I believe

 

During my life, I have travelled a lot in Israel and abroad, and in these travels I've developed my travelling "credo", a way which will make a vacation more fun and add it an extra value. I recommend this way of travelling to others as well and prefer to design the tour and guide accordingly. From my experience, people enjoy more this way.
 
 
 
Guide's presence
 
First of all, there's a huge difference between a trip with a guide and a trip without. You may have read in Lonely Planet or other guidebook about a place which is worth visiting, and you get there only to discover that the place is either merely nice or even rather boring. Often it's not the fault of the guidebooks, but the fact that in many places you need a guide to appreciate them. I recall that during my visit to Bolivia I heard from people who visited an archeological site without a guide that it was just a bunch of stones, and the day after I heard from people who visited the same place but with a guide that they had a great time and that the site was fascinating. Sometimes you read in Lonely Planet or other guidebook about a place which is worth to visit, and you come there to discover that the place is either merely nice or rather boring in the worst case. Often it's not the fault of the misleading guidebooks, but the fact that in many places you need a guide to appreciate them. I recall that during my visit to Bolivia I've heard from people who visited an archeological site without a guide that it was just a bunch of stones, and the day after I've heard from people who visited the same place but with a guide that they had a great time and that the site was fascinating.
 
On the other hand, there are places you can enjoy without a guide, but even then, you'd enjoy more if you have one. There's no substitute for guide's familiarity with the hidden spots and shortcuts, for guidance from someone who knows the stories behind the sites, for a mediator between you and the local culture.
 
 
Tour Planning
 

Some people during their travels abroad try to see as many sites as they can. They get to a place, take a photo next to the biggest landmark and then run to the next site and the next city. I can't say I'm a fan of such tourism, for several reasons. Firstly, the vacation becomes a race, and it's not really fun. Secondly, if you want to get to know and to feel the country you visit, you'd better spend some time in its important places without rushing in order to appreciate them, and it's especially important if the visit of a site has a religious or a spiritual significance. Finally, such a tour doesn't leave much time to tell the stories behind the sites.  

This way of travelling also causes people to visit too many places in one day, when the commitment to original plan denies them the opportunity to spend time and enjoy each one of them. It also creates an overload of impressions so that by the end of such a tour you're too tired and already don't care about what you see. Sometimes the tour plan offered by travel companies turns the participants into sprinters, who are just visiting sites to tick them of their list. Such tours are marketed as giving tourists an opportunity to see more, when in reality you spend very little time in each place, and often what is presented in the itinerary as a visit to a city is only a stop at a viewpoint, and what is presented as a visit to a church or a building of interest is only a stop at its façade.

In my humble opinion, one should plan one's route for optimum enjoyment and appreciation, and not only to see as many places as possible and tell himself "Been there", without a second to breathe.   

    

Guiding
 

I've come across guides who say "This church is called… and it's Catholic" or "This is a statue of…." without adding anything else. Sometimes it's part of the aforementioned attempt to get to as many places as possible, sometimes it's the guide's lack of familiarity with the site or their thinking that any other explanations are unnecessary and wouldn't interest anyone. I certainly believe that a guide should go into greater detail, and help people understand what they see in front of them, and help them understand the site better in the context of the history of the land and in the context of the topic the site is related to. I don't mean to go into lectures about history or art, but few minutes of explanation make a significant difference to your experience, and would help you not only to see the country but also to feel it.  

Group tours compared to individual tours
 
Many tourists reserve organized group tours, and travel with a bus together with few dozen other people. With a good guide, they could enjoy the same experience I try to provide. However such way of travelling has its disadvantages. 

Firstly, in an organized tour the tourist has no control over the itinerary, and the most he can do is to choose from the options offered by the travel company. On the other hand, I offer tours which are planned specifically to fit your wishes and needs.    

Secondly, in a group tour naturally some of the time will be spent on checking that everyone's with the group, on waiting for people who are lagging behind (or following the people who are walking faster than you are). Often somebody would stay behind or get lost, and time which could be spent on sightseeing would be spent on looking for the lost guy. In a private tour, on the other hand, you are the group, and your tempo is the group's tempo, and it will be adjusted to the time you need for photos and shopping. When it's a tour of only few people, there's no need to check if everyone's around and nobody's get lost.   

Finally, an organized tour is a compromise between the wishes of all of the tour participants. Someone wants more time for shopping, someone wants longer explanation, someone wants to continue to the next site and someone else wants to have some more time for photos. This compromise had received an official seal at the tour agent, and the guide is obligated to do his job accordingly. For example, even if the tour guide discovers that his group really enjoys a site, he has no flexibility to extend the group's stay over there and skip another site planned for the group later.    

In a private/family tour, you are the only customer, and the guide is the direct service provider. If in the beginning of the day you suddenly feel like going to a museum instead of going to an archeological site, or feel you'd prefer a nature walk instead of a city tour, you can ask the guide to change the itinerary spontaneously and to fit it to what you want at that moment. And of course, in a private tour the guide-tourist relationship is more personal, and the chances are you'll have an Israeli friend by the end of the tour, which is unlikely happen on a group tour.

 

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