Bonjour, Hi from Montreal

Wondering around Montreal has been delightful but I began to wonder if I had left continental Europe at all. I knew that I had because the people of Montreal are much friendlier than the entire continent of Europe combined.

Everyone greeted you with ‘Bonjour, hi’ to gauge where you were from or if you were a fortunate Canadian who could speak both of the national languages. A local told us that the people in Montreal are actually some of the most unfriendly people in all of this maple syrup loving nation but coming from a place where even allowing an elderly person to sit or holding open a door is too much to ask for; this was a refreshing change.

Our morning was spent making our way over to Mont Royal, a beautiful park on the top of a hill which allows any visitor with a panoramic view of the city. We opted for the bus to take us to the top and since we had a day pass on public transport we figured we may as well use it. We were dropped off and took a casual stroll through the park towards the view point but we were not alone.

Some Canadian wildlife had decided to join us for some of the journey, a small squirrel was obviously using his looks to manipulate the two very obvious tourists that had wandered into his turf. Eventually the squirrel found something a little bit more interesting than us and we reached the view point.

The View from Mont Royal
The View from Mont Royal
The view was truly spectacular. The palate of reds, oranges and yellows from the changing leaves surrounded the tall and powerful grey and dark browns buildings creating a stark contrast. A slight and rather chilly breeze swept across us bringing with it leaves that whimsically danced in the wind as they made their great escape from the roots that had nurtured them. With a last little glance at the view we decided it was time to become a little more acquainted with the city; but first we needed something to eat.

We were told by several locals and visitors that a bagel was an absolute must and that there was one small establishment that made the very best bagels. St Viateur Bagels sits close to the Mont Royal metro station and part of their fame comes from the fact that they make their delicious bagels in the store and boil them before placing them in a large pizza type oven for baking.

Making our way down the store lined street we eventually found St Viateur’s with large bagels on the front signage. Once we were inside we chose a small table in the front window; the sunshine had made it a lovely and warm place to nest.

St Viateur's Traditional Bagel
St Viateur’s Traditional Bagel
We decided on sharing a traditional bagel and allowed our waitress to make the rest of the decisions on our behalf and within minutes our Montreal specialty had arrived. The bagel was covered in sesame seeds that were as toasted as we were in the midday fall sunshine, the cream cheese was liberally plastered on one side and on the other half sat layers of fresh pink salmon, red onion that had been crafty laid on top with capers that had hid themselves in the luscious folds.

For my first bite I had to make sure that I had all of the ingredients on my fork to have a true experience and I was certainly not disappointed. The bagel was so fresh and lighter than the dense bagels I have had previously. Suffice to say that my meal did not last long and I was left feeling perfectly content by the end. We sat chatting while observing the staff in the kitchen making endless streams of bagels to delight other visitors to St Viateur’s. Eventually it was time to make our way into Old Montreal.

St Viateur's Bagel
St Viateur’s Bagel
Arriving in the downtown area we wandered towards the port. I was surprised by the small number of people around, they too had drifted like the coloured leaves on the trees. The port provided an interesting side of the city with many buildings and factory warehouses having been completely abandoned. The number of these buildings around the area was astonishing and the only company that they now have are of the graffiti faces that decorate their walls.
With the cold wind picking up it was easy to understand why there was no hustle and bustle in the main squares of the city. Instead people sat indoors and ventured out to quickly nip inside somewhere else. As we weren’t accustomed as yet to the chilling wind we decided to explore some of the underground shopping malls.

These malls have over 32km of walkways and are home to hundreds of stores that sit in a world entirely on  it’s own. After a couple of hours meandering our way through these large and yet stuffy shopping pavilions we decided that it was time for something very important; dinner.

Each person we had spoken to had recommended a little place called Schwartz Deli and so without delay we made our way over to the Jewish Quarter. Arriving at Schwartz the first thing that we noticed was the very long queue out the front; initially we were put off by the hoards of people who too had followed the smell of smoked meat but if we weren’t going to wait we certainly weren’t going to get any.

We were sat at the counter of the small diner; newspaper articles and photos of semi – famous people covered the old smoked meat absorbed  walls. Every single table was full and each person had the same dish placed in front of them. We sat next to an older Canadian couple and as is custom, it seems, in Canada they greeted us and gave us some advice on what to order. We ordered with our waiter who also seemed to be the manager of the joint. Minutes later we had enough food in front of us to feed a small army or at least two self confessed food lovers.

