The Case for Private

meta-chartA couple of years ago, on a lunch break in Hell’s Kitchen, I found myself staring at a window of a bicycle shop on 10th ave.  But it wasnt so much the bicycles or anything in that window I was interested in.  Pretty sure I was staring at some 2 year old bikes, which felt a little awkward since my girls are way passed the supporting wheels stage.  The reason I paused at that spot, without making it too obvious, was to count the number of people in the food tour group getting tacos from Tehuitzingo next door, my trusted local Taqueria.  30!  30 people waiting outside in the cold for their taco.  No doubt, some, or many according to Trip Advisor enjoy this kind of experience.  But at the same time, at that moment there were bored looks, with many on their phones, looking for pokeman, instead of learning about this particular Taqueria, and the state of the NYC Bodega.

But in order to understand this touring business better, I had to take one of these tours myself.  Its also very highly recommended to take as many tours as possible in order to become a NYC guide.  So I took a food tour in East Village with one of the highest ranking TA outfits, and the result was surprising.  I enjoyed it more than I thought, despite the food being terrible for East Village standards.  I interacted with some of the other visitors, and not so much with the tour guide who was busy leading and making phone calls.  It was especially well coordinated, but quite the poor food choices that didnt really compliment the area very well.  And not much in the way of current culture.  You get the history but not so much culture.  While it had its moments with some interesting tidbits here and there, its not the type of experience I seek when I travel.

Leading large groups is a lot more economical for tour companies. That’s where they make serious money, over affordable private to small groups.  But the most passionate guides generally are not in it for the money.  Have you ever seen a guide sporting a Gucci messenger bag?  Because there’s no such thing.  Large tour guides are often like robots with the same script and routine day after day.  This never sounded appealing to me (as a guide, not client).  With small groups every tour is different, and so even the guides themselves manage to have a little fun and maybe even discover something new in the process.  The other day I may have found my new favorite taco in East Village.  An awkward moment while guests enjoying my previous favorite taco.  “Its alright” I told them 😉

During recent travels, we realized the tremendous benefits of a private guide.  I’ll list some of them here in bullet point style, without the bullets.  Or maybe I should make some fancy graphs or a pie chart?  Done!

The Private Nature – Starting with the obvious without going into too much detail.  One on one interaction with your guide is simply a lot more interesting than 15 on 1.  Now normally here I would say something stupid like “that’s what she said”. But now that I’m a licensed guide I need to become stay professional
Customize – It’s your tour, and you can change it as you wish.  More architecture, more meat, no mushrooms (get a lot of those), vegetarian, vegan, old barbershop fetish.  In many cases you can also dictate the start and end time to fit your schedule which may be the biggest benefit.
Loo Flexibility – Tour guides know where the bathroom are.  It’s actually one of the questions on the NYC sightseeing exam.  Sometimes I have to change course entirely for bathrooms.  Much harder to do with large groups.
Location Location Culture.  Some are content to just see the sights, while some want to learn more about local culture.  With small groups your tour guide can really bring the area to life like no other big group can.  You get a deeper understanding of the neighborhood and why things look and work the way they are.  The guide is at your disposal ready for questions that sometimes lead to interesting conversations.  Whether you are interested in knowing more about Citibikes, Russian Banyas, pole dancing classes, or just pole dancing.
Friend with benefits.  And then there are the intangibles.  You potentially gain a local friend, someone you can talk to about the rest of the itinerary and anything else you wish.  I spend a few minutes a day answering emails from people I haven’t even met yet.
But at the end of the day, you are simply hanging out with a local, potentially a good looking one.  Someone that happens to know a little something about the area, food, or whatever.  With a small fee involved…

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