Tour guides can be a valuable part of a journey. Their expertise, connections, and advocacy can bridge the gap between what a traveler sees and what a traveler experiences. On the surface they often appear calm, friendly, and patient - answering endless questions, assuring the water is safe to drink, and quenching the thirst for knowledge and excitement in a foreign land. But have you ever wondered what your tour guide is really thinking?I recently sat down with Audrey*, a professional guide who has visited 60+ destinations and led tours to 30+ countries. Below she shares some of her confessions from traveling with groups the past 12 years:
What is one of your greatest challenges as a tour guide?
Group dynamics! I find the dynamics absolutely fascinating yet they are definitely the greatest variable. For example, I've led tours to Peru over a dozen times. Although we visit the same sites, eat at the same restaurants, and stay at the same hotels, every experience has been completely different. How people behave when they are out of their element is truly mind-boggling. Some people thrive in the unknown and others get a bit panicky and lose all rational thought. As a tour leader, it is my job to make sure that people are getting the most out of a destination while experiencing as little stress as possible. Being a tour guide is like being a logistics specialist, translator, therapist, medic, teacher, mediator, and entertainer all-in-one.
Were you ever in fear when leading a group?
I wouldn't say that I was ever in fear when I was leading a group, as I usually remain very calm. I was quite anxious, however, when a woman on my tour in Suriname was bitten by a snake (twice) and I was not sure if it was poisonous. Another time I had to evacuate my group in La Paz, Bolivia in the middle of the night. Protesters were closing down the main roads.
Traveling to exotic destinations is the perfect setting for a suitcase romance. Have you ever fallen in love (or lust) with a local?
Yes...many times. I have spent considerable time leading tours in South America and the Mediterranean where blondes really do have more fun. Pieces of my heart have definitely been left in Peru, Cuba, Spain, and Argentina.
What is your favorite destination and why?
Such a hard question! I can easily name my top picks but cannot choose an outright favorite. For me, a travel experience has so much to do with who you meet along the way and not just what you see. Some of my favorites include:
Bolivia for its otherworldly scenery, chaotic markets, and amazing traditional festivals.
Spain, but more specifically El Camino de Santiago de Compostella. Trekking for 30 days across 800km of Northern Spain, taking in amazing vistas, drinking delicious wine, forming unbreakable bonds, and meditating along the way.
Turkey for its incredible history, delicious food, and countless impressive archaeological sites.
Cuba for the people and their sense of humor, music, dance, and zest for life!
Iceland for its mind-blowing scenery. I also love how most Icelandic folks believe in "little people" (fairies).
Tell us, what really annoys you when guiding?
Questions that have been answered at least a dozen times prior. Seriously. Day 10 of a two-week tour, travelers still feel that it is necessary to ask if they can leave their jacket on the bus - even though we discussed this every single day and have the SAME bus, SAME driver, SAME SAME SAME! Every tour. Every country. Every group. Same question.
My second favorite is:
Traveler: "Is it cold? Will I need a jacket?"
Me: "Are you cold now?"
Me: "Then yes, you will need your jacket." Facepalm.
Check out of Part II where Audrey shares her strangest guiding experience and the one thing she wishes all travelers would consider when touring.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity.