The preparation is actually the toughest part of the trip. Research, applying for visas, adjusting to any changes in the itinerary, checking the budget restraints, making sure the local guides will be who you want, sorting out an idea of restaurants and meals ahead of time, making sure your multiple flight connections are good – these are the business aspects of being a tour leader. This is what the job entails and what is expected of me. I have to be a problem solver and keep ducks in a row. Having a rounded knowledge of the areas you are to visit helps, too, but it is actually more prudent to know how to read your surroundings and think … logically … on the spot. Clients ask all sorts of questions, and a majority have nothing to do with dates in history or local architecture. Anyone can read up on this. A surprising amount of people also care nothing about listening to the talks a local guide gives about the sights you are visiting either, as they can pick up a book later and research most of this on their own. All those dates and names of kings and rulers never stick anyway. People want anecdotes and the practical knowledge that helps them get through at that time. How do you get the satellite TV to pick up CNN or BBC? Where are the toilets located in the hotel you are staying? What species of bird is in most predominant in the given country? How long does it take before they bury the dead in the country? How much money should I exchange if I only eat a light lunch and just buy postcards? Is the bread here made with all organic ingredients and will the tap water rot your intestines? The hotels we use change from time to time, and without residing in the countries we take groups of tours around for extended periods in time, it is impossible to know all the fine details. But the fact remains, you cannot get by with “I don’t know” too many times or you lose their confidence. If that becomes an issue, then the ‘leader’ becomes just another passenger on the tour, and no one will listen anymore. The faith is lost. My job is to make sure I still have ‘believers’ all the way through a tour.

Then there are the simple things, like choosing the right clothing so as to not weight yourself down, but still have what you need for various countries and changing climates and making sure all the bills are paid up before you leave home and have limited access to Internet and on-line banking. This stretch of work will see me away for nearly 73 days and have me skim along the coast of the Baltic Sea, skirt the base of the Caucasus and kick up some dust in the Syrian desert. In all that time, I will have approximately three days off for a quick hop home to hug my girls and wash some of the ripening clothing that has turned foul in my rucksack … not due to lack of care, mind you, but due to the fact that hotel laundry can be outrageously expensive and many times you are never in the same place long enough to toss it all in a washtub and have it drip dry in time for checkout the next day.
I love to travel, and it became my drug of choice after the first taste. Without it, I feel the stagnation of resting in one place for too long. I get antsy and agitated. There is a blood-thirst of sorts to move about and wander other parts of the globe. The experiences I have accumulated may be grand to some, but after you put the dots on a map, the number of places is so miniscule. Even though we say the world is becoming smaller, after ten hours sitting an an airport waiting for a flight, it never seems small enough. I have been to Ethiopia, but never to Namibia or Kenya. The Trans-Siberian train has whisked me across one of the largest countries in the world, but Tibet and India are still alien to me. For every beautiful city, town or village whose breast I have had the opportunity to rest my head upon and caress with intimacy, there are fifty more I yearn to court and sleep with. (Would you call me an adulterer for this?) I live with one city in the south of Poland, and I do love her and her ways, but I have a weakness for the sight and touch of ‘another’. Damascus and the way she cooks and smells; Vladivostok has her sultry curves; Olomouc with her untainted class and style; Stamsund’s rugged beauty; and then there is Lalibela, who can annoy me to no end, but she charms the socks off me none-the-less. There is something about her. There is something about all of them. I need them. I want them. But all of these beauties are secondary to the flesh, blood, touch, smiles and warmth of my wife and child. We understand the job I have to do, and we also understand that without this chosen profession, I would become more moody than Grumpy the Dwarf, who, after a bad day in the mines, has just discovered that Snow White has been frolicking around in the sack with the other six, but just finds him too morose and serious. My family is paramount, but if I was denied the moments of transformation into a nomad of sorts, then the routine of a daily ‘normal’ life would rapidly spin my mood into a melancholy that makes me more obnoxious to live with (even more so than my wife would say I already am). It is here where the preparation becomes the greatest of difficulties; the desire for new experiences and new sights and the yearning for the care that only your family can provide. It is a wickedly sensitive scale to keep in balance, and I am not always the best at stopping it from tipping too far in one direction or the other. Everything else is a walk in the park compared to leaving your sleeping child behind with a kiss on her forehead or the look in your spouse’s eyes as she tries to understand one more time why you cannot just be content with a routine that seems so secure and cozy to her, but which is so otherworldly and painful to you. We do what we must for now, and I honestly hope that it is enough to see us through.
Still, I will miss them so very much whist I’m away.