Visiting a new town, region or country is a great way to expand your horizons and learn more about the local way of life, traditions and general culture. Hiring a good tour guide is often the perfect way to make sure you stay in a safe area, hit all the high points of what the area has to offer and can even help when you don’t speak the language. There are a few things you need to cover before hiring a guide or paying for a tour, though – especially with scams running rampant in certain countries that try to take advantage of tourists.
Check Your Tour Guide Credentials
Before you ever set foot on a tour, ask the guide or company about their credentials or run a background check yourself. If they don’t have any certifications, are a relatively new company, or an unknown individual who says they can take you on a tour, find a new guide.
Staying Safe with Technology
Hiring a private tour guide in some instances may be the best way to go – for a fishing or hunting expedition, for example – because these are highly specialized areas of interest. In general, though, you want to tour with a group and make sure you’re not becoming a target for foul play. Smartphones offer the ability to share your location with someone and also follow your tour on a map to make sure you’re really being told the truth about a building, street or even neighborhood.
Check for Travel Advisories Before Departing
Always check the U.S. Department of State’s website for current travel advisories, if any, to your destination before departing as well as before taking any tours in the area. This is generally where you can find the most current information on any type of threats to the area or increased police action, terrorist actions and even reports of human trafficking rings.
Be Wary of Special “Deals”
Some tour guides who aren’t necessarily legit will offer the chance to exchange money at a discounted rate, get you a front row seat to a local ceremony, or even take you to an exclusive local shop. Most of the time, these shady guides are taking you to a friend or a store where they have already agreed to bring them, shoppers. Just realize that anything that seems to be too good to be true or too behind-the-scenes is likely a racket for the guide and their friends.
Agree to Tour Terms Ahead of Time
Some hotels or companies might offer a ‘free’ tour, but tourists are pressured into giving the guide a tip at the end. There is nothing wrong with paying your guide a gratuity, but just be clear on what they are advertising before you go on the tour. Ask about rates, length of time, sites to be visited, and whether a tip is expected or accepted.
Question Special Savings
Don’t be afraid to refuse to buy at local shops your guide may take you to. In underdeveloped countries, it is quite common for a guide to work out deals with shopowners to bring tourists there in exchange for a commission of sorts. If you are taken somewhere trying to sell you the ‘local special’ or claim that you can’t get an item they have anywhere else, it’s likely the price tag is too high and they’re looking to take advantage of you.
Confirm Specialized Training
If you’re hiring a specialized tour guide such as one that will take you on a whitewater rafting venture, fishing expedition or even a hunting trip, the tour guides hired for such activities should have extra training and experience. Check their reviews from other tourists, and ask about their safety training and policies. Many of these types of trips can expose you to greater danger, so if you aren’t given a safety talk or demonstration before departing, red flags should be going up that it’s time to find a new guide.