How to Choose Travel Guides

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Guide using a large map on a wooden sign to show his travel group where they are headed

Editor’s note: This article was published prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you need to travel, check the CDC FAQ page about COVID-19 risks for travelers, which provides the latest guidance. For information about outdoor activities wherever you go (close to home is best), read Recreate Responsibly: An Activity-Specific Guide.

To get more out of your travels, hire a guide.

Guides can be hired by a single person, families or friends. Because you aren't traveling with a tour group, a guide can customize a trip to match your interests. You also have the freedom to hire a guide for part of your trip and do the rest on your own.

Benefits of Hiring a Guide

Vacation time is precious, and a guide can help provide local connections and take you to local sights you would have a hard time finding on your own.

A knowledgeable guide can safely lead you to the best places for wilderness exploration, backcountry travel or mountaineering while tending to such details as transportation, food and lodging. In some remote areas, the translation skills your guide can offer will be extremely helpful.

What to Look For

Guides may work for a company or independently. Here are some good questions to ask when evaluating a guide:

  • How many years of experience does the guide have, and how much experience does he or she have in the region you're visiting?
  • What is the guide's safety record and policy?
  • What kind of medical or first-aid training does he or she have?
  • Can the guide provide references from previous clients?
  • What's the cancellation and refund policy?

For a mountain guide, ask if he or she is certified by the American Mountain Guides Association. The AMGA is the only organization in the US that offers a comprehensive training program for mountain guides that is recognized by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA). AMGA accreditation applies to guide companies, and is a general review of the company's climbing activities, hiring policies, permits and insurance.

The Details

Let your guide know about any health concerns, disabilities or diet requirements you have. Also, talk to your guide about your goals for the trip so he or she can make sure your expectations are met in a safe manner. Ask some final questions about the trip:

  • What exactly is included in the cost? What isn't included?
  • What's the level of physical activity?
  • What should you bring, and what is provided?

Finding a Guide

REI Adventures offers climbing, cycling, hiking, paddling photography  trips and more, so be sure to give them a look. In fact, many companies that offer organized tours also offer options for solo trips. 

Also check regional websites or guidebooks for recommendations on hiring guides, or inquire at the area's tourist office.

REI has partnered with TripAssure to offer a travel protection plan to REI members. Find out more.