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Trekking is already hard enough — you have to carry your belongings and gear several miles a day in various terrains and altitudes — without factoring in the exasperating difficulty of finding a reliable and agreeable guide. Depending on where you are headed, hiring a guide can be an overwhelmingly confusing experience, and choosing wrong could actually put you in harm’s way. Here’s how to make sure you are getting the most out of your trek with the right guide leading you on.
First, Choose the Right Trek and Trail
So much of your enjoyment of a trek depends on finding an experience that matches your ability levels and interests. This may sound like an obvious step in any vacation planning process, but too many first-time trekkers become disenchanted with the experience due to mismatched excursions. Every trekker should have some attraction to and awareness of the outdoors, but not everyone is ready to summit Everest. Duration and intensity of treks vary widely, and even the best trek guide won’t be able to motivate you to complete a trek your mind and body are not ready for. You should assess your physical (and psychological, emotional, and spiritual) aptitude before you book your trip tickets on a site like Flights.com.
Besides the complexity of the trek, you may also want to consider which features you appreciate most in a vacation. If you adore ancient civilizations, you may want to investigate treks through archaeological sites and ruins, like Machu Picchu or Mayan sites. Alternatively, if you prefer to learn about thriving civilizations, you should look for routes through active villages and towns, like Dogon Country or the Haute Route in Switzerland. Then again, if you enjoy unspoiled nature with no evidence of human life, you should consider treks deep in the wilderness, for instance the Indian Himalayas or the GR20 in France. There are dozens of excellent treks around the world, which means there is one that is perfect for you.
Second, Research, Research, Research
Once you know where you are going, you can draft a list of possible tour guides. With a quick Web search (for example, “Overland Track guided tour”) you should be able to amass a large number of options; inquiring with friends and family may also yield viable results. It is wise to write down every trek operator you come across so you have the best possibility of finding a perfect match.
Once you have your list, you should conduct more thorough investigations into your possible guides. Visit their websites and look into their general information, like price per person. Additionally, you should check what features are included with the guide: food, lodging, trekking supplies, etc. You may also want to verify that they offer departure dates close to your desired trip if you have a particular season in mind. All of this material should narrow down your list to only a handful of candidates.
Finally, before you move onto the last step, you should scour travel review sites for past trekkers’ experiences with your remaining contenders. While it is important to take every review with a grain of salt — negative reviews can be just as falsified as overly positive ones — you should be able to develop a more complete picture of customer satisfaction based on others’ interactions with the agency or guide.
Third, Ask Questions
With just a few suitable trek guide options left, you should procure contact information (phone numbers and/or email addresses) for each and begin reaching out. Though most guides offer comprehensive sites, no webpage will contain all the information you might want to understand your impending trek.
You should ask your customer service representative detailed questions, like how many meals are served per day, how many trekkers share a single room or tent, what equipment does the guide provide, and more. However, what you ask is not nearly as important as the answers you receive. Though this step may provide valuable information you can use to make a final selection, what is more valuable is the opportunity to personally interact with the operators and develop your own opinions on their quality of service. Undoubtedly, one guide will be more helpful and courteous than the rest, and you will finally have your perfect trek guide.
Fourth, Have a Back-Up
Of course, most travelers understand well the fate of even the best laid plans. In case your first choice is booked or some other disaster befalls your perfect guide, you should have a solid second-choice option you can turn to as your trip draws closer. It may not be the perfect trek guide, but at least it will take you where you want to go.