It takes two to tango and it takes two to run a successful Contiki tour. It’s not all about the Tour Manager, the person who sits behind the wheel deserves some recognition because ultimately they carry 50 budding travellers safely around Europe. This one is for the Drivers.
As tough as training for Contiki was, we all eventually began to get used to the endless grind, the constant questioning and the fact that no matter how well we thought we were doing there was always room for improvement. We soon realised that this job would ensure we were constantly learning and if we did make a mistake we had to recognise it, learn from it and ensure that it didn’t happen again.
Often our mistakes could be put down to the fact that we were stupidly tired. On average we got about five to six hours sleep a night, if not less. I for one love an average of about nine and can survive on less but with full eighteen hour days where you run around and try and consume as much information as humanly possible it can begin to take it’s toll.
Coach days, where you travel from one location to the next, were notorious for having at least one person nod off from sheer exhaustion. The ‘to be’ tour managers weren’t the only ones to endure the gruesome sixty-six day training; the ‘to be’ drivers accompanied us.
Each morning they were tasked with explaining the route we would take to each destination, how far it was and calculate which services we were to use. Equipped with European road atlases we were on our way. Contiki don’t condone the use of GPS navigation devices during training, so how would you find your way around a bustling city if you couldn’t read a map while driving? The answer; route notes.
We were issued two standard lined books and notepads, which after many a late night and red palms, were perfectly ruled to specific measurements (checked by our trainers) allowing for precise route notes of Europe. As tour managers we also ruled these books but didn’t do nearly as many route notes as the drivers.
We had two trainers, one who focused more on training us tour managers and the other the drivers. Each day our driver trainer sat the front of the coach and using the microphone would read a series of route notes. These would then be drawn, neatly and with a ruler might I add, into the margins. So if we were to turn left and traffic lights we would draw an arrow left following traffic lights and so on.
The drivers did this relentlessly and were often jolted awake by the announcement of “route note” over the microphone. Each day they had to sit on the window and observe road signs, now this doesn’t sound so bad if you are an average height but nearly every driver on our training was above average. We had a variety of European drivers, many Portuguese. I’m not sure what the Portuguese feed their boys but they sure are tall! Sitting on the window took it’s toll on the 6 foot 4 inch plus frames of our drivers.
When they weren’t scribbling route notes, filling out worksheets, staring out the window or trying with all their might to stay awake they had to endure us! Each day we were called up to practice the speeches we had written, sometimes five minutes before, and since we couldn’t plug in an iPod and listen to music we all became the audience.
As tour managers we were often busy enough to continue the speech we were working on and block out whoever was speaking, our drivers didn’t have this luxury. They had to endure every speech. From histories to city introductions, city tours and socio economic talks, with not very many being remotely good or interesting on the very first try. Quite frankly, I’m not sure how they did it.
Each day a new driver was selected to be the ‘driver of the day’ and along with an accompanied tour manager they would run the day as if on tour. Now picture yourself driving and trying to reverse parallel park an average sized car down tiny European streets with crazy drivers surrounding you, honking their horns because you are in the way or because their patience level is at zero. It can be stressful and make you a little nervous. Now imagine doing it in a 13 metre coach with fifty passengers scrutinising your every move. It is no easy feat.
Our driver trainer is one of the most patient and calm people I have met and I take my hat off to him with the amount of patience he showed to our drivers on training. Allowing each driver to grow in confidence behind the wheel of the giant coaches which scatter the European continent each year.
I never gave the drivers enough credit during training, always thinking that we were working harder as tour managers, but I was so wrong. After a season on the road I have begun to appreciate my drivers more each time and the hard work and effort they put in to making each tour a success. They are the support system of the tour manager and become friends rather than colleagues. Their abilities amaze me, their sheer patience to put up with some of our crazy tour manager antics is endless.
It takes two to tango and while some may have two left feet, they are always willing to dance.