A tour guide with more than just some facts and figures.
Occasionally I will do private tours, particularly if I’m pressed for time and in a city I’m unfamiliar with. I rely mostly on toursbylocals.com, because, as they name suggests, the guides are locals and they know their city well. For the most part, they’re friendly, chatty, provide interesting little tidbits about their city, and many have a sense of humor.
The last of these is most important to me, because I’m there for the fun, not so much for the education. If I want to learn about a city or country, I read history books and do research — you can’t get much useful information, certainly not much you will retain, from a tour guide in 2-3 hours. So I spend the first 10-15 minutes of each tour loosening up the guide, and I do that by making a joke or by saying something totally off the point. “When do we eat?” works pretty well. After a few of those, they usually get the point — we’re here to learn a little about your city, but mostly we’re here for the yuks. That’s the thing about tour guides — you have to engage with them if you’re going to enjoy yourself. As you get to know each other, guides become more comfortable and more open, and so the conversation can get juicier. If a guide is truly effective, I’ll have better memories of my conversations with the guide and how they feel about their city, than about architecture and historical tidbits.