I’ve made my tour manager licence in June 2009, at the time when it was still regulated by law. I needed to acquire vast knowledge and pass the three exams: on paper, in front of the committee and in the field. Failed many times on each of them, but finally, I passed. It turned out that the most difficult task was yet to come.
Tour manager in chaos
Italy, Ukraine, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, USA, Malta… and so on. The tour destinations changed rapidly. Every time there was the same issue: a huge set of information about the country and complicated logistics. There were not enough details about cultural nuances, local customs, historical turmoil and known Polish living abroad in the travel guides. I needed to bring with me additional hand notes, photos and famous artists’ images. Then thick binder was the only way to keep everything in order. Handbook calendar was also indispensable, where I kept track of all work notes, bus mileage or changes in the trip schedule.
A tour operator has just introduced new trip to the catalogue, so I got the privilege to run it and write down the trip manual. The museum tour was planned at 10:00 AM, city walk with a guide at 12:30 PM and the opera concert at 7:00 PM. In the meantime, we needed to make time for lunch and some time off in the city square. How to do it when the railway employees were striking, customs officers on the border were on a break and the narrow access road was occupied by pilgrimage?
Some of those extraordinary events have been posted online, therefore a mobile internet device was a necessity. The laptop was great at home, when I wrote down current news, curiosities from blogs and tourist information centres. But on the road, tablet or smartphone was much handier. In the end, I was carrying all three devices because each was useful in other circumstances. Additionally, power bank or replaceable battery was also in the bag as the transfers could last more than twenty-four hours. Last but not least the second mobile phone with local SIM card was a crucial item in the equipment. Without it, the international call and text rates could be very expensive.
Confirming the appointment with a local guide, scheduling the dinner for a group in the restaurant or informing the local agency about the unexpected issue was just a small part of the daily routine. There were times when I talked for hours over the phone while managing the situation on the site. This most important post-it note with a telephone number was lost. The contact record was also saved in one of the phones, but which one? The previous one, that was damaged during heavy rain.
Fortunately, I could reach some common friends on Facebook and get in touch with the right people. If not the free Wi-Fi in a hotel, I would be doomed. I had a mobile internet plan on my local SIM card, but some app ate the whole transfer. The mobile operator didn’t offer extra gigabytes to buy, so I was forced to wait until the end of the month.
We needed to move from the hotel to the next destinations and while my group was led by the local guide I hunted for the next hotspot. The tour operator was expecting my quick email answers and I needed to download PDF museum tickets. The hunting was a usual challenge:
- In the local cafe my tablet connected to the router, but there was no internet connection.
- In the restaurant all the people were using laptops; the network was so overloaded that I couldn’t even pull the emails.
- In Starbucks, I bought a coffee, used the code from the receipt, registered with my Facebook account, authenticated new place and repeated all the steps every 15 minutes.
The last thing before I run to catch my group in the city square was a hotel address research. Bus drivers’ GPS navigation could not find the route to our place. It turned out that the street name could be written in two ways. The case was solved, once I found the hotel’s homepage. Even though I took with me the road atlas book and regional paper map, there was no use for them.
Only when the day was nearly over I could put back my bag and realise how extremely heavy was my equipment. Like many other tour managers, I preferred a messenger bag, as the content access was much more convenient than in a backpack. Back pain reminded me that I should find a better solution.
I wanted to know easy answers to difficult questions:
- How to minimise the number of books, maps, catalogues and other documents I needed to have with me?
- Which mobile device would be the best for my work?
- How to find a proper internet connection abroad?
- How to limit the battery consumption on my phones and other devices?
- What roadmaps should I use to get around traffic?
- What city maps should I use to lead the groups?
- How to find a proper location of hotels and other points of interest?
- How to back up my contacts and keep them in sync between devices?
- How to secure my documents and devices against theft and destruction?
- Which app could replace the handbook calendar?
Misfortune adventures of a tour manager
To find all the answers I have started to experiment. On every trip, I tested many methods. They gave me a feedback. Mostly a discouraging feedback.
The Internet at sea
For a month I worked on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea. The ship was on a loop route between several European countries. To stay in touch I bought the UE internet data plan from my Polish mobile operator. Service terms included satellite transmission, in case I sail through the seas. In fact, the internet worked great on the land, but every time the ship was on the move I could not connect. My tablet tried to pull email data, but it was unsuccessful. At the end of the month, Polish mobile operator charged me an additional fee — 400 PLN (around 100 EUR), even though it should be included in my plan.
A trip to Dublin and back
To stretch my horizons and experience in new destinations I went by bus to Dublin. After spending a nice week in Ireland’s capital I was going back to London. The stopover lasted six hours so I walked to see the Buckingham Palace. The imperial residence and ideal mowed grass took over my attention. In consequence, I lost my way in the city and didn’t catch the next bus to Poland. I regret not buying paper city plan or not having a map on my phone. This could save me a 600 PLN (around 150 EUR) I spent for a new ticket to home.
