Are you a savvy traveler?

On a cold, windy rainy day, I decided to search Google images for photographs of Dubrovnik.  There are literally thousands of pages with many fantastic photos posted.   To my astonishment, very few had any specific captions other than Dubrovnik.  This tells me that the majority of visitors to our breathtaking Pearl of the Adriatic spent time wandering around knowing nothing about what they were seeing.

One particular photo comes to mind of some ruins just below the city wall.  Many tourists assumed it is war damage from the 1991 Homeland War.  What a shame they did not know these ruins date back to the large earthquake of 1667.  It clearly represents that most people have not researched the place they were visiting.  They are tourists, not a traveler….there is a difference.

On another day of pouring rain, I read a travel forum that had posted several questions about whether to hire a private guide in Dubrovnik.  It was interesting to read the responses given full of confidence from the same tourists who took the photos and had no idea what they were seeing.  I had to wonder once again why people take travel advice from someone they do not know. How can you know if your travel style is the same as whoever is posting advice?  It leads so many people who have never been to Dubrovnik claiming no need for a guide, do it yourself.

There is no question hiring a private guide will enhance the experience of touring a new destination.    Travel has always been a learning experience for me, seeing the sites and getting a glimpse into the history of a new undiscovered area and learn about the culture.  Of course, many guides are fixated on names and dates and can recite them accurately ad nauseum with little context given for learning.  Finding a qualified guide takes research; what may work for one person may not be your best choice.  Moreover, a travel forum is NOT your best resource for finding one. Why does anyone truly believe that posting a request for a good guide on a travel forum will result in locating someone who can give you a memorable experience?  Many travel posters have spent only a few hours, or some a few days in town and they cannot know or understand what a local resident will be able to recommend.

The Dubrovnik city wall is the most visited site; second is the cable car.  However just visiting these two sites and taking photos do not give you any insight into our history.  How could you possibly know that the one of the restaurants below the city wall used to be a convent? Only a knowledgeable guide will share that the Sisters of the convent began as one of the first orphanages in  Europe.  Babies born to the unwed servants of the aristocracy had to given to the convent immediately after the birth.  The young girls put their baby in to an opening in the wall, rang the bell and the Sisters took the infant with no questions or judgments.  This gave the baby a chance of adoption by a loving and grateful family, yet many stayed at the convent only to become a novice to help the next generation.

Paying the guide seems to be a prevalent question and I often wonder about those who believe a fair price is far too high.  A small private group of six guests will allow each person personal time with a guide. Some people think that a lower price will be the same tour, but I often see groups of 30 to 50 people herded around and wonder what is the quality their experience.  If you are not comfortable with the price of a private tour with a qualified guide, then research and be prepared to do it on your own.  It is an insult to ask for a discount, do you work for less?  If you cannot afford a private guide at each of your stops, then budget in a few to learn about what you are seeing on this expensive vacation.

Also, remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  If you cherish knowledge, either you need to pay, in your own time to do extensive research, or a few hours of an expert’s to share specific information to you that will enhance your understanding of this Pearl.

18 thoughts on “Are you a savvy traveler?

  1. Respected,
    I like this article a lot, and I’m glad that you decided to write something about this topic.
    Very often I find myself in a similar situations, where my clients are not able to answer my question about their personal interests related to Dubrovnik and beyond.
    In such situations, when is very hard to find a right theme or story I usually find myself touching hundreds of subjects, but not finishing any to the end.
    The feeling that I get after such a days is that I have used enough words, but really didn’t say nothing at all.
    There’s so much themes or stories to be told, but unfortunately, sometimes I have the feeling that more and more people are traveling just to get another stamp in their passports, instead of enjoying in the destination they choose to visit. Maybe the concept of Cruising Industry is one to be blame for it?
    It’s true and non of us can’t denied it, we all work for the money, but every money is not the same. Some of are so blessed to be able to work and to enjoy in their work, and that’s one of the main reasons why I’m doing this job (still).
    Also, it’s true that there are people and travelers who know what they want to hear, see or experience, regardless we talk about Sport, History, Religions, Homeland war, formar Yugoslavia, growing up inside of the City, or anything else as long and as much as they are inteersted about the subject.
    For me, at the end of the day, when I see that my client have spent a pleasent day and experienced a good time, then for me it all makes sense to go further.
    I do this job because I like it, and Thank you for your artical, I enjoyed reading it.
    Niksa Benic

    • Hvala Niksa, you understand why I wrote this post and I know many of my guide friends will also appreciate my thoughts on the subject.

