A Family Afar
Let The Experts Lead
Illustration by Brett Affrunti
Our Top Tour Guides
Japan, Cambodia, and Vietnam
Years ago, my partner and I felt that traveling was a big adventure, meant to be experienced in the moment. Trial and error were our best friends. We “winged it” through many an excursion to Europe, Mexico, and other far-flung locales. Meals at buzzy restaurants could be good—or not. Trendy hotels decorated by famous fashion designers could look amazing and still be hideously uncomfortable. Two hours standing in a rain-soaked line to buy exhibition tickets? Not a problem.
If we had time, maybe we’d purchase a travel book for our intended location, or read a bunch of blogs and online resources. Mostly, though, once the cities were identified and hotels chosen, we left daily plans open for informal exploration.
Then came the kids.
Traveling as a family, we soon realized that a kid’s patience level for experimentation can be much lower than an adult’s. (Ahem.) Spontaneity is still important, but it’s also good to know where to go and exactly what to do when kids are involved. Sometimes, I’ve learned, it’s best to let go of my control issues and hand the reins to an expert.
When the kids were still little, we took a trip to Paris. We enlisted the help of a local tour guide so our family could fully enjoy the Cathedral of Notre Dame without the kids getting bored or us parents losing our cool. Happily, the tour of this amazing Parisian treasure was orchestrated completely by our guide, and she became the focus for kids and adults alike. She took all the pressure off us by telling stories, pointing out unique items of interest, and subtly educating the entire family on the history of Paris and Notre Dame, all the while being highly entertaining. She even supplied a custom-made coloring book and crayons—kind of like a “Mary Poppins of tourism.”
I don’t know about you, but Mary Poppins I am not. The combination of those capabilities is not in my parenting skill-set, ready to juggle while also fumbling with foreign languages, currency, subway systems, and jet lag brain. Our tour guide saved the day.
Now this has become standard operating procedure when we travel abroad. Whether it’s a couple of hours inside a museum so the kids can get some culture or—as in our recent voyage across Southeast Asia—a full daily itinerary of sights and attractions, the local tour guide knows more than we ever will about their city and lends an authentic firsthand perspective. They can plan for us in advance, negotiate tickets in their native language, and be flexible when we want to change destinations midstream. As a result, we can all sit back and enjoy the ride.
Bonus: If the kids are uninterested and totally bored, there’s someone else to blame. Now that’s what I call guilt-free family travel!
Jon Bailey is co-founder of i.d.e.a., a San Diego–based marketing agency. He also writes for Hilton Hotels’ Mom Voyage, a blog dedicated to family travel.