My original plan for this post was to write a guide to hiking Mount Blanc in France, but now I feel obligated to write tour tips. This trek is frequently rated as a dream trail and one of the best hikes in the world, but I only learned this two years after my own experience on the trail. I struggled with this realization because I like to think I appreciate experiences and opportunities, such as my guided hiking tour of Mount Blanc.
Looking back, I realize I knew very little about Mount Blanc or Chamonix. My first thought was to blame the tour for not informing me more about the mountains, city, and trail. Slowly I realized I am to blame. I reflected on previous tours, like in Venice and Luxembourg, and realized I remembered very little from those as well. The problem is with the tourists, not the tours.
While writing this post, I researched the different accommodations my group and I stayed at, the places we ate, etc. I had big plans to create the ultimate guide to Mount Blanc since the information about this trek is scattered. After spending hours trying to recall the trip’s details, I realized I never knew the names of the places we slept or ate. I don’t even remember our tour provider’s name.
I blindly followed the tour leader’s motions throughout the hike. Capturing photos of the surrounding sparkling blue glaciers, thunderous waterfalls, undisturbed wildlife, and crystal clear alpine lakes and sharing the photos with my friends and family on social media was my definition of appreciation.
This is not a true appreciation of the landscape’s natural beauty. True appreciation is more than snapping a photo and bragging about it back home. It is learning about the mountain range’s environmental struggles and the city’s history, speaking with residents, and understanding and participating in the local culture.
The tour was specialized for our age range, a group of teenagers, so perhaps the tour guide figured we wouldn’t be interested in the details. If this is the case, then it was my duty to ask these questions. I was a guest of this man’s nation, city, and mountains; the least I could’ve done was ask questions about anything.
In college, professors provide the basic material and information in an hour-long lecture three times a week. It is up to the student to decide if they want to be a mediocre or an exceptional student. The mediocre student listens to the lecture, takes a few notes, and earns a C on the final exam. The exceptional student reads about the subject outside of class, meets with the professor to ask questions, and studies the material for hours. It may be more time-consuming, but the exceptional student earns an A on the final exam. Each student got out of the class what they put in.
The same goes for traveling. A tourist who goes through the motions, snaps some photos, and shares it with the world bragging about their travels will have the same high after the vacation as the tourist who focuses on learning. But the tourist who wanted to learn retains more after the high of travel is gone. He or she learned something and knowledge can’t be destroyed or taken away.
Traveling is hands down one of the best ways to learn, but only if you actively pursue knowledge. Instead of standing and watching the world pass by, it is your job to participate.
A valuable way to discover a destination is a tour. This post is not to discourage you from taking tours; rather, to inspire you to travel differently. It takes a conscious effort to break the rhythm of following the motions. Here are some tour tips relevant to any tour that will make you a better traveler:
- Research the destination beforehand. Research seemed intimidating in college, but it can be fun! Consider why you selected the destination in the first place. Are you going to France to hike Mount Blanc or to Peru to hike Machu Picchu? Then learn the basics about Mount Blanc’s history or theories behind Machu Picchu’s purpose. With background knowledge, your tour guide can focus on the details and your area of interest instead of spending precious time explaining the basics.
- Ask questions. You’ve probably heard no question is dumb. *cue eyeball roll* Seriously though, asking questions is important. Most of the time someone else in the group was wondering the same thing or finds the question and answer interesting.
- Take notes. Whether you walk around the city with pen and paper, type something quick into your smartphone, or recall everything at the end of the day in a journal, it’s important to take notes. A student will fail a final exam if he or she never took notes in class. How are you, a traveler, expected to remember everything you learned if you don’t take notes? It’d be overwhelming to copy everything, so write down only what intrigues you.
- Stay towards the front of the group. Students distract more easily in the back of the classroom. The same goes for staying towards the back of a tour group. You don’t want your mind drifting when you paid your hard-earned money on a tour! Stay front and center of all the action.
- Get to know the tour guide. Tour guides can provide an inside-scoop of the city and culture. Learn their story and gain their perspective. Tour guides are an invaluable expert resource for the area.
Mount Blanc Advice
Although I can’t speak for the other towns around Mount Blanc, I think Chamonix is a great choice for a base.
The town offers plenty of opportunities during altitude acclimation, like day hikes, viewpoints, excellent dining, whitewater rafting, canyoning, and rock climbing.
Guides are very specialized, educated, and trained in hiking and Mount Blanc. It is a strenuous process to become a hiking guide and many who start the process don’t finish. Future guides are required to apprentice experienced guides to be recognized within the community as a guide. They know what to do in any situation, will safely get you to the best views, teach you a few things along the way, and show you what this once-in-a-lifetime adventure really consists of.
Any beginner hiker absolutely needs a trail guide for Mount Blanc, but I also recommend one for the advanced hiker. Some routes are confusing and potentially dangerous. It was also helpful to have someone knowledgable on-hand since the hiking scene is different on Mount Blanc.
Mount Blanc is not an easy trek, but it’s also not impossible for the beginner hiker. Do what feels comfortable, take a deep breath, and overcome the challenges. The reward is worth it, trust me.
Head out there before the glaciers melt! The size of Mount Blanc’s glaciers has decreased significantly in the last 50 years. Get to Mount Blanc before they completely disappear. Your chance at ice trekking in above-zero temperatures is melting.
Bring these tour tips with you and, as any good hiker should, leave no trace.
Do you have any tour tips? Share below! Check out travel gear you might need here.