I don't know too many people that love to follow the umbrella of a tour-guide and move in a pack while walking around an already crowded tour destination. In fact, I have been known to cringe a time or two at the thought of even booking any kind of tour in fear of not being able to stop when I want, and being held to a certain schedule. At least, this is how I used to think (don't worry...no umbrellas included).
*I apologize in advance if you genuinely enjoy this way of travel...and you should ignore me and continue rocking your audio tour guide around the world (you do you)!
I recently found the glorious benefits of the multitude of free guided tours around Europe. Maybe it was my reservation about group tours that held me back from trying these, but in an effort to be more knowledgeable on the best ways to explore Venice, I decided to give the free tour world a whirl!
And here is what I found to be true:
- The tour guides are volunteers and therefore more incentivized to provide a great experience because they are not guaranteed a rate up front. If their tour is awesome, they get an awesome tip! In addition, all tour guides are encouraged to get reviews on Tripadvisor, and if they are given positive reviews, they are given more shifts.
- My tours were awesome! Therefore...awesome tip! I tipped 20 euro for one of the tours, and in doing the math, my tour guide would have made around 400 euro for a 3 hour tour if everyone gave around the same amount (and I saw some big bills!). Four. Hundred. Add that up around three times a week (or more), and the these guides can make a great living if they are good at what they do! I have paid nearly 300 euro before for a private tour, and while it was amazing, the cost savings here can be well worth it.
- The guides were incredibly knowledgeable. Many of these guides have an education in art, history, or a combination of the two. I have used a few different tours throughout my travels, and both had undergraduate degrees that directly correlated to the information being presented on the tour. Also, the information was not strictly all based on memorization of basic facts, and it was apparent because a variety of different questions were asked, and the guides had answers for all of them!
- You can leave when you want. Don't have time for the whole tour? Don't stress! Just let the guide know that you are dipping out a little early (if you just leave, they'll think they lost you and come looking), give a tip if you think it was worth it, and then go about the rest of your day.
- This was a great way to get to know the layout of a city. I can attribute getting around (semi) seamlessly in Venice because the tour was the first thing that I did when arriving. This helped me lay the groundwork for my visit and I got the main sites out of the way within the first 3 hours of my day so that I could focus on wandering and getting to know the city more intimately in the afternoon. HUGE PLUS!
- They gave maps. Yes, everyone has a phone..why do you need a map?! Well, phones require data in most cases. Maps can be stowed easily and consistently referred to throughout a trip. The biggest advantage that I saw, was that some maps had the best local spots outlined. The Venice walking tour even provided a list of free Wifi hotspots around the city...BRILLIANT!
I could go on and on about the advantages of giving in and allowing yourself to join a tour group. I met people that I still correspond with, and I always had people to take photos in the most scenic areas (also a huge benefit...extra hands!).
To help you plan your next trip, here are some free tour guide companies to check out:
- Sandemans New Europe
- Free City Tours
- Free Tours by Foot (America & Abroad)
- Spotted by Locals
- Free Tours Network (Worldwide)
- Original Europe Tours
- United Europe Free Tours
- Venice Free Walking Tour
- Florence Free Tour
Afterwards, don't forget to tip well, and give honest reviews!
I hope you enjoy your experience as much as I have enjoyed mine. I will continue to provide updates as I use more companies around the world!