Most of us have, at one time or another in our careers, been quite disgusted with the hypocrisy, mendacity and generic mean-spiritedness that we encounter. And the workspace, for all of its subdued lighting, central air, and other amenities, may as well be a reptile house instead of an office. It’s always at these times, when we feel the most vulnerable, that we tend to idealize other jobs. You know the drill – ‘I wish that I worked in Hawaii, even as a dish jockey’. ‘Home Depot doesn’t seem so bad, and hey, I might even learn a thing or two’. True, most of us do, however, stop just short of wanting to work at McDonalds.
Yet of all the jobs that many mid-careerists find very appealing – at least from afar – is that of being a tour guide in some exotic clime. No, I don’t mean standing around musty, and often bloody relics at, let’s say, the Bullfight Museum in Madrid. Or even acting like a shave-headed Russian mafioso, while showing the tourists around the former Nazi/Communist headquarters, now called The House of Terror Museum in Budapest. What I’m really thinking about is what it would be like as a tour guide in Kenya, or Costa Rica, or Tibet. You know, a la National Geo. Sun-kissed mountain peaks, volcanoes, wildlife, expensive cameras, khakis and Timberlands.
In the interest of honesty, let’s take a look at what these folks, who we tend to glamorize, really do. Let’s say that we’re going to take a group of tourists around one of these eco-friendly countries for a week. Check out the following job description. BTW, also remember that these duties and responsibilities apply 24/7.
The 25 Basic Tour Guide Duties:
1. You must display total patience and enthusiasm at all times.
2. Meet and greet all jet-lagged and cranky new arrivals at crowded, often chaotic third-world airport.
3. Make sure that all luggage is accounted for, and loaded onto bus. Deal with any missing luggage at claims office, and hope that your pigeon version of the local language suffices.
4. Take the first of many headcounts.
5. Answer any and all questions.
6. Coordinate hotel/lodge check in, to include passport collection and return, luggage off-loading and delivery to rooms.
7. Deal with any and all complaints as to room size, view, missing towels, etc.
8. Resolve any special menu requirements or dietary restrictions before meal time.
9. Answer any and all questions.
10. Review the tour schedule with bus driver, so that each trip arrives at, and departs from, each site on time
11. Issue maps and handouts as necessary
12. Upon arrival at site, pay for and obtain the right amount of admission tickets. Always remember to get a receipt.
13. At each site, be ready to explain, often in painful detail, the flora, fauna, history, etc. of the place. Use what you’ve learned, memorized or even made up, so that the tourists get an appreciation of what they’ve come thousands of miles to see. Above all, always be enthusiastic, as if it’s the first time that you’ve seen whatever also.
14. Continue to gently herd, and re-herd, members of the group. Watch out for the straggler types, who either always get lost, or tend to have encounters with unsavory locals.
15. Guarantee that sufficient bathroom breaks occur, especially if travelers are older. Keep a supply of toilet paper on hand, for those ‘oops’ times.
16. Answer any and all questions.
17. Provide first aid for the expected trips and falls.
18. Be prepared to diplomatically negotiate squabbles between passengers, to include dealing with such serious issues as bus climate control.
19. Democratically assign, and then re-assign bus seats, so that everyone gets a chance to sit up front (and in the rear).
20. Since the tourists won’t most likely sing ‘Ninety nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall’ to alleviate boredom during long bus rides, it’s up to you to keep them amused. Inoffensive jokes, color commentary, and other extraneous chit chat are expected.
21. Answer any and all questions.
22. Promote side trips, and the more expensive, the better. Be sure to collect and account for all monies received.
23. Coordinate drop off and pick up for all side trippers.
24. Develop alternate plans based on changing weather conditions, local labor strikes, or other contingencies.
Not to worry, I didn’t forget number 25, which is really the worst of all:
25. Repeat all of the above, daily.
Whether you’re tour guiding in Timbuktu or Tirana, the game remains the same. So many inane-and sometimes insane-daily details to deal with, while simultaneously, and sensitively, balancing both the equities and the equilibrium, of the group. Though, and unlike for the rest of us nine to fivers, every tour does (sometimes gratefully) end. There are mostly hugs all around, and the handing off of tip envelopes to the ever-faithful tour guide, who you’ll likely never see again.
Frankly, you couldn’t pay me enough. I think I’ll keep my day job!