Tour Guide Advice

I’ve had people ask me for advice about a certain area that they know I’ve visited, saying they have a 3-page “to-do” list for their 2-day stay there.  I’ve had people ask if I think they can fit Sicily and Venice into their 10-day vacation.  I’ve traveled with people who really don’t care where they are as long as it allows them to cross off one more of the “1000 Places To See Before You Die”.  And of course, there are those who absolutely MUST be on the move at least 16 out of the 24 hours, and for whom a 3-hour lunch would mean wasting a good 2-3/4 hours of the day.

To start at the end, the grab-a-quick-lunch-and-let’s-dash-to-the-next-place people and I have very little in common, so we’d probably never come in contact with each other….which is good for both of us.

While I can certainly understand the “1000 Places” people, I always hope that they’re truly enjoying what they’re seeing along the way and not just viewing the trip as a contest to check off as many places as possible.

Sicily and Venice?   Yes – you can get to both in 10 days, but do you really want the hassle of a plane trip in the middle of your vacation when you’re still suffering the lingering effects of jet lag?   However…..that said…..if those are the 2 places you’ve always dreamed of visiting, I wouldn’t discourage you.

Now to the list people.   I like dealing with a person who has a list….even if it’s an unrealistic one.   It shows they’ve done their homework, and at least have an idea of what might interest them.   My advice is always to keep the list, but then rank the sites, realizing that you probably can only comfortably see a couple of them per day if you’re on your own….stressing the “comfortable” part.   Of course, if you really want to get through as many stops as possible, the best way might be to hire a guide for the day.   I’ve never done this, but many of my trusted, well-traveled friends have, and recommend it highly.

The key word in the last sentence was “trusted”.   I once had a friend from whom I always got opinions on movies….not because we liked the same thing, but because we were always exact opposites.   If he liked the movie, I knew I wouldn’t.   So while I considered him “trusted” on films, when it comes to travel decisions you can’t afford to be quite so circuitous. The first time I went to Florence, I asked my very trusted friend Louise for her one favorite site.   She said Santa Croce, which had been somewhere in the middle of my list.   Based on her recommendation, I moved it up the ladder, and it is now second for me, with only the real David ahead of it.

That’s why doing a bit of homework beforehand is good.   After all — the goal should be to hit the places you’ve always wanted to see – no matter what the guidebooks say. For instance, in Rome, someone who has always wanted to see the Borghese Museum might not be all that interested in seeing the Colosseum – no matter how iconic it is.

If you ask my opinion, I’ll be more than happy to give it to you, but remember:  it’s only MY opinion, based on MY interests.   You can listen to what I have to say, but that does not mean it’s the right thing for YOU to do.

So don’t come back from Italy complaining that you were “forced” to see all those churches.   As an adult paying your own way, you’re not “forced” to do anything.   Go to the churches that hold something of interest to you and forget all the others.   And if none of them has anything of interest, go instead to the old burial tombs, or find small interesting alleyways, or just sit in a café and have a local drink and a leisurely 3- hour lunch.   Remember:   this is YOUR vacation.


3 thoughts on “Tour Guide Advice

  1. So true!! I run a vacation rental villa near Orvieto and I take special care to make myself available to all our guests as they plan their vacations. As such, I have a hand in planning at least a dozen vacations to our area each year. There are as many different ways to enjoy Central Italy as there are people in the world!

    I almost always give our guests many more ideas than they can possibly fit in, and hope I’ve characterized things well enough that they can make the right decisions for themselves. I’ve had a couple of guests who don’t want to make any such decisions – they’ve asked me to tell them what to do each day they’re there. Talk about pressure!

    By the way, I’m a big fan of good tour guides, and I always recommend Emanuela Visciola for tours in Orvieto. She really brings the history of the city to life, and she has a particular passion for Etruscan history.

    I look forward to reading more of your always-interesting posts in 2014. Happy New Year!

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