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10 Reasons to take a Private Tour (and 5 Reasons Not To!)

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If you’re taking a trip to a new destination, you may be considering whether or not to book a private tour. You have options to go explore on your own or join a group tour. Private tours can be a great way to see a new place, but they have advantages and drawbacks. 

Booking a private tour or not depends on what is most important to you as the traveler. Here are some of the pros and cons of booking a private tour.

Pros

1. You get a dedicated guide who can customize the tour to your interests. 

A private tour makes it a more personalized experience. You can customize the tour to go to places you want to visit. A private tour guide can tailor the itinerary and make it more personalized to suit your interests. You only go to places that you want to see.

2. Flexibility in schedule.

Go whenever you want to go. A private tour guide will pick you up and drop you off later from your hotel anytime you want. Forget the hassle of getting up or returning to your hotel early. 

3. Your tour guide will bridge the language barrier for you. 

You’ll feel safe in good hands than when traveling on your own. Your guide can negotiate prices on your behalf to get a good deal if you want to buy souvenirs.  

4. You’ll have a personal guide throughout the experience.

No need to worry about admission fees and falling in long lines to get into an attraction. I experienced this convenience at the Taj Mahal one time. The ticket and entry lines were long, but we got in fast without falling in line because our guide did everything.  

6. Private tours with your car and tour guide can be more intimate and relaxing.

You can forget about car rentals and parking, the stress of not being in a strange place, or having to worry about finding a ride and getting lost or scammed. You don’t have to share the ride with 60 strangers in a cramped bus. 

7. You can set your pace.

A private tour guide allows you to stay as long as you want in one place or skip some landmarks. You’re the boss. I hired a personal tour guide around Ho Chi Minh City one time, and I already have a list in my mind of where I want to go. Naturally, the tour guide wants me to show the city’s highlights.

I sensed she felt frustrated because I skipped many of the usual destinations and skirted the typical welcome orientations to our places. I dove right into taking photos. If you go on a group tour, you cannot go off independently but have to keep up with everyone. Usually, if the itinerary is full, the guide will shepherd all of you to an attraction or scheduled stop as fast as possible.

You might want to read Lost in Translation

8. You can learn more about the history and culture. 

If you explore on your own, there’s no one to talk to about where you are. In a group tour, your time is limited, and the tour guide usually gives a memorized recitation about a place. A private tour gives you the advantage of seeing these places through the eyes of locals, not as a tourist. You can glean in-depth knowledge about the history and culture you can’t get from a group or solo tour.

9. You can hit more places in a short time. 

A private tour is a way to go if you have limited time in a new location. The local guides know where to take you, and you can visit more attractions than when you go off on your own.

10. You have an instant personal photographer. 

Stop worrying about taking selfies. It’s always awkward to ask strangers to take your photos because they are tourists and want to enjoy the place as much as you do. You can ask your guide to take pictures. You can also rest easy that you don’t have to risk handing your camera or phone to strangers.

Cons

Now, let’s look at the downsides of why you shouldn’t book a private tour.

1) They are more expensive than public tours or going off alone.

This is to be expected because you are receiving a one-on-one service. Your tour fees include transportation, tour guide, driver, and admission fees to some or all attractions. 

2. You won’t meet other travelers on a private tour. 

If you go on a group tour, you share seats and experiences with others. If your travel goal is to meet as many people as possible and make as many new friends as possible, you may want to check out group tours. 

3. You may feel uncomfortable if you’re not used to having a personal guide. 

If you prefer to spend hours at a theme park, or a museum alone, you might consider going off without a guide and save some money. 

5. You might not get along with the tour guide. 

Tour guides, like regular people, are not created equal. Although they usually go out of their way to please you, there may be instances when you just won’t hit it off. I’ve been with guides who were like reporters when they ask questions and drown you with information overload. Some talk non-stop and share their life stories, and will ask you about your life. They are the over-sharers. Other guides will speak on a need-to-know basis and only answer questions if you ask them. Some guides will give you quiet time to absorb the views around you. 

I don’t usually talk on a trip because I’m always taking photos on the road. My favorite private tour guide was the one I had in Chiang Mai who just pointed out important landmarks but kept conversation minimal. When he saw that I was taking photos of everything, he changed our route and took me to picturesque streets and colorful areas in the city. 

