Would you quarterback a football team to a first down at the opponent’s one-yard line and then simply quit? Would you say “hey, we just drove 79 yards! That’s pretty good” and sit down for a while?
Absurd as it sounds, many budget travelers will spend thousands of dollars on airfare and hotel expenses, arrive in a complex, historic city, and then refuse to hire a professional guide for a few hours to reveal the nuances of their destination.
The thought is that a $30 guidebook will provide enough information on the ancient cathedral in a paragraph or two on page 45. Really?
Guidebooks are great for planning itineraries, but depending on them for fine detail frequently results in a lesser experience.
Why do budget travelers hesitate to hire a local tour guide? Some undoubtedly are simply trying to save a few dollars. Others perhaps equate a guide experience with schlepping on and off a crowded bus.
I advocate independent travel whenever practical. Travelers can remain independent in spirit but invite a local guide into their experience for a few hours.
So, maximize your other travel investments with a reasonably priced but thorough and engaging local guide who understands his or her city and enthusiastically shows off the sites with a smile.
I encountered such a guide in Budapest. His name is Dániel Draskóczy.
When we met him, he was working with Grand Circle Cruise Lines as a guide on their Danube Cruise/Prague tour. This assignment involved guiding several dozen people through the streets and alleyways of cities such as Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Melk, and Prague. With all of those travelers to accommodate, I didn’t expect to connect with him.
But Daniel took the time to recommend an excellent restaurant in Prague to celebrate my wife’s birthday. He volunteered to take several of us on an off-the-itinerary tour of key spots in Prague’s struggle for freedom. He recounted personal and sometimes painful stories of how his own family suffered in Hungary behind the Iron Curtain.
In city after city, he brought small details to our attention that enhanced our visit.
Daniel now has started a company called Budapest Explorers. Because it’s a new operation, I’ve never had the opportunity to sample the services. But based on my knowledge of Daniel’s work, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
He offers tours ranging from 2.5 to 6 hours in length for €35- €45 ($43-$55 at this writing). You could buy several guide books for that price, but you’d miss out on the insights of someone who is a native — a guide who understands his city and wants others to leave with valuable knowledge.
In Budapest (or any other European city), you’ll find guides like Daniel who will enhance the investment you’ve made to arrive in their cities.
Websites such as LocalGuiding.com and Viator will connect you with tour services, but these arrangements can be quite expensive. To find experts at lower prices, it sometimes pays to contact the local universities, or the tourist information centers under the familiar “i” signs. In many cases, they will provide contact information and recommendations for professional guides.
I look for three qualities in a local travel guide. Certainly, it’s great to hire someone who will attend to your interests and come across as friendly.
But it’s also important to connect with a native whenever possible. Someone such as Daniel who has lived in Budapest since childhood will provide a richer guide experience than someone who moved there eight months ago.
At the risk of sounding like a snob, a third attribute that I value is educational attainment. Someone who understands history, languages, and culture is apt to provide a better experience than someone lacking such knowledge. You certainly don’t need a college degree to employ these qualities, but a well-read guide will enhance your expenditures of time and money.
It’s great to economize on travel expenses. But don’t stop at the one-yard line. Find a good local tour guide.