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Hearing the guide speak while on guided tours

One of the reasons I have usually avoided guided tours is due to not always being able to hear the guide. I don't have hearing problems but in a group and busy areas or even not so busy areas it's hard to hear everything the guide is saying. Particularly if there is even a small amount of a language barrier. Seems you have to be huddled together and looking directly at the person's mouth to really catch everything.

We went on a food tour in Seattle a few years ago and everyone on the tour was given a set of headphones so you could hear the guide talking so long as you were with in 25-50 feet of him. This was excellent as you could be looking around and not huddled together and still hear your guide

Do the Rick Steves guides do this?

Posted by
8597 posts

they did on my three tours. But you really should call the tour office and get the straight scoop from them.

Posted by
368 posts

Hi Vick:

it depends on the tour. I have been on two that have used them and several that have not. You might want to call the RS people and ask for the specific tour you are interested in.. I know a lot of the museum guides also have these as well.

However, since the groups are small I have never had trouble hearing a guide.

Posted by
2532 posts

Since you say hearing problems aren't the issue, Vick, I want to use this opportunity to speculate about whether there might be an inter-cultural competency issue involved here --
especially since you write 'have to be huddled together'.

During a Vatican tour, our guide (who was using the headphones system anyway) kept admonishing us at the start to stop being so non-Italian, meaning we should rub shoulders and assert ourselves to get by the others in the crowd. Most people (WASPy people) had to be reminded over and over, and it still didn't work -- they lagged behind as the guide moved to the next stop, left a respectful distance and strolled casually, which meant that they were separated and lost from the peloton at every turn.

If you're on the tour, part of the group, why would you not huddle together and look directly at the guide you hired? Are you on the tour or aren't you?

This is like people who go to the movies and sit in the back -- they like the cinema, it seems, but they don't actually care about what's going on onscreen very much. They're there for other reasons. Social drinkers only, you might say :-).

I should add that I have dabbled in docenting in my day, and when being trained, we are usually told to move briskly between stops but not to scold the listeners about keeping up with you too much, because people don't like to be scolded. People who really want to hear the guide will stick beside the guide. People who are just along for the ride can catch the gist.

This viewpoint is also a little lacking in cultural sensitivity -- many people are following a model or rubric in their heads that includes rules about social distance and personal space and deference to authority, and it expresses itself in ways that make keeping a tour group together and on track difficult.

Also, every group has people operating according to different models and interested in different objectives. I stick right beside the speaker, and like to chat him or her up while moving between stops. Some people in the group want to meet other people in the group for a variety of social reasons. Some people in the group want to get photos of the textile patterns on the window trimmings. Or whatever. It's a small miracle that you ever get to all the points you intended and that most everyone is happy at the end.

To keep from running on, let me just emphasize that if you step back and consider the social assumptions you're following, you might find that adjusting them to the tour situation may help you be better positioned to hear and enjoy the narration, by keeping up with the narrator and helping him or her keep the tour flowing and together.

Posted by
347 posts

I'm not sure if I should be offended or not. Maybe I am misinterpreting what you are saying as extremely condescending and that you might be reading quite a bit into my 2 paragraphs that aren't there.

There is no "Inter-cultural" incompetence. That has zero to do with anything here. I'm not even sure how this could even be something any normal person would think up with this.

Regarding "language barriers", that's simply a reality. Some times it takes a lot of work to hear clearly in those situations where the guide isn't American (as I am) and there is outside noise. So, as I said, I prefer having the head set in order to drown out outside noise and distraction. For example, When watching any movie with a Scotish actor or even a mild Scotish accent, I really struggle to follow them so I must turn up the volume and pay much closer attention. It's work and I don't enjoy it near as much. I love me some inter-cultural Scotish people though. Great fun.....and the whiskey!!! Woohoo.

..... and I haven't made any "social assumptions" either.

I've been on numerous guided tours and I simply don't like to be the person inevitably "sticking right by the speaker". There is always one on every tour. Thus I tend to hang back a little bit so as not to be too annoying to the speaker or other people on the tour. I don't mind it when the group is stopped and huddled so much but in a group of 20+ in a busy place it's sometimes difficult to hear and see like I want even when huddled. ..

thus my post on preferring ear phones and what I am comfortable with.


