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Tour Guide Kickbacks Can Steer You Wrong, But Are Easy To Avoid

People ride bikes in Amsterdam.
Matthew Peoples
KNKX travel expert Matthew Brumley says you shouldn't hesitate to politely tell a guide you'd rather do something other than their suggestion.

Editor's note: This segment originally aired on Jan. 30, 2014. It's one of the very earliest "Going Places" segments we did. But the advice is timeless.

So you go on vacation and your guide says he knows the best place to get leather jackets in Madrid. Or the best restaurant in all of London. Or maybe he’s getting a kickback from the business in exchange for shepherding tourists through the front door, says KNKX travel expert Matthew Brumley.

What’s Wrong With That?

Two things, says Brumley.  The stores they’re taking you to could have inflated prices. Also they’re wasting your time.

Brumley himself, in his early days as a tour guide, experienced this when he was required to take clients to a diamond shop in Amsterdam. Across the street from the store were a variety of famous museums.

“And I remember this lady coming up to me and saying ‘Matthew, don’t we have time for that wonderful Van Gogh museum?’” he said. “And I was supposed to tell them this: ‘No, the highlight of Amsterdam is the diamond shops.’”

In fact, diamond shops are a highlight of Rotterdam.

Also, weigh what your tour guide is saying against common sense, Brumley says. Promises that sound too good to be true usually are.

Beware Of 'Optional Excursions'

A lot of tour companies will offer side trips — a helicopter tour, for example. But Brumley says you almost always can do these for less money on your own, just by conducting a little research beforehand.

“I don’t think you have to be a pro to do that,” he said. “Go online, and when you get off that cruise ship take a taxi and go out to the destination. You could do it for half price.”

Also be aware that large groups, such as a family of eight or more people, can probably get a discount.

Don’t Be Shy

Your tour guide is there to help you through your visit, not control it. If something doesn’t strike your fancy, speak up.

After all, it’s your vacation, Brumley says.

“Don’t be afraid to say, ‘This isn’t what I want to do,'" he said.


“Going Places" is 88.5's weekly exploration of travel. Our travel expert, Matthew Brumley, is co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island, which provides small group travel to clients including KNKX. Never miss an episode again. Subscribe to Going Places with iTunes Google Play or Stitcher.

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