The Following is a guest post by Tatiana Christian
When people travel abroad, they usually like to know what “must” be seen and done before even setting foot in their destination of choice – what they HAVE to see before they leave, the best places to do x, y, and z, etc. My idea of traveling is more, “let’s walk around and see what we discover!” because it feels more authentic and the touristy sites are always packed to the brim.
So when I went to Cairo, Egypt with a family friend, I was fascinated to hear that she had chosen a tour guide for us. I had no idea what to expect, since a) I’d never been to Africa before and b) a tour guide didn’t seem to match my normal traveling style. But having a guide in Egypt was probably the best idea in the world – she met us at the airport (free of charge), took us to some far off-the-beaten-path places we may not have gotten to see on our own (like an essence shop where we watched someone blow glass!). Part of our package involved seeing the Giza pyramids, spending the night in the desert, eating by the Nile and getting the chance to buy authentic gold cartouches with Egyptian hieroglyphics
Our guide proved to be very knowledgeable about Egyptian history as we toured the Egyptian Museum, and she repeatedly haggled for us as we purchased scarves made of Egyptian cotton, and went shopping in a bazaar. And finally, at the end of our trip, she allowed us to visit her home and try some of her mother’s authentic cooking.
My time in Egypt was amazing and couldn’t have gone smoother as our guide provided everything for us! We didn’t have to stress about where we were going next, and having an interpreter to make the language barrier less noticeable was a huge advantage. I highly suggest spending your holidays in the Red Sea if you get a chance, and try a tour guide, you’ll be glad you did!
After our stay in Egypt, we boarded a plane to Rome, Italy where we had no guide, or any real expectations waiting for us. Once we had checked into our hostel, not far from the airport, our adventure began! Honestly, my time spent in Rome gives me warmer feelings as I remember the great friends we made in our hostel – from all over the world – all the museums we saw, the buildings, the food we ate, the places we walked to.
I remember how a bunch of us went to the Fountain de Trevi and ate gelato (fostering my current addiction). I remember lying in the grass of a random park. We ventured – naturally – to the coliseum (which is much smaller in real life!) and basically just hung out! There was a degree of freedom that we didn’t have while in Egypt because of our guide, as we randomly walked into interesting buildings, and admired all the random ruins throughout the city.
We stayed up late talking to our hostel mates, promising to friend each other on Facebook (and eventually falling away), and the night when the hostel offered all of us a spaghetti dinner, or the delicious continental breakfast they offered us for free. I loved being in Rome, maybe more than Egypt, because we could do and go wherever we wanted – plus, Italian is close to French, so I had a fun time trying to self-teach myself the language. It is Rome that reminds me that it’s great to travel without a guide, and to just go, seeing what happens instead of being led around. The world feels just a little bit bigger, and more mysterious, that way.
Using a guide has its advantages and disadvantages, but getting to experience both in the same trip was a nice balance, but you just have to decide if you’re more the footloose and fancy type or more the Rick Steves breed.
Have you ever used a guide on a trip? What were the advantages or disadvantages?