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leading toursEvery single time I find myself leading a new group of travelers – complete strangers I’ve often traveled halfway round the world to meet and for whom I will be a guide, a counsel, and sometimes a Sherpa – I’m struck by one consistency: each trip is a new bundle of pleasures for me, some expected but many unforeseen.

The travelers I get to meet are routinely a pleasure. Some are excited, some are anxious, but all are filled with expectations and a desire to have a good time. I’ve met retirees, recent graduates, anniversary celebrants, and all flavors in between. The days we spend traveling together quickly bond us. Ever heard of “speed dating?” Well, my tours often produce “speed friending.”

The places I get to share with others? I’ve been blessed to sit in a pontoon boat with travelers and gaze up at the magnificent falls at Iguazu, Brazil; I’ve worked alongside my group to prepare a native lunch in a Thai jungle hut; and I’ve ice skated (ungracefully, perhaps) with my troop in front of a grand castle on a Budapest winter night. My tours and travelers have allowed me to make the world’s pleasures my own.

And the foods – an indulgent pleasure that I gave myself over to long ago. Whether dining in a favorite Parisian restaurant where our modest group is served by a half-dozen professional wait staff or standing beneath the vibrant neon of Bangkok’s Chinatown, eating a street vendor’s crispy pork and noodles in a peppery broth for a dollar a bowl, a favored way to introduce a culture and a people to newcomers is through local cuisine. We do not always eat expensively on my tours, but I always ensure that my travelers eat well.

What of pleasures unexpected? A spontaneous wandering down a side street in Lisbon that delivered us to a charming bar with live music and Portuguese hams and cheeses, paired with local wines. Or a soaring cable-car ride up to an ancient monastery outside Barcelona only to happen upon a full wedding ceremony and being invited by the families to stay. Or a night in a local Berlin bar where karaoke broke out, the night stretching into the wee hours alternating between our group teaching English lyrics to the regulars, then learning German lyrics and songs from them. It seems the world is routinely full of pleasant experiences when you know to recognize them.

The grandest, most unexpected pleasure of leading tours, however, has nothing to do with specific locales or activities. It is the sense of purpose. Friends and family think I’m in the travel business. I’m not. I’m in the “experience business.” I facilitate vacations for travelers that are often long-held dream trips. I work on the Bucket Lists of others. I get to design tour experiences that combine traveler expectations with hidden surprises in ways that deliver not just satisfaction but a sense of connection with a destination. I frequently get comments akin to, “This trip changed my life.” And I am humbled each time.

It is a wonderful thing to be the conduit between people and experiences they will cherish and talk about for years. In fact, it’s a pleasure.

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