Tour Guides and the Independent Traveler

Library of Celsus, Ephesus

I am a very independent traveler, from booking through every aspect of the actual trip itself. I love taking care of the little details, carefully researching each destination and creating sample itineraries to maximize our time. I never considered hiring a tour guide to help us while visiting new places; I just saw them as an unnecessary expense. I honestly didn’t think they would add anything to the experience, except to cost us money. Fortunately, my opinion changed while on a Mediterranean cruise.

By its nature, a Mediterranean cruise means that you don’t get to spend very much time in any one place. Rather you have a day, or maybe two at the most, to explore some of the most exciting cities of the world. While not for everyone, I enjoyed it as an introduction to certain countries that I ordinarily wouldn’t have visited. Because of the restrictions though, I had to find ways to maximize our time and money at each stop. This is how I learned the real value of a good tour guide.

I was particularly excited about the visiting the port of Kusadasi. Located on the coast of Southern Turkey, Kusadasi is best known as being the portal to Ephesus, one of the most historically significant sites in Turkey. I knew I wanted to tour Ephesus, but there were also several other places in the region I wanted to see, and only a day to see them. After some research, I found that there was a reasonably good bus service which could get us to almost all of the sites we wanted to see. The timing though was tricky and I wasn’t sure if we could do everything, knowing that we were bound to make mistakes with the bus system. So I decided to hire a tour guide.

Basilica of St. John
Our Tour Guide at the Basilica of St. John

Reading through scores of travel message boards and various reviews, I contacted Ekol Travel and told them what I wanted. We would be touring Ephesus, the Temple of Artemis, the Virgin Mary’s House and the Basilica of St. John, all with an experienced tour guide for only $75 per person.

We were met at the port by the driver and guide and started our day. Our guide was excellent and more than just taking us to the sites, she really educated us about what we were seeing and doing. By the end of the day, I had learned more about the area than I ever could have by myself.

Since then, I have experimented with tour guides and even started purchasing the audio guides at museums and sites when available. While extra fees are of course involved, they have made for a much richer travel experience. Guide books are great, but their information is limited and I have learned so much more with guides. Ultimately, their value usually far outweighs the cost. The honest truth is that most of of my trips are to places to which I will never return. I would be doing myself a tremendous disservice by not maximizing the value of these experiences and learning as much as I can while there. That’s why, in my opinion, it is definitely worth paying a little more sometimes in order to get a much more enjoyable travel experience.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

14 thoughts on “Tour Guides and the Independent Traveler”

  1. Matt,

    You and I are so much alike. I agree with you 100% on the guides. I too am an independent traveler, but I think that guides can just bring a place alive. And then there is the social aspect and the insider tips and secrets that guides can provide – like a hidden local restaurant, a secluded spot on the beach or the best time to visit a heavily touristed spot without the crowds. And if they are truly a local in a foreign land, it can be fun to learn or practice some of the language with them.

    And even if you can’t afford a whole day or even half-day tour, some guides can be hired for just a few hours, which might just be within your budget.

    I say, give it a try!

    1. Couldn’t agree more! I don’t necessarily advocate using a guide everywhere, there’s nothing like making mistakes on your own, but in some circumstances they are essential. One place I wish I’d had one was at the Vatican. My time there was also limited and I know I missed a lot.

  2. Matt! We’re too like-minded. So funny that I just published a piece yesterday on this very thing. I’m really of the mindset that a tour guide can often make or break a trip. While I typically travel solo, I often use a tour guide, just because the experience is often so much better. Traveling by yourself and at your own pace is great, but there’s something about a great tour guide that goes over and beyond!

  3. Hi Matt, I’m completely with you on the local guides. I have always been a very independent minded traveller, but over the last couple of years I have become less dogmatic about it and I have found that using local guides has really enhanced my experiences of the places I have visited. I have a post that I did last year about visiting a favela in Rio that you might find interesting?

    This is an experience that I don’t think I would have ever had if I hadn’t used a local guide (it just wouldn’t have been safe) and I really felt that the company was treating the locals with respect and also making a difference in the community.

    1. What a great post, thank you for sharing! Unique access is another great reason to sometimes use a guide. As much as we would like to think otherwise, there are some places we need help to explore.

  4. Like your post. i also want to be an independent traveler. I think i have to learn a lot from ur experience.

  5. Hi, We are going to do the exact same thing this summer….a cruise with a trip to Ephesus. I have been before and my son is studying Classics and I want him to get the most of the day ….were you offered a guided tour from your cruise boat or was it simply a matter of booking and paying for transport?
    Thanks in advance Liz

    1. We booked independent of the cruise, I’ve linked to the company in the post. It’s cheaper and a better experience since it’s private. I believe I paid them half in advance, then the rest after the tour. I strongly recommend them, great company and they offer tours throughout the country. Have fun!

  6. Thanks.I’ve bookmarked your site and will have a look and maybe book.Try and get some commission!

    1. Ha! Well thank you, but they’re not paying me nor did they pay for my tour. I just liked their service and wanted to recommend them. :) Enjoy the trip, it’s a fun cruise.

  7. With your head buried in a book you’re not seeing what you went there to see and experience ~
    To be able to look, breath in, touch , taste and experience whilst listening to stories, from a local…. Can’t get much richer than that :)


    Hey Matt, I also agree with you regarding hiring a tour guide.. Buit in some cases its required by law.. That happened with us in peru, in machu pichu..and I enjoyed it a lot!! They were so helpfull!

    1. I’ve really gotten spoiled by having great guides. Even if they’re not there for the whole trip, I seek them out for important spots.

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