Philadelphia Day 4: Tour Guide or On Your Own

I’ve taken guided tours before. In some places, like the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russia, you can only enter as part of a tour. Guided tours are more expensive, of course. You have someone to make arrangements for you, to navigate through crowds, and to help with solving problems should one arise — like if you get sick or separated from the group or lose your travel documents or something.

There are downsides to a guided tour. You can only go as fast as the slowest member in the group. You make more bathroom stops. If you decide you like a place and want to stay longer, you don’t have that option. You’re stuck with the other people in your group, whether you find them congenial or not.

The most interesting trade-off to me is the dependence v. independence thing. Part of the fun and challenge of travel is precisely having to negotiate the world in an unfamiliar place — including problems. That’s how we continue to grow and learn. Having a guide can lull you into mindlessness, and what good is that?

I think that at this point, I’m still active and alert enough to prefer doing my own thing, unless I was going to a place like Bhutan where you really need someone helping you make your way. I think I don’t like guided tours for the same reason I don’t like cruises: too much of a forced march feel.

That said, I’m happy to be in Philly, and have loved most of the things we’ve done. All good. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Philadelphia Day 4: Tour Guide or On Your Own

  1. I have been enjoying your “tour of Philadelphia” posts and although I see the points you make in independent versus dependent travel and you are a far more experienced traveler than I, I lean more in favor of the guided tour as long as it is well-done. I particularly enjoy and appreciate things like no worries on transportation, lodging and at least some meals being provided. I enjoy being provided with tours of the high points of an area. A good guide (which it sounds like you’ve been enjoying several) can bring to life so many things that can’t be found with a self-guided or “read the book” type tour. I’ve planned and taken family on several tours and I think we had a great time, hit the highlights of the area and enjoyed ourselves but it was a lot of work to begin with and then there was the constant worry that the arrangements I made on the phone or online would pan out once we got there. Now, I just want to relax, enjoy the sights, learn the basics of the area I’m touring and let someone else be in charge of all the “stuff”. I always figure that if I’m really enthralled by an area, I have the perfect reason to some back another time.

    Anyway – Happy Belated Birthday!! – Looks like your celebrations were wonderful!

  2. for Dawn: I think those are all the plusses of guided travel — although I very much doubt that any arrangements you make are less than perfectly done. 🙂 I get that all the work of arranging likely falls to you, and that it’s nice to hand that off to someone else. The experience of a local guide to take us through the Italian market was priceless. Nina lives here and shops at the market herself, so in addition to her role as a guide, she has personal relationships with many of the vendors and knows their stories. She well illustrated what you talk about in your comment, the kind of person who creates an experience that a visitor from out of town, no matter how well-versed a traveler, can never replicate.

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