Ask a Tour Guide: What Surprises First-Time Tour Travelers?

Here's what longtime tour guides say delights and surprises first-time tour guests.

tour guide on a Lindblad Expeditions National Geographic Baja California tour explaining oyster farming to tour guests
(Photo: Elana Rocksteady)

Until you go on a tour, it can be hard to imagine what it’s really like. That was definitely the case for me: Before my first multi-day guided tour, I had certain ideas of what it would be like (not all of which were flattering). But each day brought new surprises, and made me appreciate the many strengths and delights of guided travel.

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Tour guides are a big part of making this magic. And since they work with hundreds of first-time tour travelers every year, I checked in with a few to see what sorts of things tend to surprise first-timers most. Here’s what they said.

It’s Easy to Make Friends

“Sometimes solo travelers who are new to group tours are a bit anxious about fitting in with the others—they don’t realize they’ve got newfound friends who are just waiting to be met, and they’ve already got something in common—a love of travel! I also find that many guests who’ve mostly traveled independently are nervous about having to follow a schedule or stick with the group – and they end up loving that someone else has handled all the organization and that there is always company to be had.” Trafalgar Tours Director Pamela Russo

There Are Unexpected Perks

“Many of my guests on their first Globus tour would comment on how surprised they were to feel so connected to the places that they visited.  They would arrive on tour thinking that we would just visit the “must do” locations, which of course we did, but the guests loved that we often had local guides at our stops who added so much value to their visit as well as the tour director who took the time to tell the stories behind these locations that helped make them come to life.”  -Derek Lundgren, Globus

Flexibility is Built In

“I think people who have never been before are surprised by how dynamic expedition cruising can be. I find a lot of people come in anticipating the exact itinerary, but by the end they realize that when there are changes, it’s to add to the overall experience. By the time they get off, they realize you can feel so safe (changes are mostly made to make room for special experiences, to adjust for weather, and for the sake of safety) and looked after while having remarkable experiences. You get more out of the changes, not less.” – Shayne Sanders, Lindblad Expeditions

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It Frees You Up to Enjoy the Destination

“I find my guests are most surprised by how much of a mental load a tour takes off them. When the big choices are made (what we should see it) and the logistics are covered, it frees up so much time and energy to more fully immerse yourself in a place. You’re only there one time in your life, you should be able to devote yourself to it, rather than the parking, the car rental, the wayfinding, etc.” – Backroads Trip Expert Joey Coe

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How Relaxing It Can Be

“I’ve been an Adventure Guide with Adventures by Disney for 10 years, and one of the most common phrases I hear is, ‘This has been the most relaxing and adventurous vacation of our lives! We can’t wait to book our next trip!’ One of the many things I love about Adventures by Disney is the insider access and VIP treatment we provide for our guests across all of our itineraries. Traveling with Adventures by Disney truly feels like having a Disney Parks Lightning Lane pass around the world! ” – Adventures by Disney Adventure Guide Byron Allen

The VIP Perks (Like Skipping Long Lines)

“The most surprising to first-time tour guests is that wherever we arrive it’s magically our turn. Like when we get to Venice, the transition from coach to the water taxi and then to gondola is so swift, that I see my guests in an awestruck trance during their VIP experience gliding along the grand canal. With the many things that fate can throw our way, guests often remark that with our local knowledge and invaluable contacts, we work the magic no matter what and that is such a reassuring comfort.” – Trafalgar Tours Director Patrizia Tocco

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Small Groups Bring Magic

“How pleasant it is to travel with a small group, because they get to have more quality time and conversations with their fellow travelers. They also love to have access to unique places and experiences with locals that would be impossible otherwise. Especially the ones that involved food with locals like the visit to the Tlahuac community or the cooking classes.” – Intrepid Leader Valeria Valdivia

It’s Full of Adventures and Companionship

“Guests frequently tell me ‘I expected to love the mountains and the scenery, but what I didn’t realize was how much I would enjoy my fellow travelers.’”

Tauck Director Sarah Brooking-Morgan

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Christine Sarkis is the co-founder of Vacationist Media and editor-in-chief of TourScoop and She is the former executive editor of, a travel publication owned by Tripadvisor. Her work has been published in dozens of publications including Conde Nast Traveler and USAToday, and she has been quoted in print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also offered tips for travelers on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now.