 

Schwartz Heaven
 The sandwich had layers of thinly sliced deep pink beef with the edges brown and grainy from the spices that gave it the unique Schwartz flavour. Protecting the middle of the sandwich was of course the bread but this bread was fresh; the centre was soft and when you pressed strategically grabbed it, so as not to have the contents fall out, the bread felt like a soft cushion with the crust a light tanned colour. Mustard smothered each gap on one side of the sandwich and a dill pickle that looked like it was sat amongst Arnold Schwartzengger’s steroid cabinet, had a plate entirely on it’s own. We sipped the very local Cott’s  Soda which was insanely sweet but complimented the savoury meal which was slowly being devoured.

We savoured each bite and just as the people around us did we finished up and allowed those eager and waiting in the cold to come in and enjoy their experience. Plunged into the cold; which our waiter was insistent was worse than normal, we made our way back to our hostel for a quiet drink and a toast to completing our first city on our two month adventure. In two days we had completed the top three food experiences recommended to us by all those we spoke to about the beautiful city of Montreal.

Arriving back at the hostel we were greeted with a friendly smile and a ‘Bonjour, Hi.’

The 10 Misconceptions of Trip Managers 

Being a Trip Manager means you just get to drink and party all the time right? Wrong! The misconception of the life as a trip manager is something we all find pretty common.

Being a Trip Manager
Being a Trip Manager

Here are the top ten misconceptions of Trip Managers who take bunches of 50 youths around a continent.

1. Yes we party, but not all the time– We visit some of the world’s best party cities and trust me when I say that we enjoy having a boogie but we can’t always show you our winning dance moves (of which we have many). Getting very little sleep is normal and it sometimes means that we have to do the occasional ‘smoke bomb’. This ninja-like move is when we walk around; check that you are all having the best time and then ‘poof’ we disappear.

We do this knowing that you are going to have a great night regardless and that we will be the ones working the next morning while you attempt to cure a hangover. Do be aware though, that when we do pick a night to party we usually go hard and it means you may need to clear the dance floor and we will usually be in the last taxi home.

2. We are not human- This common misconception is felt by many in the industry. Now I know that sometimes it may seem as though we are robots; finely tuned with genius minds which never switch off but really we are not. Being human, as you may know, means that we have our ups and downs just like anyone else. We have to smile and be accommodating, that’s an essential part of our job but being human means we may have a day where we are sad, tired or do not want to be disturbed because we want to have a quick shower at the end of a long day.

St Mark's Square- Venice
St Mark’s Square- Venice

3. We know it all- So many people ask how we can remember as much as we do and when you work as a trip manager you are able to retain plenty of information but that doesn’t mean that we know it all. We are always learning and we may not have the answer for you but we are willing to find out or to listen to a fun fact that you have to share.

It is impossible for someone to know everything and this also means that sometimes we get lost; yes that’s correct. Sometimes we take a wrong turn in cities we know but most of the time you won’t even notice because we don’t want you to have to worry.

4. We don’t know the gossip on the coach- Please don’t be fooled. We know exactly what is going on. Organised group tours often have a feeling similar to what we all experienced in high school. There are groups of friends; some outgoing others a little shy and people who end up in a relationship on tour. Don’t think that we are oblivious to these happenings. We are always listening and just because it’s hasn’t been explicitly said that people didn’t spend the evening in their room doesn’t mean it’s not, almost always, noticeable the very next morning.

5. We don’t have lives outside of tour- We are faithful to you always, for 24 hours of the day you are in our care but sometimes we get to grab a few minutes to ourselves and in that time we will do normal things. We have family and friends who want to hang out and chat just as you do in your day to day life. We have hobbies and interest which extend well beyond our work and when your tour is finished; unless you were someone we genuinely enjoyed spending time with, we will part ways, continue with our lives as you continue with yours.

6. We haven’t done this before and have no idea what we are doing- no matter how many tours you have been on our how many times you may have visited a particular city you are not the Trip Manager. I’m sure you would be a little grumpy if someone came into your place of work and told you how to do your job so please don’t tell us how to do ours. Which leads to the next point

There is always time for a selfie
There is always time for a selfie

7. Anyone can get this job- We go through some of the longest and most intense training of all companies globally. No matter which company takes you on your tour rest assured that trip managers have put the blood sweat and endless tears into getting our dream job. Each year youth travel companies receive thousands of applications and companies will maybe employ around thirty to forty of those applicants; those aren’t great odds unless you work your butt off.

8. A tour just happens- The amount of work that goes behind a tour is staggering and it goes well beyond just the role of the trip manager. Our offices have teams who organise these trips and take the worry out of it for you. They probably have a fair few grey hairs for organising every aspect of the tour up to a year in advance. Have a think about the hotels, dinners, transport, drivers, activities, ferries, flights and activities, these things only cover the tip of the iceberg. This is why you booked a group tour, for us to take the hassle out of you having to organise it all yourself. You’re job is to be on holiday while we do the work remembering it is not only your driver and trip manager who make it happen.

