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Three Things You Might Not Know About Tour Guides

alejandro_infantes_cuba.jpg
Earthbound Expeditions
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Cuban guide Alejandro Infantes leads a group of KPLU travelers through Old Havana in March.

If you’ve ever traveled abroad – especially with a group – you’ve probably met up with a local tour guide at your destination. KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley has been leading tours around the world for nearly 30 years. He says local guides are key experts that bring a lot of knowledge to a trip. But there are other layers of guiding that happen behind the scenes. Here are three things you might not know:

In a lot of countries, it’s a lucrative job.

Tour guides can be among the top wage earners, especially in a developing nation.

“Being a tour guide gives you access to hard currency – U.S. dollars,” Brumley said. The job often allows people to support their extended families.

And believe it or not, Americans are known as great tippers.

“Everyone loves to have American clients,” he said. “The stereotype of the ‘Ugly American’ isn’t really out there anymore.”

Guides Have To Deal With Everything

On a good day, their chief responsibility might be getting you into a museum. But often, they’re dealing with medical problems, lost luggage, emergency travel and more.

Local Laws Can Be Strict

Brumley often accompanies trips to places like Cuba, but it’s illegal for him to guide there. The same is true in other parts of Europe.

“If I’m walking through Rome, at the Coliseum or in the Vatican, and I say three words to a group, undercover police officers will come up to me and threaten to throw me in prison and give me a $500 Euro fine on the spot,” he said.

The laws are meant to protect local economic interests and employment, but also to ensure that guides speaking on local history know what they’re talking about.

For an upcoming trip to Italy, Brumley will introduce his group to professors, historians and even opera singers. It's in large part to comply with local laws.

"It also makes for a better trip," he said.

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"Going Places" is KPLU's weekly exploration of travel topics, from far-away destinations to local escapes. It airs every Thursday on KPLU. Matthew Brumley is the founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which provides small group travel to clients including KPLU. 

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.
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