Posted by
2455 posts

Vick, on my most recent RS Tours, both our tour guide and our local guides have sometimes, but not always, used the mike and headsets. We have been given and asked to keep accessible our individual earpieces. I find the system helpful in several varied instances: (1) you are walking in a noisy, windy or very crowded situation, or where the guide should not speak very loudly; (2) for reasons of varied mobility or crowding, some tour group members walk slower than the guide, meaning one can hear the talk even if they have not yet caught up when the guide starts talking; (3) one chooses to hang back a little from the group for an individual reason, such as to take a photo, look longer at an explanatory sign, store window, or whatever, or stop to tie one's shoelaces, take out and put on a sweater, or the like; (4) the guide has a softer voice, or perhaps an accent that is easier to understand through the earphones, which have volume controls, as I remember. I find I can listen and understand even when I am momentarily also doing something else. The one time that it is important to be very close to the guide is if you tend to have questions, as the mike and earphone system does not work both ways, meaning the tour members do not have mikes.

Posted by
2215 posts

We've had "whisperers" on our 3 RS tours and they seem to be improving in quality. Not only does it help hear the information, but it keeps the group together. If someone strays off course, they know because they can't hear the guide.

Posted by
788 posts

On our Best of Paris tour in 2015, we had the "whisper" system for almost all of the group activities, including those involving local guides. I really enjoyed it and thought it worked very well. I also often have trouble hearing guides, especially in busy settings with high ambient noise (just as I sometimes have trouble picking up conversations in a crowded bar or restaurant). The system we used had a fairly long range, so I could still hear most of the time even when I'd lagged behind the group a bit to take a few photos. Another thing I liked about the system we used was that I could plug in my own noise-canceling earphones that I'm accustomed to using.

Posted by
2145 posts

Hi Vick, I've done 7 RS tours and most of the guides used the microphones at some point (we got earpieces and a little plastic box to hang around our necks). In most cases it was the local guides who used them - for example in museums or on guided walking tours. I didn't have a problem hearing the guides. With Rick's small groups it's not hard to get close to the guide if you can't hear or want to ask a question. I really enjoy the educational aspects of the tours and always come away learning something new. I hope you consider one of the RS tours.

Posted by
375 posts

I agree with you Vick Vega on preferring the headsets. On our Portugal trip in 2015 we had the headsets and it was so much easier to hear the guide and absorb the information. I don't recall the headsets on our previous tours. With ambient noise, an accent, and possibly voices that do not project, a lot of valuable information can be lost.

Posted by
476 posts

On our last BOE14 day tour all of the local guides used the whisper system. Our RS guide used it in the two major cities of Paris & Rome while out and about.

The comment before about getting closer together I seem to remember one of the local guides saying as wherever we were was very crowded. It didn't upset me since I don't remember where we were

The tours are all great and I am sure you can hear the guides.

Posted by
2712 posts

I'm finding these used more and more on our RS tour. In Spain we had them every day. As one who is hearing challenged I find them a blessing. I have my hearing aids with me just in case, and then I'm the guy up front and close to the guide.

Posted by
3580 posts

In the Vatican museum our guide used the headsets. One tour-member became "lost" by getting too far ahead of the guide. Since she couldn't hear him she assumed she had fallen behind. She sped up and increased the problem. We were concerned about misplacing her, but she was later found and all turned out well.

Posted by
2532 posts

I agree that the mic and headphones system is a great way to improve the walking tour experience.

Regarding the side issue of being more aware of the culturally and situationally conditioned nature of our standards and assumptions, I recommend this book by Joe Lurie, who was the long-time head of the International House in Berkeley:

Posted by
210 posts

The last two tours I was on we used the "Whisper" system. I used my own ipod earphones. The sound was a wee bit better and a little more comfortable.

Yes, the Whispers helps hearing the guides easier in city settings or crowded museums. I am one who likes to wander off or lag behind to take pictures, so this keeps me in contact with the group. It does make it easier to do that. However......there was that time I did stray off too far and lost the signal. I just kept wandering around until the signal came back.....voila' ........there was the group. lol

On the negative side I do feel like my effort to look not look like a tourist is really challenged....not that I ever fooled the locals anyway.

Posted by
399 posts

At the risk of sounding like a terrible sexist, I am going to say that in my experience the female guides are much harder to hear under noisy conditions than the male guides. What we really need are for all of the guides, male and female, to take speaking lessons from a few Southern Baptist preachers I have heard. Now those guys really know how to project their voice. SAY HALLELUJAH!!