Sandy writes about why we use local guides and how we chose them for this journey.
One of the most common questions we receive from people who are following our travels is about the guides that we have used during our expedition. We have taken all types of trips over the years, including those we have booked ourselves, through travel agents and even all inclusive family holidays and they all made sense for us at the time. For this particular expedition, we are fully committed to using local guides.
There are several reasons why it makes sense to us to use guides on this around-the-world journey. First, it is usually cheaper because there is no middle man between you and the guide. Second, working with a local guide allows us to customize our trip based on his or her local knowledge. Third, and probably most important for us, using a local guide allows us to put money directly in their pocket, thus benefiting the people in the area that we are traveling.
So how did we choose our guides? When we select a place to visit, we start off by doing Internet research. If we find mention of a guide or local agency we capture that contact information. We also use Lonely Planet guides and their Thorn Tree bulletin board to glean recommendations. Finally, as another data point, we check these contacts against Trip Advisor for any reviews.
We then send emails to the three that have the most consistent feedback from the results generated from above. In the email we outline what itinerary we are interested in and our approximate travel dates. We ask for a response detailing the day-by-day activities, the cost, what is included and what is excluded. Then we wait.
As the emails come in we evaluate them in terms of cost and whether they responded in a timely manner with the information that we requested. If the cost is too high and too little information is provided, then we throw it out. If we like the itinerary but it is expensive, then we email back with our budget and ask if any changes can be made to accommodate us. This technique worked a couple of times to lower the cost for some guides that we used. We continue this cycle of correspondence, throwing out and adding other guide possibilities, until we end up with two or three viable options.
As a last step we plot these alternatives against each other in a spreadsheet, laying side by side the day-by-day itinerary, total amount, average daily cost (if the duration varies) and what is included and excluded. We have been surprised more than once at what we discover when looking at each option in this way. Each time we have done this it has been obvious which guide to choose. Then it is a process of emailing everyone back and letting them know whether we plan to go with them or not.
All of this does take time, but we have had excellent experiences with all the guides that we used on this trip. Our time has been so much richer for the experience and we feel that we have done our part to contribute to the local area by putting our money directly in our guide’s hands. For example, in Nepal our team included a guide, cook, two porters, a horseman and four horses. In Ethiopia we had a similar team of people and some of the best food prepared by our cooks that we have ever had while trekking. And how else could we have gotten to know locals in Laos, Nepal, Tibet, Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Jordan and Brazil?
If you are interested in learning more about a specific guide that we used, contact us and we will provide you with the information.