How to Be Your Own Tour Guide
The Author Guiding a Tour in Iceland. Photo shared by Sherbsworld
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Are you the kind of traveller who questions what is around you, marvels at old buildings, and gets lost in art? Does understanding new cultures make your journey more heartfelt? Do you love collecting stories of the places you visit and does travelling more make you more curious?
Travel ignites our curiosity. It fills our heads with questions about how other people live. What do they eat? Where do they work? Who built that, and why? Discovering these answers makes us appreciate our surroundings more, and our travel experiences become more enriched.
Since travelling as a young adult, I’ve realised that I have a thirst for understanding the world that I venture into. It’s not just the itch that makes me want to travel more, it’s the lessons I learn when I’m away.
Realising that I am a traveller of the curious category, and being a storyteller (or chatterbox) by nature, I decided to combine these two passions. I started to make a living by sharing my findings with other travellers and became a tour guide.
In taking groups around my country, I started to appreciate the UK in a way I never had before. I delved into stories and historical facts. I memorised lists of famous landmarks, events, traditions, and social customs. I plucked out enticing characters from the past, some revered, some forgotten. I started to learn how cities as grand as London and Paris developed, and how people survived wars, plagues, and descimination.
The Importance of Learning Before You Head Out
It quickly became obvious that the more I learned before leaving home, the more headspace I had on the road. When you have a bus load of people with various needs and have to deal with traffic, hot weather, downpours, constant questions, and missing people, you don’t want your knowledge letting you down. I never realised before that humans can endure such a spectrum of problems in one day.
Whilst it’s possible to make a decent wage with several companies, the hours are intensely long. You’re often up at 5 am and are dealing with lost baggage, complaints, sick passengers, cleaning the bus, and preparing all the props, notes, and paperwork you need for the day. You’re always required to look happy.
For tour guiding and travelling yourself, planning eliminates some of the stress from everything that is out of your control. Being your own tour guide means digging deeper and owning your travel experiences. Here’s how you can do it.
How to be your own tour guide
Dive into the culture before you go
Most good guidebooks have roundup sections on the country’s timeline events and culture. Online, the Encyclopedia Britannica has loads of information on the geography and history of countries everywhere. They also have interesting articles on topics like festivals, lifestyles, and philosophies.
Get up to speed by reading the local news online. Find an author or poet from your country of choice and put it on your reading list. The Bookshop is a huge online store that stocks from independent bookshops for the US and the UK and will source your entire travel reading bucket list.
Start a new chapter
You’re about to make amazing memories and gather a tonne of information. You’re also about to have a lot of time to muse whilst on long journeys or lounging in hammocks. Starting a fresh notebook whilst you prepare for each trip means you’ll have all your information in one place, plus blank pages for reflecting on life and brainstorming new goals. I have a whole cupboard of travel journals full of place names, journey times, anecdotes, films, books, and streams of thought. On rainy days in the future, you can spend hours sifting through memories and conjuring up visions of your past adventures.
One of the perks of being a tour guide is being paid to get to iconic places. Photos by Sherbsworld
Take a virtual museum tour
Confession time– I don’t know every place before I take a group there. I have done many tours ‘blind’. I’ve had a group of 50 follow me down streets I’ve never trodden, and entered many buildings not knowing if I’m at the ‘group entry’ door. The only way to look professional in these moments is with body language, a smile, and of course, preparation. Luckily, I can familiarise myself with new destinations using Google Street View and find my way through the narrow streets of Rome to plan my route. Since lockdown, you can even enter museums on Google Arts and Culture. Many museums and galleries have their collections open for virtual viewing, like the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Make a playlist
Music can instantly bring you closer to your destination, as it invokes the culture. Whenever I do tours to Iceland, I download Of Monsters and Men, Bjork, and Sigur Ros amongst other other artists I discover. Then, when I’m daydreaming with little red fishing huts, fjords, and steaming hot pools passing by, the scenery is accompanied by a beautiful, local soundtrack. When you return home, the playlist will bring back sweet travel nostalgia. A good website to check out is Bandcamp, where you can sign up for free, search music based on your destination, follow the artists you love, and directly support them.
Hear about notable characters and hidden figures
When I’m on the mic, reeling off facts is enough to put anyone to sleep. My groups always engage more when I’m telling them stories about weird and wonderful people that are connected to each place. Characters are essential for any story, and world exploration wouldn’t be the same without the stories that you uncover. Luckily, there are some highly entertaining podcasts that present, champion, and reveal notable and lesser-known people from around the world. So whilst you’re busy booking tickets and packing your sunnies, you can stick on an episode and discover people you never knew existed. Some of my favourites are The Historical Figures podcast and You’re Dead to Me by The BBC.
Read kids books
I often don’t have enough time to fully study for every destination, especially at the beginning of my career when the logistical planning was overwhelming enough. All I knew about history was that kings chopped off their wives’ heads and Roman warriors wore short skirts. Luckily, there are some bitesize history books out there that are aimed at kids and nicely simplify history. The Horrible Histories range are funny and well illustrated and cover many world histories. If you travel to Scotland, which has a dense and unruly history, try to get your hands on one of Scoular Anderson and Allan Burnett’s books, such as the And All That series. They make history bitesize and funny and you’ll know your Mary Queen of Scots from your Bloody Mary in no time.
Enrich your trips by being your own tour guide
By being your own tour guide, you’ll gain skills like researching and how to organize. You’ll enrich your travels as you gather stories, facts, and learn about the people and the land. The more we know about the planet we roam, the more soul our journeys have. Travel the world and enrol in the school of life!