The Good, Better and Best Ways to Be a Tourist.

I love to travel, but I hate being a tourist. Most especially, I really don’t like being one of 50 or 60 tourists going from one historic site to another in a bus. A gaggle of people, piling off the bus, gawking at whatever it is we’re there to see . . . it’s just so intrusive.
 
Smaller groups are better. The smaller the better, in fact. Three years ago, I took a tour of the Normandy beaches and it was in a van with just a half dozen other people, all interested and respectful. And we had an articulate and knowledgable guide. Very much worth doing.
 
But if a place is worth traveling halfway around the world to see, then shouldn’t we get the most we can out of the experience? For me, that means getting a real “feel” for a place … what it’s like to actually live there. And in my opinion, the best way to do that is to hire your own personal guide. I’ve done that in St. Petersburg and in Shanghai and again last year in Siena.
 
These guides are all licensed, all very knowledgable, and they’re known by the people running the historical sites. My guide in Siena was a delightful young woman named Constanza. Smart, fluent in English, and a font of information about that wonderful city and the surrounding region. Oh … and she knew where to find the very best gelato in all of Siena!
 
Yes, it’s more expensive … $200-plus for a full day. But I swapped emails with the guides ahead of time, so they knew what was of interest to me and they structured our day accordingly. Also in each case, I asked that they allow time for a leisurely lunch when we could chat and I could learn something about what life is like today for ordinary people in those cities.
 
Finding a guide is easy. Just go to TripAdvisor and plug in “tour guide” and the name of the city or town. There will probably be several listed along with some information about each person and some reviews, too. And if you happen to be going to Siena, here’s my review of Constanza: Fantastico!