Getaway Day: The One Foreign-Travel Tip You Must Know

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Not only has our Aaron learned a lot about India in his travels, but he’s picked up a few photo tips along the way.

One of the deep dark secrets of our outfit is this: We don’t get out much. Our boss gets out, but mostly to conference rooms and executive towers. Otherwise, Lisa mainly stares at the super-low airfares to Europe and feels sad, Molly follows her dad’s basketball team to exotic locales like Manawa and Bonduel, Cole lives in the Twin Cities so he doesn’t need to go anywhere, Alyssa will be paying off her student loans for the next three decades, and every time I even think about going anywhere I run smack into a roadblock called Paying For My Kids’ College.

That’s not to say no one at BHTP ever gets out. Josh is virtually never around, thankfully, and members of our Salesforce and Dev teams are making their second trip to India.

This trip is going a little better than the last one, when the sidewalks were melting in Delhi and the only respite was to work nonstop. In fact, Jesse and Aaron have been able to take in a few of the sights. And Aaron’s story includes a valuable tip for first-time travelers to another country.

It’s not spoiling the story too much to tell you his tip: Hire a guide. (If you were thinking the tip was, “buy travel insurance,” don’t skip ahead. Just don’t.) What you get in return more than compensates you for what you pay. And now here’s Aaron’s story:

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The BHTP India team, along with Jesse and Aaron (middle, back).

On our latest trip to India, Jesse and I got the opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra — one of the items on many Seven Wonders of the World lists, and in my opinion, deservedly so. It’s an awesome place, and like many of the 60,000 daily visitors, you don’t need a guide to see how visually awesome it is. But a good guide, like the one we had this time, makes the experience significantly better.

Our guide, Ali, from Ali and Team Day Tours (accessed via TripAdvisor.com), met us in a local coffee shop that I doubt we would have found or visited otherwise. It had everything you want in an Indian coffee shop – a well-furnished, comfortable atmosphere, great coffee, and air conditioning — and was a good way for our guide to get to know a little bit about us, which in turn helped him tailor the experience of the Taj to our liking.

The next best part was Ali directing us to drive to the right gate – not the busy gate but the not-busy gate. He was also on a first-name basis with almost everyone who worked at the Taj, and getting tickets, water, and more was all a matter of him simply working the counter as much or more than the actual person working there.

Ali asked good questions. Maybe the most important question to us was, “Do you like a lot of history or just like to know there is history?” This was my second visit to the Taj, and our guide the first time, while apparently very knowledgeable, was also long-winded and a bit surly if you began to wander off during one of his many speeches.

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More mad photo skills from Aaron. Check out the Taj Mahal reflected in his Oakleys.

Ali was the opposite. He tailored his knowledge to just the time limit we wanted while focusing on the physical beauty and engineered marvels of the Taj. From the perspective-based lettering around the entrances, to the translucent quality of some of the semi-precious gems used in the mosaics, to the details about the mirrored nature of the whole place, he knew – and said – just enough about it all.

Of course, Since Ali is a local guide, he had many relationships with various businesses around Agra, and part of the tour included visiting marble and jewelry stores. Still, these were far preferable to the hawkers of touristy items who line the streets near the Taj. Ali even got us to a restaurant which we would have never seen in amongst the buildings of Agra, and to a shoe store above another series of shops which, again, would have been invisible to day-tripping Americans like us — all for the price of a couple of movie tickets back home, plus tips.

Would we use a guide again? Absolutely. And sites like Trip Advisor make it so easy to find good guides. There are few reasons not to.

Great story; great advice. And now here’s the pitch for travel insurance. Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection offers great travel insurance. Get it here.