What Tour Guides Do Without Tourists

anxiety dreams, exam, memoryYou know those anxiety dreams about having an exam when you haven’t studied or going on a business trip you haven’t packed for? I have that feeling of missing something every day. I think, “I should be doing something today.” Or, “I have to go somewhere tonight.”

But I know where those feelings come from: I miss being a tour guide.

Off to a Bad Start

This year’s tour season got off to a bad start. So bad, in fact, that it never started at all. The Covid-19 pandemic put everything on hold. The two organizations for which I give walking tours—Boston By Foot and Haunted Boston—shut everything down. At this point, the suspensions last until June 30, when a new decision will be made.

While walking tours, which take place outside, can be done with safeguards like masks and social distancing, you still need people to go on them. Without tourists, tour guides have no one to talk to. Will travel to Boston pick up again? Sure, but when?

Cruise Ship Cancellations

Viking Sea, tour guide, Boston, Black Falcon Terminal, tourists

Before a tour with Viking Sea

Yesterday, the cruise ships weighed in. Destinations North America sent a memo that basically cancelled the entire season. I had been expecting this ever since I read that the Canadian government issued a “no dock” order prohibiting large ships with a capacity of over 100 passengers to dock in Canada through the end of October, 2020. Most of the ships that arrive in Boston either start or end their cruises in Canada.

Several cruise companies, including Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, have cancelled their New England and Canada tours for the season. Others still have September and October on their schedules but that could change at any time.

Tour Guide Rewards

What does this mean for me as a tour guide?

Obviously, my revenue stream has dried up. The money I make in a season finances the next year’s travel. Ironically, our vacation next year could be fine because we rolled this year’s Viking River Cruise over to 2021. After that, I can go back to guiding (I hope) and earn the money for a 2022 cruise. This will be the year without a vacation—which couldn’t happen anyway because there’s nowhere to go. (The future depends on a vaccine or the virus weakening, of course.)

I will feel another impact as well. Every summer I lose the weight that tends to accumulate in the winter. I walk it off, sweat it off, talk it off, and miss meals. (I’m sure the guides who have to wear  heavy Colonial costumes lose a lot more.)

By the fall, I’m usually several pounds lighter and much more fit. Without tours, I’m keeping my fingers crossed the health club’s pool will open soon and I can get some water aerobics time. But it’s not the same.

I miss more than money and exercise, though. I love being a tour guide. Here are some of the things about it that I enjoy.

  • The People:
Tour Guide, Boston By Foot, Boston,

Giving a tour for Boston By Foot

Being a tour guide means meeting people from all over the country and around the world. They come on a tour to have a good time and learn something about Boston. I’m there to make sure they enjoy themselves. No one talks politics, religion, or guns. No one argues. We just have fun.

I learn why they came to Boston and what interests them. Sometimes I give them tips on places to go and things to see during their visit. They tell me where they’re staying and what they enjoyed seeing or eating.  For an hour and a half, we spend time with one another and go on a journey together.

  • Sharing:

purple glass, Beacon Hill, the LavendersI really enjoy sharing what I know about Boston—the good, the bad and the not-so ugly—with visitors. Whether on foot or riding a bus, I talk about history, architecture, art, people, civil engineering, the Boston Red Sox, crime, and anything else I can think of that brings the city around them to life.

  • “That plain redbrick garage over there is where the Great Brinks Robbery happened.”
  • “The Old North Church’s steeple is #3—the first two blew down in hurricanes—but the weathervane is original.”
  • “The Make Way for Ducklings statues are on your left.”
  • “Those Beacon Hill windows are purple because the factory used too much manganese oxide and the glass changed from clear to colored over time.”
  • “Paul Revere had 18 children by two different wives—nine for each wife.”

I always have more to say than time to say it in and I love surprising them with information they never imagined.

  • The Performance:

Every tour is, for me, a performance. Tour guides all have different styles that range from the academic to the nearly slapstick. My style can best be described as storytelling.  Words, tone of voice, expression, hand motions—all go into making the story come alive for my guests. I watch their faces and love it when their eyes light up or the kids’ mouths’ drop open. Their faces tell me if I’m hitting it right, need to back off or to ramp it up. I love questions—and kids ask the best questions. As a tour guide, I’m an actor whose stage is the whole city. What theater can beat that?

  • Energy:
Millennium Tower, Park Street Church, Boston Common

The Park Street Church and Millennium Tower with Full Moon

Being a tour guide gets me out of the house, energizes me and keeps me young. During the season, I’m almost always up and about. I dress in black and carry a lantern for Haunted Boston. Wear different clothes and a Transportation Workers Identity Card for the cruise lines. Carry a bag and wear a name tag for Boston By Foot. Do I have everything I need? Did I remember a water bottle or a jacket? Anticipation and preparation ramp up my energy for the tour.

Driving in, doing the tour, driving home all keep me moving. I don’t have much time to sit around or take a nap during the tour season. Plus, I get to spend time in Boston. While I don’t want to live in the city, I enjoy the energy and hustle of being there for a while. I particularly like walking back to my car after a night tour and seeing Boston all lit up around me.

  • The Psychic Gratification:

I find this one tougher to explain but, in many ways, it is the most important. Giving tours makes me feel good about myself and other people. From the anticipation before the event, to giving the tour, to getting a round of applause (and tips) at the end, it’s fun. But, more than that, it’s a way of giving to others.

Human beings like giving to other people, whether it’s baking fresh bread, potting outtakes from the perennial garden, helping a neighbor to fix a problem, giving someone who needs it a ride, or, well, you name it. Giving connects us in a good way that makes us feel better about ourselves and others.

Being a tour guide means I can give the gift of information, enjoyment, and camaraderie three or four times a week. That’s addictive. Without that connection, I feel like there’s a hole in my life.

Tour Guide Season: Over Before It Started

Now, thanks to Covid-19, the tour season was over before it began. This pandemic has been bad for tourism and travel in general; I just get affected by a small part of it. Lots more people have suffered major financial impacts as their livelihoods have gone down the drain.

Being a tour guide is a big part of my life, though, and I really, really miss it. Whatever it takes to make travel safe again, I hope it happens soon.

1 thought on “What Tour Guides Do Without Tourists

  1. I second everything you say Aline, plus a couple more. I, like you, love going into the City. I have since childhood when I went to Fenway with my dad, and high school when I took the bus from downtown Natick that dropped me at the Woodland T station and I went to the BPL to research history assignments. When I give a tour and the tourees marvel at how pretty or how clean or how vibrant the City is, I get an immense sense of internal pride or ownership if that is the right word — it is like, it is an awesome City and I get to live here (more or less.)

    The second thing is about the giving back. Seeing visitors be so happy at the end of the tour makes you really feel like you have brightened someone’s day and that is a great feeling!

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