Multi-day guided holidays are one of the best ways to explore an unfamiliar destination. They provide local insight and knowledge into a region’s history, demographics, ecology and even the best places to eat or drink — all while removing the stress of doing research and juggling logistics.
But if you’ve never been on a guided holiday before, there’s a few things you need to know. We spoke with tour guides to find out what they wish travellers knew before they embarked on a guided holiday — and how they can make the best of their time abroad.
Choose a guided holiday based on your capabilities — not your aspirations
Before you even book a holiday, it’s critical to assess your own physical abilities. Most tour operators will provide a full sample itinerary on their websites, which will indicate the fitness level required, regardless of whether you’re heading out on an active adventure or are just required to get on and off a bus.
“It’s very important to be honest with yourself about your abilities and fitness levels,” says Laura Rae, communications and marketing manager for Globetrotting, a tour company that specialises in global horse-riding holidays. “I always recommend to my guests to undersell themselves — they’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much they can achieve.”
Let your guide know about medical conditions, dietary requirements, or phobias
Even if you think it’s small or inconsequential, alert your guides to any possible issues, such as knee problems, a fear of heights, or a more serious ailment. Know that in return, they’ll look out for your safety and comfort in the most discreet manner possible.
Personally, I have chronic motion sickness that no amount of Sea-Legs can cure. As a travel journalist, it’s embarrassing, and I don’t like to have a fuss made. But I also know that disclosing it ensures I secure a front-row seat and prevents a far more embarrassing situation from occurring.
Refer to the provided packing list
Keep your load light, which includes packing appropriately for your day excursions. “I’ve had guests on guided hikes expect me to carry everything for them,” says Robert Ashpole, a guide in Canada’s Rocky Mountains. “I’m not there to be a sherpa, as I’m already carrying emergency supplies for the group.”
Treat your fellow group members with respect. It’s their holiday, too
If you’ve signed up for a group trip, the reality is that you may not get along with everyone. But Andrew Thomas, an independent guide who has worked for G Adventures and Intrepid, says that before you pass judgement, keep in mind that people are often nervous when they’re meeting strangers for the first time. “When we’re nervous, we can’t be our authentic selves and it takes a few days for people to come out of their shell,” he says.
If you’re a solo traveller and concerned about sharing a room with a stranger, it may be worth paying the single supplement to have a room of your own — a small price to pay to ensure you have time by yourself to recharge.
Show up on time and come prepared
The most annoying person in any tour group? It’s often the person who is chronically late. Don’t be that person. At the end of each day, your guide will brief you on what to expect the following day, including what you’ll be doing, how you should dress, and what you should bring. Take note and arrive for the allocated departure time, which ensures the itinerary runs smoothly for the entire group.
Your guide is there to enhance your experience
According to Katherine McGetrick, who has worked with Contiki and G Adventures, the role of a tour guide is to provide local knowledge and insights, organise the daily itinerary and make sure it runs smoothly, and liaise with supplies on the ground. With your safety being their primary concern, expect them to ensure you have a good holiday. Special requests are okay but remember they’re not your personal concierge.
“I once had a traveller ask me to make them bacon and eggs every morning to be delivered to their door when they woke up. This is what guides won’t be doing,” says McGetrick.
Be flexible and keep an open mind
Read your trip itinerary carefully before departure but keep your expectations in check. Things don’t always go to plan — even if you’ve paid for a guided trip. Roads close and buses have to re-route. Guides get sick. And, at the moment, the hospitality sector around the world is understaffed, so snafus at hotels and restaurants are common.
The good news? As a passenger on a guided holiday, you don’t have to problem-solve these issues when they do occur — you just need to be patient as your holiday provider does their best to resolve the situation.
“I can’t stress enough how having an open mind is the key to trips running well. If you lock yourself onto this idea of, ‘I need to see this beach with perfect weather’, it’s going to ruin your trip,” says Thomas. “Nothing’s ever going to be perfect. Know that you can have so much fun, even when things don’t go to plan.”
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