What Study Abroad Tour Leaders Wish You Knew...

Lisa Saltagi
Lisa Saltagi
Topic Expert

Lisa studied in Ascoli Piceno, Italy in 2010 and since has always needed to have a flight booked somewhere. After failing at office life, she flew to Italy and became a European tour-guide for a year.

Tour in Greece

If any of you have visited Europe in the past few years, you may have seen me. I was the one in the gym shorts and bright blue tanktop -- marching in front of a long line of college students as if I were a mother duckling.

I occasionally had a clipboard in my hand, and at random points I’d turn around, shout directions or instructions at the top of my lungs, and then continue my walking tour. I may have looked haggard -- with hair a mess and lack of sleep plastered to the bags under my eyes, but I was usually smiling -- because though it was a crazy life I led, I loved what I did.

I seriously believe it's beneficial to take advantage of [a tour guide's] services -- even if it is only for a day or weekend trip.

The life of a tour guide is filled with strange facts, multiple doses of coffee, a hell of a lot of reservation codes, but also beautiful, glorious destinations that we get to share with bright-eyed young students. And though this may sound a bit like self-promotion, I seriously believe it's beneficial to take advantage of our services -- even if it is only for a day or weekend trip -- because of our dedication to teaching you the secrets of our favorite places.

It's just, there are a few things I wish any student knew before embarking on an educational tour abroad. Here are a few tips in order to make the most out of your guided tour and your tour guide:

1. Guides Are Doing This Because They Love It

Eiffel Tower

One of my all-time favorite things to do when guiding was finding the off-the-beaten path lookout points or restaurants to show students so that my tour was worth it and not the “ordinary” sight-seeing that they’d expect, but also highlighted some local favs, some non-touristy discoveries that I'd come across in my time living in Italy.

But if you, the traveler, aren’t appreciating these points, I feel sad.

Please understand that this is what your tour guide loves to do. Those fun facts they’re spewing out may not be the most intriguing thing and you may just want to Instagram that new view of the Eiffel Tower, but listen when they speak, ask questions, be engaged -- you may just be inspired by their words and learn something new!

And even if you're not, then at least you weren’t rude!

2. While I Wish Sunshine Emanated from My Body, I'm Only Human

... I am far from a meteorologist and I am not to blame for poor weather. So seriously guys, listen up.

If you think your day is ruined because of the rain, think about how mine is going. I now have a large group of soggy tourists that are unhappy with the current precipitation or heat or sand storm or snow ruining their day of paradise.

I am now also soggy and cold and hate this as much as you do. Making me cry does not help. How about you listen to my backup plan that I hopefully have instead? (If your guide doesn't have a backup plan, they aren’t the best guide).

3. You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Yes of course we all occasionally miss the comforts of home -- but when you ask me where you can get Starbucks in Rome and I tell you to try the pretty famous coffee shop in the back of the Pantheon instead because it’s amazing and you wrinkle your nose and ask “but do they have Pumpkin Spiced Lattes”... I want to force feed you a macchiato.

Please, trust your guide when they give recommendations!

I am not your guide to find you the comforts of home, I am guiding you to try new things and experience a culture -- which, I hope was the whole reason why you left home in the first place. Please, trust your guide when they give recommendations!

4. Sometimes I Get Lonely and Like Friends

Students in Sao Miguel Azores

On more than one occasion, I was guiding a day to week-long trip by my lonesome. When I told everyone to head out to dinner or have a few free hours to roam, I was then the one looking for something to do!

If you’re touring alone or your group wouldn’t mind some more inside info, ask your guide to eat with you or your group. After all, we like to eat and socialize too!

And don't worry about the age difference either -- my students got me to do crazy things on more than one occasion that I wouldn’t have done otherwise -- like sitting by a lake at sunrise in Switzerland, or dancing the night away with a free bottle of champagne in a cave club high above the water on the Amalfi Coast.