9. We like you all- This may be the hardest blow for some of you but with every tour taking fifty travellers around continents we sometimes encounter people that we get on better with than with others. This is the way life works and there will be people you like and dislike. Just because you may not be someone we connect with as much doesn’t mean that you will have less of an incredible experience. We have to be professional, treat people equally and with respect but if you are not going to reciprocate that behaviour then don’t expect us to be best buddies outside of your tour.

10. We are on holiday- So many people assume that because we travel for work that we are on holiday; this couldn’t be more untrue. If we were on holiday we would be sitting next to you on the coach not at the front with mounds of paperwork and a list of endless tasks each day. If we look like we are having a good time it’s because we have managed to get all of our work done prior and because if we didn’t look like we were having a good time you may question if you were.

We Sphinx Egypt is Amazing
We Sphinx Egypt is Amazing

These misconceptions are common but our line of work lends to them but there aren’t many people in the industry who would trade it for anything else because we do have the best job in the world. We often take it for granted but it is a job and it does see us working hard to ensure that you have the best time possible.

We do have fun on a daily basis and most of that can be attributed to all of you who put trust in us to show you some of the most unique and fascinating places. You teach us things along the way and while you are busy making memories that you will cherish and hold dear; we are too and you are part of them and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

To Live the Suitcase Life

So many people seem to call themselves well-travelled these days but many seem to live something they imagine to be the suitcase life.

Once you have lived out of a suitcase for over two or five years then perhaps you can call yourself reasonably travelled.

The idea of being well-travelled does not mean staying in 5 Star hotels and having mummy and daddy pay for it all. It means; getting lost and not knowing which direction to turn, scraping pennies for the £3 meal deal at Tescos, having all of your belongings stolen in a land where not a soul speaks English and waking up in the middle of the night with a swollen face from the bed bugs who have bitten you in the early hours.

I am well-travelled and this is something I would not trade for the world.

There are so many ‘travellers’ and impressionable bloggers out there who call themselves well-travelled but who have no real idea what it truly means.

In my job I travel every day and I take people for whirls around Europe. I enhance their experiences by showing them the time of their lives. Some of these people are what most consider to be well-travelled but really they are only beginning to get their first glimpse of what real travelling truly means. They have budgets and commitments which anyone who is travelling should have. For many of these temporary suitcase travellers they really do have the time of their lives, I know this to be true as many have said that they felt liberated, free and happy with the people they have slowly become by travelling over time by discovering new cities and cultures. They live the temporary suitcase life but ultimately return to normality where life is comfortable and constant; something we humans crave.

I like to think that I show them the real world and not some jaded image of how people think people should be travelling these days.

The real suitcase life means hanging around a laundromat until your washing is dry enough that it won’t smell like mould in the next 3 days, it means wearing flip-flops in the shower and hearing the person snoring in the bed across the dorm as you imagine throwing a pillow at their head; and in some instances you do. These descriptions merely scratch the surface of a real suitcase traveller.

I cross countries every two to three days and yes in my job I get a snapshot of cities; but these cities I return to, the locals become friends and the customs become ordinary.

To live the suitcase life means to you become a local; you are greeted in the language of the country you are in because you are seen as one of them. You don’t stand out and flash your Prada handbags and free top-notch accommodation because all that does is scream ignorant tourist and spoilt little brat.

You spend your free days (which are few and far between) searching for something new to do where the tourists do not exist and where you feel as though you fit the mould of a local. Your holidays are spent scouring any possible resource for the best bargain to the most remote place you know. It becomes a new adventure to add to the never-ending list you have not written down but have scrambled in your head with everything else you wish to achieve before you have to get “serious about life”.

To live the suitcase life is not for everyone but rather for those with the spirit for it. It is for those who have nothing to prove to everyone else. Nothing to show off to the endless followers with floppy hats claiming that they are wanderlust when really all they are is delusional. Delusional about reality and what it really means to travel.

I salute all who really embrace the suitcase life and all the hard times that go with it. I admire those even more who take those hard times with their suitcase and who make friends with people that they never thought they could, who live life on budget they never thought that they could manage, who fall in love with remarkable cities and who see the world with new eyes because they have truly travelled and know that they have gained a world of experience from it. To live the suitcase life is to take anything that comes your way and to turn it all into noteworthy memories and times that you shall never forget.

If you really live the suitcase life then you know what I am talking about because you are in it, living it and breathing it because the normality of life that humans crave does not fit us. We break the mould each day, we become locals in several countries because we know how they live. Everyday we get up and our suitcases are packed and ready to go, ready to see what awaits us at our next destination.

