When I was a young backpacker on a supertight budget, I never hired a guide. I had unlimited time and very limited money. I could spend hours reading guidebooks and museum placards. I eavesdropped on group tour guides and hung out with locals. I convinced myself that I didn’t need to spend the $1 to hire a local person to show me around.
Now that I travel with my kids, I hire a guide whenever I can.
We spent several days at Angkor Wat in June. The temperature was not unlike the surface of the sun, the humidity was certainly 100% – and it was sprinkling. Even Don and I were pouty.
The guesthouse we stayed at came with a driver and guide (because it was a bit far from downtown…) So the first day, our guide showed us around the ruins.
He explained the Khmer society, the buildings, the religion, the art. He didn’t do too much to engage the kids specifically but knew several cool, seemingly secret spots to explore, showed us what we could hold or climb on, and successfully navigated us away from the throngs of bus tourists that would come out of nowhere and swarm a temple in minutes.
The best part? The guide kept the kids quiet.
We didn’t appreciate his magic until the next day. We had decided to head out and explore on our own. But within minutes of arriving at the first ruin, the kids began to whine. “It’s hot.” “When can we go back?” “I want ice cream.” You know the routine…
We had spent a good four hours touring the prior day without complaint. We realized the presence of the guide kept the kids on their best behavior: they were too embarrassed to whine and complain in front of someone they didn’t know.
It was the best $5 we ever spent.
Aside from keeping the kids in line, the guide had indeed provided us with a lot of great information. Sure, you say, isn’t that what guides are supposed to do? And yes, indeed, it is. But these days when we set out on trips, we don’t have as much time to read up on each place as we used to when we traveled sans kids. Local guides provide an inexpensive way to make up for most parent’s lack of adequate travel prep and research time.
And the peace is priceless!
One important caveat: If you have the same guide for multiple days, the magic ability to keep the peace fades a bit. For example, in Bali our driver, Dewa, was very, very nice to the kids. Eventually, they became comfortable enough to whine in front of him.
The same thing happened in Australia when we joined an outback camping safari for five days. As the kids became friends with the other travelers and the guide, they began to act up more and more as they came out of their shells.
Even if the effect fades, I find most traveling parents are happy to give it a try. It sure is nice have a local take a turn as trip leader for a day 😉
by Maryann Jones Thompson, Updated February 2020
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