Top scrambled Tips

Hired vans for group tours park at one of the stopovers in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (raksbphotography)

Here are the top tips if you book a private tour, go solo, or go with a group tour. 

  • Research, research, research. In every country, there are hordes of tour companies. Don’t jump in for the first one you see because they offer cheaper rates than others. Trim down your choices and compare the services.
  • Read reviews. Spend time reading reviews, especially the negative ones, so you will know what to expect. If negative comments outweigh the positive, move on and find someone else. 
  • Choose your priorities. You can’t cover everything in a day. Make a list. Where do you really want to go? How long do you want to spend on a location? You only have so many hours on a day.
  • Tip your tour guide. If you are happy with the service, be generous with tips. 

Final Thoughts 

When going for a private tour or joining a group tour, decide what’s important to you and choose accordingly. Private tours come at a cost, but if you think it’s too expensive for you, you can always go solo. 

My pros for booking a private tour guide outweigh the cons. I feel comfortable going with someone who knows about the place, and I can take photos and videos without having to look behind my back all the time. However, that will also depend on how much time I have to stay in a particular place. If I was going to stay long in a place, I’d probably just explore on my own. Go for whatever and wherever you feel comfortable.

Don’t be shy to share your thoughts and comments below.

5 Things To Do on a Costa Maya Port Cruise Stopover

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The Costa Maya port in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is one of the most exciting ports of call in the Caribbean. Usually, passengers only have one day to spend, but there are still many things you can do to enjoy Costa Maya. Here are five attractions in Costa Maya:

1. Explore the ancient Mayan Ruins

The ancient Mayan ruins are a must, especially if you are a history buff. The most popular is the Chacchoben Ruins, about 69 miles from the cruise port. The ruins date back to around 2,000 BC, and it’s one of the largest preserved archaeological sites in Central America. Another one to check out is the Limones Mayan Ruins along Highway 307. It’s a single pyramid and easy to miss if you don’t keep an eye on it.

2. Join a local village tour

Authentic Mexican cuisine- chicken cooked underground served with homemade tortillas. (RaksB Photography)

If you want to get a first-hand experience of the culture and heritage in Costa Maya, join a village tour. The tour guides are local historians who will share insights into the village’s everyday life and give glimpses of how their ancestors lived. You get to see actual wooden huts with outdoor kitchens and watch demonstrations of how people made their ropes from trees in the past. The Limones village tour also allows you to sample an authentic Mexican chicken cuisine cooked underground over hot coals for five hours.

3. Swim with dolphins

Costa Maya is a world-famous dive destination, but did you know that you can swim with the dolphins? Spend the day swimming with these playful, intelligent creatures in Plaza del Carmen, but don’t forget to follow the guidelines of the Costa Maya Dolphin Conservation Area. Take advantage of Costa Maya’s crystal-clear waters and beautiful beaches, even for a day.

4. Shop for souvenirs in the local markets

Shop displaying colorful Mexican souvenir items. (RaksB Photography)

Find unique treasures and souvenirs from traditional to modern items from the local markets in Costa Maya. You can find handmade jewelry, traditional art, clothing, authentic Mexican hats, colorful scarves, local produce, and more.

5. Relax and enjoy the day at the cruise terminal.

Local singers entertain cruise passengers at the Costa Maya port. (RaksB Photography)

You can spend a lazy day at the Costa Maya cruise port. Explore the numerous shops and stalls offering merchandise of all kinds. Get a relaxing massage. Enjoy the salty ocean breeze. Check out the delicious food options available, and you can take your pick. All booths are right next door to each other. Enjoy your favorite drink from any of the bars. Even if you get tipsy, the ship is just a few hundred steps from where you are.

Quick Tips

A day is not enough to enjoy the charms of Costa Maya, but you can return for a longer vacation. Here’s a quick tip- learn or brush up on your Spanish language skills. Although English is used in tourist-frequented areas, the majority of the locals communicate in the local dialect. Who knows, you might get better deals from shopping using the local language.

7 Kinds of Seatmates in the Skies and How to Deal With Them

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Flying comes with various adventures. You are strapped to your seat in a small flying object with hundreds of strangers for the duration of your flight. You have to deal with strangers. Seatmates in the skies are like Christmas presents.

