Duncan in Scotland, Mauricio in Patagonia, Heath in Tasmania, Jay in Wyoming, Ibrahim in Iran, George in Kenya. As we were planning this year’s “Tours of a Lifetime” feature, knowledgeable and yes, good-looking guides from my own past trips kept coming to mind.

I realized that the people whose job it is to show us their corners of the world and keep us safe are as integral to a great trip as the place itself. And yet we rarely consider guide quality when we choose a tour, so busy are we examining the itinerary to ensure it hits everything on the bucket list and looking up the hotels on TripAdvisor. But a World Heritage site or plush pillows don’t make a trip sublime. The guide is the X factor.

Here’s to the men and women who showed me how to tell wombat scat from wallaby poo; who explained the complex workings of an African termite colony; who told true tales of love and conquest in fifth-century B.C. Persia so that I was hanging on to every word; who taught my sons how to shoot an Amazonian blowgun; who literally stood between me and a hippo contemplating a charge. And who demonstrated time and again the ties that bind us all.

Our sixth annual “Tours of a Lifetime” highlights the world’s best guided trips– from India to Italy– that emphasize community and human interaction. Plus we profile 10 expert guides.

Visit our website to find the entire list of tours, a photo gallery of a few of our favorites, and planning tips to help you choose the best tour for you and your family.

More information in Breaking Travel News