I get lots of questions about day tours. Most of my clients choose to not go with an escorted tour (the kind where you travel with a group of strangers on a pre-planned itinerary set by the company) and prefer to travel independently. So, how do you decide when it is valuable to join a tour or hire a guide?
1) You ask a travel agent like me :) Seriously, I have traveled all around the world and plan trips for clients, so I hear and see feedback as to what places almost require a tour or guide on a regular basis. Working with an expert helps you determine where your time and money are best spent.
2) Is it a "must see" sight? If it is your dream to see a specific place during your travel, I encourage you to book in advance. This assures you that you will be able to see it. If a trip to Rome wouldn't be complete without seeing the Vatican or the Papal Audience, book it in advance.
3) Do you want to know the back story? There are lots of places in this world where you can visit independently and understand perfectly what you are looking at---either because the signage is great (and in English...or your native language) or because it just isn't that complex. However, there are places where signage isn't great or the history is complex. Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Pompeii in Italy are great examples. Sure, you know Angkor Wat is a temple complex and Pompeii is a city unfortunate enough to be buried by a volcanic eruption....but do you know anything else? These are sights where I recommend joining a tour or hiring a guide if you prefer not to join a group.
4) Do you want to stand in line all day? Yeah, me neither :) Seriously, if you are traveling in high (or even shoulder season) to a popular attraction, it so worth it to buy what is called Skip the Line access. I actually recommend it year-round. This ticket has gotten more and more popular over the years, so now even the line for Skip the Line can be a line---and you generally still have to stand in line to go through security, where applicable---but standing in a 5-10 minute line is a whole lot better than standing in line for 2 hours. The photo below was taken at Sainte-Chapelle (what I would consider a not so popular attraction in Paris...most people only visit the nearby Notre Dame) on a random Tuesday in shoulder season. Yes, you do lose some flexibility as Skip the Line is usually a timed entry, but it is worth it not have have waste your precious traveling moments in a long line!
Some Skip the Line tickets include a guide or audioguide and others simply offer the perk of not standing in line (but nothing other than the admission). In my experience, if you are book the Skip the Line with a tour or with a guide, the overall experience runs more smoothly than going with the audioguide or nothing. The places that offer a Skip the Line (think big sights like La Sagrada Familia or Eiffel Tower) are often confusing to navigate once inside, so having a person there to help you can save you valuable time.
I'm here to help you customize all of your travels. Please send me a message or call when you are ready to plan your next adventure!
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent except Antarctica.