How to choose the perfect sightseeing tour when on a holiday?

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In my long career of planning customised holidays, I have seldom come across people being picky about the tours they want to include in the itinerary. Of course, that is because not many travel agents offer a bouquet of tours or an option of doing a particular tour in different ways. My clients now are often foxed when I ask them what they would like to do at a particular place, for example Paris. They would often come back saying see the popular places like Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc. I am referring to people, who want to visit the place but have had no time to read up on or maybe their travel agent always gave them an itinerary they thought would be best, hence they don’t know what to say!

So how important are sightseeing tours? I would say, the most important, unless it’s a ‘doing nothing‘ holiday. Even more important than your hotel, as I know most people definitely do a lot of research by checking reviews online. I don’t know how many people would check reviews on their sightseeing tours, which will make them like or hate the city. To give you an example, if you were to join a regular coach tour in Paris or Rome for a city tour with kids, I can assure you the kids will be cranky & bored at the Louvre & Coliseum unless you make the effort to keep them engaged & entertained. If they are well behaved, they will just find something to gaze at, but not learn or get back anything interesting from the tour. To be honest, I got bored at the Louvre even when I went alone as our guide just kept rattling off words, which made no sense to me. Instead, how about hiring a qualified kid friendly guide for the family to explore the Coliseum & Louvre where the kids can learn history in a fun way and the visit is not wasted. Mind you, if you divide the number of hours by the amount you spend on your vacation abroad, each minute seems expensive and this is without putting a value on time & the unhappy faces! Yup, you guessed it, I am a Gujarati and know my numbers well!

 The next time you prepare an itinerary, be very picky about the tours included for you. Read the description and see if there are any places you are not interested in visiting. For example, if you visit Italy and are not interested in museums and history but would still like to see the famous monuments like Coliseum and Vatican, then ensure you do not waste your money on a guided tour where you get stuck for 4 hours visiting other attractions. Instead, it makes sense hiring an expert guide to just visit these places and will save you time to do other activities. If you love biking and have older kids, most cities offer biking tours. If you are a foodie, do a culinary walk and small workshop at a local’s place. There are some brilliant workshops offered at museums, depending on your kid’s interests, you can sign up for these workshops.

Please ensure free time at any place to just soak up the place by wandering around or sitting at a cafe and observe the locals. Take the kids to a park, this is where they will get to mingle with other kids and make new friends for a complete culture immersion. Often the most memorable moments are the ones, which are not on a planned itinerary. For me it was at a tiny village in France where we had gone for a stroll post dinner and we listened to a children’s choir practice in a small chapel, sitting on a bench near a canal! Do share your impromptu memorable moment with me from your trip abroad.

 

Feel free to contact me on info@soltrips.com

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Why I love walking tours

Maybe it is my age (only in my 40’s, but still!), I have now reached a point whereby ticking off a list of places and things to do are not on my priority list on my holiday. I do my research before I travel and figure out things I would like to see / do and spend time doing them well. I do not like wasting my precious holiday time on things I know I would not enjoy. It certainly has something to do with my profession too. I am in the travel business and to give honest feedback to clients I do have to try out all the sightseeing tours. My friends often comment sarcastically “things you HAVE to do for a living”. Don’t mean to sound pompous, but I do find it cumbersome and needless to say quite tiring.

The one good thing that has come out of these endless inspections, is that I have realised how much I love walking tours. They are quite common these days and they do seem expensive when compared to the regular ‘seat in coach’ city tours, however I have become a big fan of these tours. I particularly like them for the following reasons:

  1. I can decide the area I am most interested in. For example in Paris, I can decide between Marais, Montmartre, Saint Germain and so on. I can do multiple walks over a number of days and just chill after the 2 or 3 hour of walk to soak up the atmosphere in that area. Also, one doesn’t waste their time in Latin Quarter if they are not into Roman history and architecture.
  2. I can also pick the walking tour based on my interests, like in Athens one can pick from food walks, political / historical walks, street art, daily life of the Athenians and more.
  3. You get to walk with an educated and aware local. As per me, the best experience. My husband and I had done a food walk in Athens, he being a vegetarian got hardly anything to eat. But he loved it as he kept asking the guide a lot of non-food questions, which the gracious guide patiently replied. Of course, the organic 99cents olive oil soap bar from a local store was the bonus too.
  4. You burn calories….. he he!

 

As I mentioned above, some people find them expensive, not me. I find them absolutely value for money. Of course, it all depends on the guide. Like in Toulouse I tried the same walking tour from 2 different companies and realised the stark difference. My travel colleagues thought I was stupid to go for the second walk the very next day, but I wanted to know the difference. I was so glad I did. The second guide, though not a native from the region, was way better. She did not rattle off facts, was smart enough to gauge my response and divert the conversation accordingly. That is what smart guides are supposed to do, gauge the response and be crafty enough to change the spiel. She was brilliant, she knew that and hence charged more. I would pay EUR 10 more to her rather than get bored after 30 mins of the walk and lose my money paid for 2 hours of the walk.