Sometimes It’s OK to Splurge.

If all my years of traveling have taught me anything, it’s that SOME things are worth paying extra for. Too often I’ve not done something or not seen something because for some reason it seemed like a big extravagance at the time. After the fact, however, I’ve almost always been sorry I didn’t dig a little deeper and go for it.
Case in point: I planned a trip to Russia in 2011 and, in doing my research in the weeks before my departure, I began to have some misgivings. Before the Moscow-Beijing tour began, I was going to be a solo traveler in St. Petersburg. I don’t speak the language and the cyrillic alphabet is so different, I couldn’t even read any of the signs.

 Then came inspiration: I had seen listings for personal guides on the internet and impulsively I retained one of them for two of the three days I was going to be in St. Petersburg. Talk about an extravagance: just me and Natasha and $200 a day. But I will say without hesitation that she was worth every cent.

 One example: There were huge crowds waiting to get into the Summer Palace. Natasha threaded her way through the mob on the crowded stairway to the entrance where a uniformed guard was standing stone-faced. Natasha showed him her badge and spoke a few words. Then she turned, smiled and beckoned to me. She had gotten us a 15 minute head start on the mob.
When I got to Moscow, I went on line and arranged for my own personal guide in Shanghai, my last stop before heading home. From the internet, I selected Jean as my personal guide there and, as I had done with Natasha, we exchanged several emails prior to my arrival.

 Through those emails, Jean was aware of my background in municipal government, so she took me to an incredible scale model of Shanghai—the central part only—which urban planners in the government there use in their work. I found it absolutely fascinating and there is no way I would have found it on my own or if I had joined the usual guided city tour.
So next time you find yourself in some strange and exotic location, instead of buying a seat on a bus with forty or so other people, consider hiring your own tour guide and share the cost with two or three other people. It will make all the difference.