You will never know what or who you are getting until it/he/she gets there. Unless you fly with someone and you booked your seats to sit together.

Each time you fly, you’re cooped in a very confined space (talk economy cabin) with hundreds of strangers from different cultures with different attitudes in the air. You’ll see passengers getting bored, impatient, restless, and cranky.

Many people are not really comfortable flying and consider it a necessary evil. The majority of the passengers only want to  reach their destinations, get it over and done with. At the same time, there’s a few who enjoy the flight.

Kinds of seatmates

1. The Seat Snatchers

I had a flight from Davao to Manila, and I paid extra for a window seat. When I got to my place, a woman was already there with a child, and she was surrounded by plastic bags and a hundred other things. I double-checked, and it was MY seat.

I told the woman she was in my seat. She retorted that she was there early, and I should just take another seat somewhere else, and “if I want a window seat, I should have come earlier.”

I always pay extra for a window seat when I have to because I always take aerial photos. The woman’s attitude just made me cranky.

I called an FA and told her someone was in my seat. The FA evicted the woman back to her original aisle seat. She glowered at me and mumbled, pissed off that she had to relocate. Once we were airborne, she asked if it was my first time riding a plane. I just bit my lip to refrain from answering.

                                                 Related Story: Trapped in a Bahamas (airport) restroom

2. The Space Invaders

On yet another flight, I was in my window seat at the very rear of the plane. A guy took the seat beside me. He then asked the FA for a seatbelt extender. Mounds of his flesh all spilled into my side, and I was squashed and squeezed into my little corner. Luckily it was a short two-hour flight, and he was so cheerful and pleasant. I survived with my original form still intact and not lopsided. I just thought that If I suffered from his weight, he was suffering hundreds of times more.

 

3. The Dark flyers

During a long-haul flight from Hong Kong to Las Vegas, I was busy shooting clouds through the window when this woman hissed at me from the middle aisle and said, “Close your damn f****ng window! We don’t open windows on long flights!”

Stunned, I answered sweetly, “Yes, Maam, I’m sorry, I was just waiting for a peddler to fly from outside the window so I could buy some eggs and biscuits. I’m so hungry.” I did not look to see her reaction.

 

4. The Praying Flyers

Then there was this one woman who really freaked me out. She hugged her rosary beads tight throughout the two-hour flight and uttered her prayers so loud. It made me think she might have experienced traumatic flights before.

 

5. The Comedy Fans on Headphones

On a flight to Narita from Jakarta one time, the girl behind me was watching a movie and was laughing so loud she had headphones on, and only she could see what was tickling her.

 

6. The Screamers

A woman marches down the aisle with three young kids, and you hope to high heavens they are not your seatmates. If they are, and the kids engage in a screaming contest throughout the flight, just be thankful you’re not traveling with the kids and becoming the recipient of glares from other passengers.

 You might also like: Cash-strapped at the New Delhi International Airport

7. The Seat Recliners

Another time, there’s this giant of a guy in front of me. I was enjoying my coffee and watching cloud formations in the skies when all of a sudden, he reclined his seat, jerking my tray and spilling my coffee. That’s the only time I learned to appreciate the lukewarm coffee they served me.

 

How to deal with the different seatmates

The stories about seatmates in the skies are endless, and we could go on and on. Unless you charter the whole flight for yourself, there’s nothing you can do about it but accept whatever and whoever sits next to you and around you.

Here’s my secret on how to survive flights. Just think that whatever you’re feeling about your stranger seatmates, the feeling is mutual. Second, your flight won’t last forever. You’re going to land again after a few hours.

For more madventures, please visit www.scramblednotes.com.

What was your most unforgettable kind of seatmate in the skies? Share and comment below.

Early morning at Bridgetown Port, Barbados

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The Port of Bridgetown is in the southwest coast of Barbados. The port is located in the northwest end of Carlisle Bay and hosts hundreds of tourists from cruise ships on a day stopover each year. The port can accommodate up to eight cruise ships at a time. If you only have a one-day cruise stopover in Barbados, the first glimpse you’ll have of this beautiful island is from the port.                      

