Tour Leader: Things We Need to Know and Things They Will Tell Us Anyway
About the things we need to know.
Before a tour starts, I have a to-do list that I go through a few days on beforehand. This is to get back into the being-on-tour mode which is a little different from the I-can-do-whatever-I-want mode. On this list are all the things that I need to do or bring with me while I’m on a tour. To be honest, I could do without this list, since I’ve been doing this for a few years now, but it’s safer to work my way down the list and tick everything off, because I tend to forget things. Sometimes it’s my phone adapter or my hiking shoes, other times I have to ask my taxi driver to turn around because I forgot my passport. Such a waste of time and energy, so it’s better to just stick to my list. Once I’m all set and done, my bags are packed and I’m ready to leave my apartment I travel to the destination of the beginning of the tour, which is usually an airport.
More than once I have been a teacher, nurse, referee, psychologist, match-maker, waitress, cook, co-driver and shoulder to cry on, to name just a few… And that’s a part I really like about this job. Never a dull moment..
I love taking a group along with me and show them around in a region I call my second home, but while I’m waiting for my group to arrive, I always want to go home. It’s just a feeling and it will go away after the first day, but it’s always there. It makes me feel like a high school student who is about to take a test. A little nervous and not sure about what’s to come or even having this feeling of being unprepared.
Once we’re at the hotel, everybody is checked in and I get together with the group for a first meeting, I’m fine. The high school student is gone and has been replaced by a tour leader who is ready to go! But, is the group ready too and how can I tell? I will spend a lot of time with these people the upcoming weeks, even though I don’t know anything about them.
So, what details or background information do I need of every individual traveler to make a tour a success? Since it’s not a secret I like to make lists I would like to break down the information needed into three categories: compulsory, time and life saving information; handy to know information; and we-have-more-than-enough-time-to-find-out information.
By compulsory, time and life saving information I mean passport, insurance, travel and medical details. The necessity of it depends on the country we travel in, but I always need a list with passport and other personal details like date of birth. Not only to know how many birthday cakes I need to arrange, but also because authorities sometimes want to see this for the silliest reasons at the craziest times. We make long days on a tour, but at some places local authorities even exceed us by knocking on my hotel door at 3 am to check the group members’ details. Together with the insurance details and emergency hotlines these are the details I can’t do without. Insurance details are so important, because when it’s about life or death you’re grateful to have that telephone number of your guests’ insurance company and that you’ve asked everybody about their medical background. Not that I need to know every detail, but if you happen to be allergic to banana’s or rice or that you’re still recovering from last year’s brain surgery, please do tell me.
Handy to know information is the information you can do without, but it is very valuable if you want to understand why travelers react the way they do on a tour. There is a huge difference in the way travelers experience a country in this region when it’s their first time outside Europe or when it’s their tenth time here. Of course you can figure out these things along the way. But to save time, I prefer to ask group members on the first day about their travel experience, why this destination, if they have ever traveled in a group before and if they have traveled with this agent before. This doesn’t take much time, unless they name each and every trip they have been on, but it tells me roughly what questions and comments I will get on the tour that is about to start.
My we-have-more-than-enough-time-to-find-out information is the information you get when you have a chit chat talk with guests. Not necessarily needed to run a good tour, but just fun to know. What they do for a living, their hobbies or what kind of psychological baggage they carry or could dump on you when they pour their hearts out. If you think tour leaders just take travelers along with them on a journey, please think twice. That’s just one part of the job. More than once I have been a teacher, nurse, referee, psychologist, match-maker, waitress, cook, co-driver and shoulder to cry on, to name just a few.
And that’s a part I really like about this job. Never a dull moment. We start off as complete strangers, apart from the occasional familiar face from a previous pre-tour leader life that pops up now and then, but during a tour you get to know each other better and better. While I tend to keep my private life to myself, depending on who asks, I had the most amazing conversations with guests about all kinds of subjects that sometimes had nothing to do with traveling. I am lucky to meet all kinds of people in my groups with all kinds of occupations, hobbies and stories to tell.
Therefor, I am more than happy to take the occasional knock on the door for granted and I will make sure I have all the information hardworking authorities want to see. There will be more than enough time left to enjoy the tour and maybe even a chance to add another job to the tour leader activities.
Now I think of it, I have always wanted to fly a plane…