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  • Shila Desai

10 ways to engage with your travel guide

If you’re on an E.Y.H.O. group trip, you’re set to enjoy a maxed out experience. With a dedicated Western-based tour leader – sometimes two – and a local guide, your every wish is likely to be divined. But if you’re off on your own, check out our tips from nearly 100,000 km of travels.

1. You’ve arrived, claimed your baggage and just met your guide. As soon as you’re able, communicate your expectations. Your guide genuinely wants to know what you’re interested in. This is your time, so share your interests, likes and dislikes – it will help your guide customize the perfect experiences for you.

2. Picture this: your guide is doing a stellar job before he shepherds you into buying carpets, knick-knacks, jewellery. He is obviously getting a kickback. You chafe at time wasted while a sunset awaits or a walk through a neat neighbourhood. How to deal with this? See #1. Lay down your expectations at the beginning. If you missed your chance, poll your group and if all agree, discuss frankly with your guide. Explain that you understand he has to supplement his income but the time on your vacation is too precious to waste inside musty tourist traps. An offer to top up his gratuity will go a long way to reclaiming your vacation.

3. Raining? Ask your guide how best to interact with locals while it pours. Perhaps they are at the cinema? Head to the silver screen. In most developing countries, movie plots aren’t difficult to follow, and the real fun is watching the locals watch the movie. Or seek out a library or café or hammam – anywhere locals gather – and park yourself. You'll come away with a far richer travel experience than if you'd sequestered yourself in your room.

4. "Wear comfortable shoes and dress appropriately". You’ve heard this so many times, it’s background noise. Why not ask your guide the day before what to expect?

5. Things are likely different than at home, and that’s ok. Segue a new sight or observation into a conversation with your guide. It will help you be open-minded and respect local culture. Travellers who judge different customs and behaviours end up complaining more and enjoy their trip less.

6. Try something new! Whether it’s a food, drink or activity, challenge yourself to do one thing that you’ve never done before. If unsure, request suggestions from your guide. Chances are she has an arm-long list from previous experience in guiding others.

7. Research your destination beforehand. Tell your guide if there’s a particular place of interest not on everyone’s radar. Complement your research by reading a novel by a local author set in the location you’re traveling, and teleport yourself into the local scene.

8. Once you establish a comfort level with your guide, don’t be a passive listener. Ask questions about what your senses are picking up. Don’t be shy – refer to his career, family, aspirations, and challenges of life in his country. Your guide has lots of knowledge to share, and most guides feel valued when you show interest in their daily lives.

9. Benefit from your guide’s knowledge of her city and region for the rest of your time there. Before your time together is over, get recommendations for great neighbourhood restaurants, shops and entertainment – places to enjoy in the evening or the next day.

10. Certainly ask your guide to take photos of your group. But don’t forget to take a photo with your guide too. It will help you remember who made this trip special. Back home, write a thank-you email and attach the photo. Guides love hearing from travellers!

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