In an average season, a guide doing overland tours can drive 25,000 miles or more. That’s roughly the entire circumference of the Earth. So I really don’t need any tips on navigating rush-hour traffic, or advice on which way to turn the wheel when I’m backing the trailer. I got this.
It’s not a great start to a tour when our first stop is Walmart to get you a sleeping bag because you didn’t know this was a camping trip. Or when you realize, on the first night of a three-week camping trip, that you absolutely hate camping. Or when you’re shocked to find out that the United States is actually really, really big and that driving the entire way across it means a lot of time in the van.
Okay. You saw me lounging by the hotel pool that one evening. That’s because after six hours of driving, two hours at an urgent care clinic dealing with someone’s allergic reaction to a bug bite, and three hours of wading through receipts and accounting spreadsheets, I needed a break.
Yes, there are moments when I sit back, shake my head and think “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to be here right now.” But the fact is, tour guides work hard. We’re responsible for every single aspect of the tour. We make all the reservations, drive five to 10 hours a day, plan and help cook the meals, talk people through culture shock and homesickness, mediate whatever conflicts arise between guests, wake up at 2am because someone’s tent fell down, and do a thousand other things to make your vacation awesome.
If we’re lucky, somewhere in between all of that, we manage to find time to stop, take a breath, and enjoy ourselves. But it’s not a vacation.
Seriously, I begged you not to buy the 42oz slurpee at the last gas station. I announced three times that this was the last chance to use the facilities for at least an hour. But, alas, it’s come to this, and now you’re going to either be miserable for the next hour, or have to pee behind a sage bush.
Tour guides are pretty knowledgeable. But even we don’t know where the bathroom is in every gas station, museum, visitors center, hotel lobby, supermarket, and campsite between New York and Los Angeles.
We’re standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, overlooking one of the most awe-inspiring vistas in the world…and all you can talk about is how excited you are to get to Vegas? We only have one day in Zion, and you decide you’re going to catch up on sleep instead of seeing the park? Our national parks are a major source of pride. So I expect an appropriate amount of awe and reverence.
Yeah, I can see you in the rearview mirror. You probably don’t know this, but if a cop sees you in my tour van without a seatbelt, I’m the one who gets the ticket. I don’t care how many times you swear you’ll pay it. Please just suck it up and wear your seatbelt.
If you think that missing our dinner reservation because the trailer got stuck in the mud is going to ruin the trip, or you’re concerned about whether or not you can buy bottled water in Yellowstone, you’re missing the point.
Travel is about being spontaneous, and finding joy in the unexpected. It’s not the highlights on the itinerary that will make a trip great. It’s the little moments in between; it’s the friendships that form, and the crazy conversations that happen when 12 people from eight different countries are packed in a van for 3,000 miles. It’s the inflatable alien from Roswell that always got its own seat in the van, the freak lightning storm that forced us all to spend the night in a campsite’s arcade room, the drunk Mississippian who brought us a cooler of crayfish and a jug of moonshine at 1am.
It’s about sharing an adventure with an awesome group of people.