and then spend a limited time at each ‘destination’ or ‘hotspot’ meaning you have to whizz round or at least be selective in what you do at each place.
Need a toilet visit? Might want to hold it in, or you could miss a priceless art exhibit.
When you want to ditch the watch
Spontaneity is something we often crave and cannot establish in our day to day lives. The constraints of our work schedules, workout schedules, meal times and fitting in family and friends lends itself to routine.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but when on holiday it can be nice to dance to your own tune. A tour is sort of more like a line dance than a freestyle twerk-in-the-kitchen whilst you’re emptying the dishwasher. I’m much more inclined to do the latter!
Ditching the tour and wandering around a city yourself means you can leave the watch in the hotel room and just wing it, which can be quite liberating in itself!
So what’s the verdict?
For Barcelona, I’ve studied the content of the top 10 tours (per TripAdvisor) and plan to visit them in my own time. The city is small enough to navigate easily myself and I want this break to be leisurely!
That’s not to say I wouldn’t book a tour again – just not this week!
Planning a trip? Head to the holiday planning page for more tips and tricks – or check out what I got up to in the places I’ve visited!