  2. Years ago, on an extremely tight budget, I took my family on a vacation in the Southwest by car. We planned to visit Mesa Verde which I had seen when I was about 9 years old and wanted to share with my kids. As I was searching for lodging, I came across a b&b near the park that had a nice website. It told how it was the location for Elder Hostel (now Road Scholar) programs and called in many experts in the area. The thing that caught my eye was we could hire an archaeologist to take us for a hike for a few hours.
    Now, could I have offered my kids enough by taking them into the National Park and walking around the cliff dwellings there? Perhaps.
    But when I think about how she was able to answer all of our questions, because it was just the 5 of us, I realized the money spent had provided a priceless experience. Those kids and we adults had a much better understanding of the culture that used to live in the area.

    Now, you don’t know what you don;t know when you visit a new place. You can read tour books but to stop being a tourist and start being a savvy traveler, additional education is needed.

    When we travel now I will plan the budget to include at least one or two personal guides in some locations where we travel, like Richard in Paris and you, wonderful lady in Dubrovnik!!!

    • Always pleased to received a compliment and spending time with you and your family was more than just delightful.

      • Hello Dubrovniklady!
        My wife and I will be visiting your beautiful city this summer and are interested in knowing whether you are still acting as a guide for hire? If so we would love to talk to you about your availability. Would you be so kind as to reply by email? Thanks in advance.
        Best regards,

  3. You make some very good points! I agree that a good guide can truly enhance the visit to a new area. Even when we traveled to Cape Cod, here in America, our host hired a guide to tour us around Nantucket Island. We saw areas and learned things that we would not have, otherwise.

    • As I mentioned in the post, travel has always been a learning experience for me. This is also why you took the time to hire a guide in Cape Cod, you wanted to learn! Thank you for your thoughts.

  4. Nicely said my friend!! Love the destinction between tourist and traveler too! Hoping to send a few saavy travelers your way this summer!! HUGS

    • Thank you Teri, looking forward to meeting new travelers this season.

  5. Well spoken.
    Perhaps the mark of a traveler (vs a tourist) is a combination of good research as well as the use of a tour guide!!

    • You are correct, a good travelers indeed does research. Often a tourist arrives in Dubrovnik only to ask me what country is this?

  6. I love doing a little of both – wandering aimless, discovering with my eyes and no set agenda, but I do usually do a bit of research before I go, so it isn’t always so aimless. I had never considered a small tour group of 6-8 people. I have no interest in the groups of 30 unless I can be right at the front so that I can actually talk to the guide. I watched groups like this wander through Prague and anyone beyond the first 6 people were not paying any attention – so they were just being led around.
    Do you find the small group guide has a more flexible schedule? I tend to take a lot of photos – I wouldn’t suit the 30+ group as I would always be running to catch up, and then missing everything that they say….Thank goodness for good guide books and travel blogs – I get a lot of information from these two sources before I even set foot in my next destination.

    • Exploring Dubrovnik with a private tour is the only way to experience the spirit of this small town. I never have more than 6 adults on a tour, it gives me the opportunity to spend time with each person. The old town is a photographers dream, as I have stated often – Dubrovnik itself is a work of art.

  7. Great article. We talk about the traveler vs. tourist distinction all the time. We are willing to do the research necessary to educate ourselves about a destination and pay for a guide when we feel a location warrants more in-depth knowledge. We never know if we’ll be able to return to a destination so we want to learn as much as we can while we are there. My husband says I plan a vacation like it’s an educational field trip.

    • Doing research in anticipation of a trip only makes the destination more interesting. You and oregano are travelers I would love to share Dubrovnik with.

      • Croatia has been on our “must see” list for a long time. We’ve looked into it several times in the past few years, but the cost of the airfare makes the trip prohibitive. We’ll keep saving and hope that the price goes down a bit in the meantime. I will definitely give you a shout when we are ready. I’d love to have an insider’s look.

        • There are a few small tricks to finding great airfares. First look at your home base to London or Frankfurt, then check several of the low coat carriers to Zagreb. Breaking the fare often saves a decent amount of money. In any event you should begin in Zagreb and work your way down to Plitvice, then to the coast. Buying 2 round trips is how we can depart from here to the USA. Guess my 35 years as an excellent travel consultant is still with me. Let me know when you’re ready, I will advise you.

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