Though it’s my job, I still love having fun and getting to know you all as well!

5. Don't Rely on Me for Everything

Though I am here because I may know the language better and may lead you in the right direction, this adventure you’re on is for you to grow and achieve your travel dreams -- not for me to hold your hand along the way.

Be excited about your experiences and branch off from the group mentality that guided tours sometimes give you!

Of course I will point you to the ATM and give you a restaurant recommendation, but when I say you have half a day to wander, take advantage of it. Come back and tell me about your new favorite food or a friend you just met! Be excited about your experiences and branch off from the group mentality that guided tours sometimes give you!

Your experience will be so much better if you do. Plus, (as long as you make it back to the meeting point on time) your guide will be proud of you.

6. I'm Not Blockbuster

Or Netflix, or Hulu, or HBO, or whatever your favorite movie/TV watching platform may be. I come bearing limited movie options (have you ever tried finding English films in Italy?)

When on a thirteen hour bus ride from Rome to Croatia, I have given you the opportunity to watch one of my select favorites such as "The Fighter", or "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days", or "Up". If I like you enough to let you vote on your favorite for your viewing pleasure, I do not appreciate your chants of Stepbrothers, Mean Girls, or Spiderman instead -- if I had those, I would’ve offered them to you.

7. What You’re Doing Right Now Is Many People’s Lifelong Dream

Eating food in Rome

Do NOT take it for granted.

As you hike through the local mountains of your new favorite country or sit at a sidewalk café in an ancient city somewhere, try to focus on your experience.

I see so many students saving everything to their smartphones and then dashing off to upload it and brag to their friends about their time abroad.

Brag to yourself instead. Breathe in the smell of the local bakery, the pine trees, or the desert flowers. Fill your mind with the flourish of colors of the tulips under the windmills, the deep reds of a woman’s wedding dress, or the greens of the bottomless lake that you just happened upon.

Instead of clicking pictures to look at later, digest these sights and sounds now to keep those memories vibrant for the rest of your life. Interact with where you are -- you never know when you'll get a chance to come here again.

8. When I See Your Eyes Light Up, That’s 10x Better Than a Tip

Don't get me wrong, money's great and all, but -- like I said in point number one -- I'm doing this because I love it. When I see your eyes light up at something, or you tell me you really enjoyed my walking tour, that's ten times better than a tip.

One of my favorite moments of a bus ride was when most of my tour had fallen asleep after a healthy serving of Disney movies (for future tour guides – you cannot go wrong with purchasing all Disney DVDs. The boo’s will not come) and we would round the last corner before carefully threading our way down the precipice that is the beginning of the Amalfi Coast drive.

When I could give people a memory that will last a lifetime, I know that I have made a difference.

At three in the morning, the coast would be lit up like starlight and one curve would jostle everyone awake. The “ohhhs” of seeing the landscape always made me smile.

I loved when I’d have a student that was so deathly afraid of heights -- they’d explain their fear to me as the bus climbed high into the Alps, but then the next day, I’d watch them face their fears and leap almost 300 feet into a canyon with only a harness and a rope to hold onto. The smiles on their faces were epic. Their delight that I pushed them to their limits was so rewarding, no amount of money can compare to that.

When I began my job as a tour guide, I wanted the position for selfish reasons. I wanted to get paid to travel. I wanted to experience more than just a desk job. I wanted to make connections all over the world and have fun while doing it. I got to experience all of that, but when I finally “retired” from this position, what I took away from that experience was different. Likely, that'll happen to you if you set off on an educational tour abroad as well.

What you need to know about your guide is that we find the most happiness from your happiness. My greatest reward was a thank you for helping change your life. It was new connections not with business partners, but individual travelers that made me appreciate what I was doing. When I could give people a memory that will last a lifetime, I know that I have made a difference, and a made a citizen of the world that much more open minded, more experienced, and happier.

Photo Credits: Rachael Silverman, , and .