In the past, Kongo has often visited places where all he saw was the airport, the inside of a taxi to the hotel, a conference or meeting site. Then it was back to the airport and head off to the next destination. Sometimes a quick in and out is all that your schedule can afford. But in retrospect, Kongo thinks that in most of his previous travels over the years there actually was time to take an extra day or half-day and get out and about.
When you’re traveling alone getting out and about can be a challenge. If the language is very foreign (like Ukrainian, or Arabic, or Asian), the city is large and sprawling, transportation knowhow a mystery, negotiating currency exchange confusing, and avoiding local cultural taboos a priority, then a guide is the way to go. Many of us are uncomfortable striking out alone in a strange place. We need a guiding hand. We NEED a guide!
A good guide can get you to the places you want to go. She can help you through language challenges, transportation in a strange city, and explain the background and context of what you’re looking at. A good guide will tailor your tour to accommodate your individual desires and interests and weave them into a customized package that ensures you get the most out of your visit.
Now there are plenty of packaged tours out there. Sometimes these packaged tours will fit the bill but in a package tour you’re going where the package is going. You may find yourself the odd monkey out in a group, and the schedule and timing is not your own. Kongo has been on many packaged tours and many are very good but if you really want to plumb the depths of a new location, Kongo recommends getting a private tour guide.
In Kiev, Kongo hired Oksana Tsupko. He found her through an agency called Tours by Locals. This online agency matches individual tour guides to visitors at locations all around the world. Each guide is different. Each guide is screened by the agency to validate local knowledge, language proficiency, and legitimacy. Each guide has a space where you can learn about their background, specialty, costs of tours, and read reviews by previous customers. Payments, billing, and confirmations are handled through the agency and then you begin email exchanges with your guide. When Kongo was researching the Kiev tour guides he was impressed with Oksana’s variety of tour offerings and the ability to put together a completely customized full day tour that included transportation.
If Oksana is representative of the quality of guides available from Tours by Locals, then this is a really, really great deal. Oksana picked Kongo up at his hotel in the morning and they were off to see Independence Square, the presidential complex, St. Sophia, Pechersk Lavra, the Famine Memorial, St. Michael’s Cathedral, the Motherland Statue, visit to a food market, lunch at a Ukrainian restaurant, the Golden Gate, a Metro ride, visit to Babi Yar, St. Andrew’s Cathedral and Andrew’s Descent, and more. It was a full day but exactly what Kongo was looking for.
Oksana is fluent in English. She is well-educated in Ukrainian history, the local customs, history of each of the sights, art, architecture, and adds her personal perspective on politics, religion, and local customs. If you’ve thrown your back out from sitting too long in an airplane, then Oksana whisks you into a local pharmacy to find the right pain killers. She maneuvers her car through chaotic Kiev traffic like a pro, she can find a parking space anywhere, and she knows all the shortcuts. In short, she was perfect!
If you go to Kiev Kongo highly recommends Oksana. You can learn more about her at her personal website: www.ukrainian-guide.com. This price for the entire day was USD $300.
Travel safe. Have fun. Use a guide.
- House with Chimaeras (travel-monkey.me)