Traditionally a guide was a person or animal who accompanied someone and showed them the way. What a great definition! I work as a professional guide. Yes. I mean, I make my living showing interesting places to visitors. Isn’t it a wonderful job?
Visitors who discover their destination with a guide will bring back home memories filtered by what he or she has told them, by the attitude when showing them certain details, by the enthusiasm, empathy or erudition of words and gestures. What a beautiful responsibility, isn’t it?
When asked what I work on, sometimes I cannot help to reply that I have the best job possible. It’s just, you know, I’m on holiday all year round. I take people to beautiful places, I show them my city, I talk to them about our customs, and I learn things from them every day.
Imagine that you want to visit an unknown place and you hire the services of a guide: what can (and should) you expect from a professional guide? And (you understand me) I don’t mean someone who works for peanuts, and makes a living out of tips. I do not recommend you, who have never considered going to a free-hairdresser, or to a free-dentist, to sign up for a free-tour. For the same reasons. Period.
So what should you expect from a good guide? How do you know if you are in good hands?
1) First of all, a visit with a good guide will make you feel that the time spent together was well employed. That’s the most important thing.
2) As soon as you meet, a good guide will welcome you with an open and optimistic attitude. You’ll see that he or she tries to figure out your expectations, or you may even be asked directly. Answer honestly; give clues so that he or she can offer you the most personalized visit. The route will take your needs into account, as well as your mood and tastes; you will be told many things, yes, but you will also be listened, asked questions, and involved in the stories triggered by the different monuments and places you see.
3) A good guide has studied a lot, has read plenty, and has walked even more. Although you may have the impression they are improvising, the itinerary was prepared and rehearsed several times. The guide has anticipated what the customers would see and could touch, and has also foreseen what questions could arise. As actors put it: best improvisations happen only when the actor knows the script by heart… You will be surprised by facts and figures coming from the most accredited sources. Sometimes, however, the guide will season anecdotes that have come to them through other channels. Speech will be transversal and will include from history and data, to songs, folklore, or hidden secrets…
4) Guides like to connect. That’s why they’ve learned languages. And sometimes they will make some pronunciation or vocabulary flaws. Forgive them and think that you have the opportunity to meet someone closely linked to the territory you are willing to discover, native or not of your language, but eager to convey their love for the land you are visiting.
5) To be with a good guide is to feel safe and reassured. Whenever possible they will strive to make you comfortable, so that you feel at ease. They will check that it is not too hot (or cold) for you (although here is a spoiler: guides cannot control weather, yet). They will show you where you can rest when you are tired and where you can eat when you are hungry. Most importantly, a professional guide will do everything in their hands so that your group does not interfere with the neighborhood and surroundings. Guides love their city and see that it takes advantage of tourism, protecting local people and nature.
6) Each guide has their own personal style, result of their training, interests, tastes, and background. Doing the same route with two different guides will feel like taking a picture of the same object from completely different angles. Try!
7) Finally, a skilled guide has received formal, university training, and has gone through various tests and governmental requirements to obtain their license. Continuous training is a must in a guide’s life: history, art, geography, literature, gastronomy, group dynamics, languages, psychology…. whatever it takes!
Whether you are one of those who like a private guide for yourself, or if you prefer to sign up for regular guided tours, be sure to hire a licensed guide and your visit will become an ever-lasting memory!