To stay in touch with the tour operator and be able to run the bookings on a trip I was carrying around my ultrabook. This kind of light and durable notebook, perfect for working on the go. To protect it I used tips from experienced travellers. Put a sticker on a manufacturer’s logo and hid it in an old worn out backpack to decrease the potential value. Additionally, there was a GPS module and a SIM card on this computer. I even registered it in Prey, anti-theft software. None of this worked, when a thief broke the bus door lock and took everything that was within the reach of his hands. The video recording didn’t help and police didn’t find the suspect. My loss was 2 500 PLN (around 600 EUR).
Those are just a few issues, where the value was easy to calculate. There were countless situations when I lost a lot of time and energy. I don’t regret them. In the end, after each mistake, I gained the valuable experience.
My old ultrabook with a sticker on the logo
A nerd, who is a tour manager
Nerd is an extremely passionate person. It’s an expert, that can share his knowledge with others. Back in 80’ and 90’ TV was presenting him as a loser, sitting all day in front of the computer and having issues with human interactions. The influence of video games, the spread of the internet and mobile technology shifted the popular culture. Therefore, the image of nerds was changed. In the current TV series they are presented in the funny likeable way:
Yes, I also consider myself as a nerd.
Maybe it is strange that this “anti-social freak” is travelling the world and even telling stories to tourists. In the matter of facts, being a nerd tremendously helped me in my work as a tour guide.
John Green — known nerd, vlogger and book author
Practical solutions of the Nerd on Tour
I use the solution system to every issue on a tour. Analysis, experiment and solution summarise. I gain experience like characters in a Role-Playing Game. This is how I view tourism.
In the difficult situations, I find patterns, that let me think quickly and analytically. It does not matter if this is about tourists, trip logistics or local agency.
Every day I test and polish the system. The most important principles are:
- Saving time and energy
I am fascinated by the dynamics of modern tourism and tourists desires. I passionately follow the technological news, mobile apps markets and online services for tourists. Love to test devices in the field and find new ways of using them, beyond the original creators’ intents.
The practical solution system that I developed over the years, helped me find answers to all difficult questions about tourism.
Calm trips of a manager, who is a nerd
As a tour manager, I am intensely focused on my responsibilities because I know that every single element of the trip influences the tourists’ satisfaction. It is the most important factor of the professional work. With my technological advancements I gained something that cannot be bought:
The intensive tour itineraries start at 6:00 AM and end at 11:00 PM. I eat on the go, sleep just 3 to 4 hours a night and run between embassy, city square and a museum. Time is a currency I have very little. With reliable devices, I have it much more.
Usually, when I am in the rush to get to this one of a kind concert, there is record-breaking traffic. I arrive just a few minutes before the beginning, but in the same moment, one tourist realised his passport was stolen and another one is seriously sick. Knowledge of the technology helps to manage unexpected events and remain calm.
A teenager who travels with his grandma is asking a detailed question about a sculpture in the church. He saw it before in the virtual world as he is a fan of Assassin’s Creed, an action-adventure game set in the historical realms. I also played this game and I know what facts would be the most interesting for him. With self-esteem, I explained the story behind the sculpture.
My emotional state influence others. If I am smiling, I am sincere and forgiving, so they are my tourists. I can give them more time and attention, which directly increase the satisfaction. How did I achieve it?
- I don’t look for Wi-Fi anymore because I know how to find the best deals for mobile internet, regardless of the country.
- All maps, booklets, country facts and company notes are both in the data cloud and on my devices so I can access them even being offline.
- I carry around maximum two mobile devices — my bag is lighter and I still can do all paperwork.
- I never lose my key contacts as they are synchronised between all of my devices.
- My reliable calendar app has infinite capacity, a complete list of hotels, restaurants, points of interest, physical addresses and works offline.
- I know how to search to find the precise coordinates, business hours and telephone numbers to hospitals, police stations, embassies, supermarkets, florists et cetera.
This system has been tested countless times and it works in every destination. Every following trip is easier to prepare and execute because technology finally works for me, not against me.
Nerd for your service
I consider technology skills like reading skills. Everyone is capable of reading a text likewise everyone can talk over a phone. But how skilful you are in these areas?
Reading tabloids and gossip portals do not increase your vocabulary nor it sparks your creative thoughts. We read world literature masterpieces because they inspire us. We also read workbooks, textbooks and history books to know how others deal with common issues.
Where and how we can develop technological skills?
By using it, everywhere you want
I am fully aware, that this can be hard, complicated and you don’t know where to begin. I went through it many times. In fact, not everything can be found on the internet, as not every answer is there yet. On the flip side, a number of different answers for one question can be overwhelming.
I am here to help you. As a human, as a tour manager and as a nerd on tour
I am at your service, so ask me anything that is related to travel technologies.
- Social media
- Mobile apps
- Mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops)
- Search Engine Optimisation
What is the cost?
I am open to conversations on any platform you prefer, including this blog. I share my knowledge and expertise free of charge.
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