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"What I want, how I want it and when I want it" is a mantra associated with the uber-wealthy, elitist snobs of the world - and most of Western society, if Keeping Up With the Kardashians is any indicator.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that a similar line of thinking when it comes to travel tours can actually lead to saving big bucks. Apparently, by hiring a private guide, you can have your cake and eat it too.

There is no shortage of prepackaged tours all over the globe, but hiring your own guide can be cheaper and allow for a completely customizable travel experience.

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You don't need to find your way to a predetermined spot at some ungodly hour in the morning to meet your fellow tour-group members (who might run late and hold everyone up). You don't need to visit 10 different sites when all you really want to see is four. You don't have to leave the one site that has grabbed your interest to keep on a schedule for everyone else.

Private guides have no one to please but you. They can potentially meet you at your hotel at the time of your choosing. No rushing or getting lost. While they may have a preplanned itinerary in mind, it's not hard and fast. You can add or delete stops as you see fit. You can even change the itinerary on the fly.

One of the potential drawbacks of finding and hiring a private guide is that they are not as well advertised as prepackaged tours, so it's harder to pick one ahead of your departure. At the same time, I wouldn't want to land at my destination and hope to hire a guide on the fly. I've heard enough horror stories about tourists being taken advantage of or robbed.

Well then, thank goodness for businesses such as ToursByLocals.com. This Canadian-based website facilitates the connection between travellers and knowledgeable guides in many parts of the world. The site vets the guides, who, incidentally, cannot pay to be listed. You can contact the guides ahead of time to get to know them better or to plan your itinerary.

Sara Cooke, ToursByLocals.com's communications specialist, says the company had expected its key market to be independent globetrotters who valued the authenticity of a local experience, but, in reality, a large number of its clients are cruise-ship passengers who forgo the prearranged daily excursions for cheaper, more customizable tours.

So let me get this straight: You can save money and have a private, customized tour with the guesswork of finding and hiring a local taken out of the equation? Bon voyage, indeed.



Preet Banerjee is the W Network's money expert and a senior vice-president with Pro-Financial Asset Management. His website is wheredoesallmymoneygo.com.

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