Last Saturday afternoon, I was wandering around Federation Square. All of a sudden, about thirty people swarmed around me. I looked around and realised they were being herded by a tour guide in a bright green T-shirt.
“So, this is Federation Square,” announced the guide. “It was voted as one of the ugliest buildings in the world in 2012. An eyesore.”
I chuckled. So did the tour group. I lingered behind them. The guy in green gave a casual historical spiel about the dull-coloured, so-called unsightly Melbourne icon.
Joining guided group tours be it on an overseas holiday or a day trip in Australia is something I’ve never signed up for. My friends who have done so said they are fun.
There are definitely a number of plusses tagging along such tours when we’re visiting a country or foreign town for the first time. Provided we sign up for a tour aligned with a reputable travel agency, an assumingly knowledgeable tour guide should confidently take us around iconic hot spots we’re lusting to see. There’s no need to worry about getting lost in a place we don’t know. We can relax and enjoy the sights.
Secondly, with a tour guide we can get a historical rundown of the places we’re visiting in real time. It’s a bonus if the tour guide is a local, which is usually the case, who speaks the local language. He/she can double up as a translator and so can our travel companions if they speak the language.
Joining a tour group means traveling in numbers, safety in numbers. Though touristy places are often targets for pickpockets and thieves, most likely we’ll have support when something of ours goes missing.
My university orientation tour is the closest thing I’ve ever gotten to being part of a tour group. On Orientation Day, an older university student brought me and about thirty other first-years to see the campus libraries, canteen, toilets and popular in-between class hangouts. We spent roughly five minutes at each location, too short for my liking. At the end of the session, I had questions about which toilets were haunted but the other first-years mobbed the guide and I didn’t get my chance. This tour wasn’t exactly a memorable one.
I’ve always been a solo traveler with no qualms venturing out into the unfamiliar on my own. Never joined an intimate group walkabout at the zoo where you take turns to get up-close with animals or bushwalking tours either. I love taking my time looking at architecture that may seem boring to others. I love taking those few slow extra steps, being adventurous and seeing what’s around the next corner. So exploring a place with a bunch of people on a tight schedule doesn’t sit well with me. I’m an introvert, shy person too and never feel too comfortable traveling with people I barely know.
On Sunday, I happened to stumble upon another tour guide dressed in the same green T-shirt leading another pack of excited explorers in the city. This time it was outside chocolate place Max Brenner at QV. The group was within earshot and I heard the tour guide going on about Melbourne’s most popular chocolate haunts. Suddenly, he brandished a family-sized pack of Tim Tams out of nowhere and ripped it open.
“Here you go,” he said cheerily, generously passing the chocolate biscuits around. “These are Tim Tams. Sometimes Australians do what you call a Tim Tam Slam. That’s drinking a hot beverage using the Tim Tam as a straw, then eating the biscuit with your mouth full of drink.”
All of a sudden being part of a tour group seems entertaining.
Do you prefer traveling solo, with family/friends or with a tour group?