“Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.”— Andrew Zimmerman
One of the main things that separate travelers from tourists is the traveler’s self-reliance and freedom to choose their own path each day. While I never have been (and never plan to be) herded into a bus and shuttled from site to site, I appreciate the convenience of leaving the logistics in another’s hands. This isn’t to say I’m against all guides and tours; there is a time and place for everything. There are also new mediums, leveraging technology, that allow freedom but provide the information you miss out on by skipping the bullhorn-toting guide.
One key distinction is a guide versus a tour guide. In Africa, you probably don’t want to wander around the savanna hoping to find a lion before it finds you. A guide is absolutely necessary in Papua New Guinea with tribal borders and numerous languages…unless you want to test whether they’ve really given up headhunting! I’m good at spotting wildlife, but can’t come close to an experienced local guide on a jungle trek.
Another distinction is group size and personal space. Private and small group trips, particularly with local guides, offer a balance of freedom and convenience. In Romania, we had an incredible (and very affordable) private guide take my family throughout Transylvania. He secured quaint city-center accommodations, let us dictate the pace and space (clutch with children) and the amount of information we wanted. No amount of research can replace local expertise, it’s how many people you have to share that expertise with and how much freedom you must exchange in return.
A great balance between going solo and a full tour, is small group travel. Intrepid is the leader in this space, and clearly has the balance figured out. They coordinate logistics, have some group activities, but also provide plenty of “you time”. Intrepid crafts unique experiences and itineraries, that would be hard to coordinate yourself, at a reasonable price point.
Imagine building this 44-day Central America itinerary and coordinating the logistics. Sounds fun to me, but I know how much effort would be involved.
I always scan Intrepid’s Last Minute Travel Deals section. Be warned, it’s hard to not immediately book one of these trips!
I often just browse the Intrepid site for inspiration or to get ideas to include in my own itineraries.
Promo code: analyticaltraveler
Of course an Analytical Traveler embraces leveraging technology to optimize travel. I was turned on to a great app called TripScout that utilizes GPS and local guides to provide succinct audio tours of over 60 cities globally. You can download the guides to your device and still use GPS while avoiding roaming charges and data usage.
I tested the app on cities with which I’m quite familiar and one I recently visited. The San Francisco guide, for example, lists 91 curated sites that you can conveniently filter by parks, neighborhoods, monuments, museums, restaurants, and more. Most attractions have audio guides (some text only) that are generally 1-2 minutes and provide just the right amount of interesting facts to give you a good feel of the neighborhood or what you are seeing. The first thing I do in a new city is start wandering, now I can easily add context and find out what that “beautiful” cathedral is, or grab a coffee at the city’s best coffee roaster instead of Starbucks.
I was able to get in contact with Konrad Waliszewski, CEO of TripScout and a “modern day Marco Polo” per Forbes magazine, to better understand his vision for TripScout. Konrad says it all, “I want travelers to be able to experience the local side of a city and travel on their terms. Sure, we’ll make sure you see a few “must-see” sites, but we want you to also eat at the best local spots, find the best neighborhood bars, drink great coffee, and learn the stories that make each city so unique. We’re building the app that we want as modern travelers and it’s been a fun journey. We have dozens of new cities launching soon and some product features in the works that will make it even easier to personalize and share your travel experience.”
Konrad has extended an offer to the Analytical Traveler community to download a free city guide using promo code: analyticaltraveler. If you take advantage of this, which I highly recommend, please share your experience by leaving a comment in this post and provide an AppStore review here. Please also share your experience and view on guides versus tours in the comment section below.
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Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I earn a small commission if you make a purchase using these links. If you have any questions about the companies or my status as an affiliate, please don’t hesitate to email me. My full Affiliate Disclosure can be found here.
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