Updated: Feb 3
In my post, My Plan for Thoughtfully Embarking on Travel in 2021, I suggested that you consider Private Tours as a way to travel while social distancing. How do you know if a Private Tour is right for your Travel Pod? Are they worth the money? In 2019, I had the opportunity to take three tours, one was a small group food tour in Athens, one was a private tour of the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum, one was a all day private tour of the Boyne River Valley, in Ireland. All of them were great tours. Honestly it had been a long time since we had done any tours. We have fallen into the a pattern of traveling slow and selecting several highlights we want to see, using the internet as a way to get historical information or information on local customs. I had forgotten the value and pleasure of experiencing a country through the eyes of a passionate local. I have outlined seven factors to to keep in mind when considering a Private Tour.
Level of Interest
When considering a Private Tour, the first thing to assess is the level of interest in a place or site. Private Tours can give you an in-depth level of knowledge that may or may not be welcomed by your traveling pod. When we were planning our trip the Greece in 2019, I knew from the start that we wanted to do a tour of the Acropolis. We had visited several times and we always left wanting more information. Private Tours can also offer personalization, they allow you to select what you want to see and how long you would like to stay at any location. The other factor to consider is how much preparation time you had for the trip. If you are had lots of preparation time, a highlights Private Tour may not be the best for you. You may want a Private Tour of a site or series of sights that you have the most interest in seeing and gaining in-depth knowledge. Private Tours can be expensive. Select the places that you have the greatest interest to assure you that you are spending your travel dollars on the things that mean the most to you and your travel pod.
Clearly, private tours in off the beaten path destinations or in outdoor destinations are the safest way to experience guided travel in our current world. Once our comfort zones begin to expand, there are other safety factors to consider, besides social distancing. Private tours can keep you from getting lost in remote areas. They offer check in points if you are doing "inn to inn" hiking or biking trips. They provide door to door drop off and pick up in areas where you might not feel comfortable walking longer distances. Also, they offer local knowledge on the best and most reputable shop keepers and restaurateurs.
First, you want to select Tour Guide that speaks the language you where you have the most understanding. Touring the Imperial Palace Gardens in Tokyo with a Japanese only speaking tour guide does not make sense if you only speak English. Translation Apps are helpful in certain circumstances but are cumbersome in a tour situation. If you are traveling to a country where you have no experience with the local language, a Private Tour Guide can acclimate you to the area and make suggestions on other sights and even restaurants you would be comfortable visiting.
CaptK and I tend to travel more on the luxury side than the budget side. That has not always been the case. I was a proud owner of a dog eared copy of the Fodor's guide "Italy on $25 a Day." Even on our trips with the smallest budget, we saw the value in tours. For us the information you gain is worth the price. When social distancing, Private Tours offer the minimal amount of exposure to others. Small group, outdoor walking tours would be another option that offers lower exposure and are priced lower than a Private Tour. Choose a tour for the things that you have the greatest interest in getting deeper knowledge.
Location of the site.
Sometimes there is something that you want to see, but it is difficult to get there by public transportation and renting a car is not an option. Last year in Ireland, I really wanted to visit the New Grange Archaeological Site. We were staying in Dublin and part of our group was using the rental car. We ended up hiring a car and driver. We were able to visit not only the New Grange Site but explore the Boyne River Valley, including Slane Castle and stop for the walking tour at Glasnevin Cemetery. We were able to see so much more than if we attempted to visit on our own!
Difficulty in Gaining Access to Sites
Many places limit the number of visitors or have an overwhelming number of visitors, especially during peak season. Visiting the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel is a great example. Private tours can get you early access and/or skip the line privileges. Recently we were in Rome at the end of October, not peak season. The line was over 400 people long to get into Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. One of the reasons we selected the private tour of the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum was the "skip the line" ticket for the Acropolis Museum. The New Acropolis Museum as recently opened. It has very long lines.
Private Tours can facilitate you experiencing more of a destination when your time at the destination is short. A private Highlights Tour can cover a lot more than exploring on your own or a larger group tour. It can also help you to see things if you were unable to plan ahead. As an example, Capt K and I are planning to visit Northern Italy during May of 2021, if travel is possible at that time. One of the things on our list is to see the "Last Supper" in Milan. Usually you would have to reserve your tickets online six months in advance. Because of the current world situation, that is not possible. I have researched tours, there are multiple Private Tours that include tickets to see the "Last Supper," when the church is reopens for visitors.
Whether you use Yelp, Trip Advisor, or another tour review website, check out your tour before you go. Besides online reviews, I like to use recommendations from the hotel concierge. Rarely have I eaten a bad meal or taken a bad tour that was recommended by a concierge. Have you taken a private tour?? Did it live up to your expectations? Share your thoughts in the comments section. Looking for some new travel gear, check out my Amazon Store.