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Determine your goals. “If you are doing something risky, have limited time, or simply need help negotiating language and cultural complexities, hiring a guide is worth the extra expense,” says alpinist Pete Takeda, who has employed locals to guide expeditions around the world. Set a clear trip objective and decide on a budget. Guides can cost from $15 to $450 per day.
Find someone qualified. Allow three to six months before your trip to shop around for a guide—time zone and communication barriers can slow planning. Ask friends or check guidebooks and travel websites for recommendations; Takeda likes lonelyplanet.com for outfitter reviews. For high-risk treks or backcountry expeditions, insist that your guide have medical and/or technical training, like a certification from the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association. For front-country tours, basic first-aid skills will suffice. Reach out to multiple agencies and compare technical skill, clarity in communication, responsiveness, and price. Important: Trust your gut. Don’t go into the backcountry with a guide unless you feel comfortable communicating with him or her. Exception: In trekking epicenters like Nepal, you can often hire a low-cost porter on the spot, after a quick face-to-face meeting.
Be professional (and expect your outfitter to be). Keep records of all conversations with your agency and get written confirmation about which level of guide experience you’ve agreed upon, and which of the company’s employees will work for you. “Never pay in full before you have received 100 percent of what you agreed to,” says Kate Reid, director of adventure travel company Call of the Wild. Plan gratuity into your budget—15 to 20 percent is standard.
Get there without blowing your budget
» Many airlines change ticket prices overnight and midweek. Look for updated, lower rates early on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.
» Sign up for free fare alerts. Some travel sites send alerts even after you buy a ticket, because some airlines offer a refund if prices drop by more than $150.
» Book trans-oceanic flights into continental hubs and make separate reservations to your destination on domestic or regional carriers. You could save hundreds of dollars.
» Traveling overland? Take overnight trains or buses to skip a night of hotel fees, and avoid wasting daylight hours in transit. Splurge on first- or “AC class” so you arrive well-rested.