           Related Story: 5 Places to Visit in Barbados in One Day

          Also check this out: Bathsheba Beach and Soup Bowl

The Bridgetown Port is about 13 miles away from the Grantley Adams International Airport, and about five minutes away from the capital city of Bridgetown by taxi.  Just outside the port is a big building where you can find the tourist information desk, facilities and duty-free shopping options. Shop for clothing, jewelry, souvenirs, locally made artworks and more.

Barbados offers a lot of adventures to explore but you will never get to see or do everything in one day. Pick out which you would like to do most, or visit, and focus on that. Later on, you might discover that Barbados is a place you would want to visit again and again. 

COVID Update:

Don’t forget to check the travel protocols if you plan to visit Barbados. Visit https://www.visitbarbados.org/ for updates and information.

The midnight I got “lost” at Susupe road

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Lost. Some things are just impossible to explain.

I was driving from Kanoa Resort to Garapan, Saipan, past midnight a few years back. A strange thing happened when I got close to the island intersection going to the Public Library in front of the World Resort. I got lost. I mean lost “lost.”

It felt like I had entered a fog and emerged into an extraordinary place. Everything suddenly looked unfamiliar. It was not Susupe anymore. I slowed down to about 5mph while figuring out where I was and what had happened. There were no other cars on the road, and I started to panic. I was scared to pull over because I didn’t see the road. I kept going very slowly.

Pulled over

Then I saw blue and red lights flashing, followed by a shrill siren. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw a police car behind me. I panicked all the more and kept driving at the same speed. It was the first time I was pulled over. I was not sure where I was going. The police car started honking when I kept going.

Surely, the police were not thinking I was initiating a chase at 5 miles per hour! Then I vaguely recognized the multipurpose building. I signaled and turned right to the parking lot, still driving slowly before finally pulling to a spot. It was all unreal. I was confused and still trying to clear the fog from my head when the cop knocked on my window.

Me: (trying to sound alive, alert, enthusiastic) Hey officer, good evening. What’s the problem?

Cop: I was going to ask you that. What’s the problem Maam? Are you drunk?

Me: No sir, I’m not drunk.

Cop: Were you asleep? You were driving in the middle of two lanes.”

Me: I’m sorry sir, I’m just very tired. I just flew in from coverage in Tinian.

He asked me where I worked and told him I worked for the newspaper. He was a young cop. He looked at me for a long time, probably trying to measure if I was indeed not drunk.

He then asked if I was sure I can safely drive all the way to Garapan, otherwise, he was going to give me a ride. I told him that I was going to take a 5-minute shut-eye then drive on home. Thankfully, he let me go without issuing a ticket.

Clothes off

What the cop didn’t know was I could not tell him that for a few minutes, within that short distance from the intersection to the Multipurpose Building, I was “lost.” He would think I was on drugs.

Before he pulled me over, there was one option left. I grew up with that superstitious belief that when you suddenly get lost and disoriented, you just have to invert your clothes and things will get back to normal again. Imagine what the cop would do if he finds me taking off all my clothes in the middle of the road. That would be harder to explain.

I’ve always argued that superstitious belief. What if I feel “lost” and invert my clothes and find myself in the middle of a lot of people?

Later that night, I remembered that several accidents have happened in that same place in the past, resulting in fatalities.

Lost at the Sukhothai Temple

Old Sukhothai City temple

This was not the first time that I got “Lost”. Over five years ago, I and my buddy Rolly were on a motorcycle exploring the old temple at Sukhothai City. Our hotel was just across from the Park so we decided to brave the dark and see the old temple at night.

We explored the different old structures and kept moving on to the next one. And then we were suddenly lost. One minute we were on a wide paved road, and the next minute, we were in a dark jungle. We were going around in circles trying to find the road (which I think we were still on it the whole time) but the place became strange.  It took us so long to finally see the road and make our way out of that “jungle”. Rolly confessed later that he was getting scared but pretended he was not concerned. In fact, he was even planning to invert his clothes.

A lot of you may not believe in the supernatural. I’m even 50/50 about it. But those moments when you become disoriented and lost for a few moments are real. Those are the times you hope it’s all a dream and you just rub your eyes and wake up or come back to reality.

To those who believe, no explanation is necessary. To those who don’t, no explanation is possible.

For more, check out www.5amramblings.com.