To those who truly live the in this never ending moving world that I speak of; go and make memories while living your suitcase life because it certainly is the best time of your life.

 

The Final Countdown-Contiki Training Part Six

It has been nearly a year since Contiki training started and the feeling of finishing that trip is possibly the greatest achievement in my short 23 years on this beautiful planet.

The final stages of the Contiki Training Trip were possibly the most difficult. Following the ‘Zombie Stage’ comes the stage where everything becomes a bit of a blur. Eastern Europe felt so rushed, we travelled through more than one country a day and as soon as we finished studying one we were hurtled into another.

The cities began to look the same and the routine of each day became like that of ‘Ground Hog Day’ just with a different background.

Highlighters marked each completed day and the closer we got to the end the more it began to dawn on me and others that we were going to do this, that we were going to successfully complete training and be signing a contract with Contiki, the World’s number one tour company for 18-35 year olds.

It is the most testing thing I have ever done and one that makes me proud every day. I pushed through with my colleagues and we finished together. Sixty six long days; we were grumpy, tired, emotional and occasionally snapped at each other but all worked endlessly to get through.

So many of my readers are going on this journey themselves. Jumping into the relatively unknown and attempting to land the job that I consider to be the best in the world (I know this may sound cliché but it is true).

To all of you who are on this years training trip or to anybody who is considering it in the future; work hard. Nothing is ever easy and you will be testing to your physical and mental limits. You may find that there will be days that you want to quit and throw in the towel, where getting out of bed seems impossible but really it is not.

Training is designed to test you and just remember that you have already put in some of the hard yards; you have gone through the interviewing process, been accepted and hopefully poured your heart and soul into the assignment.

Contiki saw something in you, a little sparkle and they are giving you a shot, a big opportunity. Show them what you have got and more importantly prove to yourself what you can do.

Give it your all; head down and bottom up, don’t think that you know it all because you most certainly do not. Do what you are told, get the work done and most importantly remember to enjoy yourself.

Training allows you to see some of the most incredible places in all of Europe so wake up each day with a fresh outlook, smile, laugh and stay off of the caffeine tablets!

I won’t say good luck because luck has nothing to do with it, work hard and hopefully I will see you on the road.

10 Lessons Learnt On the Road

From putting on your ‘big girl’ panties, to letting go of the tight knit control you have on your life. Packing everything into a suitcase to pursue a life on the road is not for everyone but once experienced you learn a few lessons about who you really are and the things that you can do, even if you have never thought you could.

Here is what made the cut of the 10 most important things learnt on the road:

1. Put your ‘big girl’ panties on

Nobody does big girl panties like Bridget
Nobody does big girl panties like Bridget

Just like Bridget Jones; we sometimes need to wear our big girl panties. Why might you ask? Well it is not so we can have a hunky Hugh Grant discover them and be absolutely mortified. No, it is because he won’t always be around. You may have to do some things on your own; cart your own suitcase across a city you have never seen, deal with people who may not have any inclination to help you or to be friendly and because the people you love are not always there for a hug or an old-fashioned whinge.

2. Things don’t always go as planned

That’s right, this means that you won’t always be where you need to be on time. You cannot control each and every detail because let’s face it folks; shit happens. It happens to the best of us; flights get delayed, traffic can set you back hours and public holidays can throw a spanner in the works. As a control and planning freak with compulsive OCD this can make you tear your hair out, chew your nails to the bottom of their nail beds and develop a nervous twitch in your right eye. Here is the thing, as good as you think you are at planning, you can’t do anything about it. Sit back in the airport and watch the passengers go by, relax in the car and be thankful it’s not you in the car wreck and join the festivities in the public holiday parade.

3. How to packPacking

Spending your life on the road sure does help you prioritise and the four extra pairs of shoes, hair straightener, nail kit, make up brushes and full bottle of mouth wash belong at home. Think practical, this may be difficult but you must persevere because you do not want to be carting around five extra kilograms each day when you don’t use it. A handy trick is to take everything you think you should pack and halve it, then you are nearly there now go and put the extra shoes back in the cupboard.

4. Relationships, really?

Some people can do it and hats off to them but unfortunately in this day and age there aren’t many people who would be willing to wait around. Especially while you galavant around the globe with selfies in the most exotic places while they sit in an office and turn green with envy. It is difficult for both parties and often results in a teary mess that can be avoided. They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder and if you are willing to try then go for it and good luck to you.

5. Be spontaneous, you can do it.

Put fear aside because there is not enough space for it in your suitcase. Jump in, have experiences and make memories that will last a lifetime. If you think that you can do it you are halfway, now you need to do it. Sometimes there is nothing better than being spontaneous and seeing where it is you end up.

6. Enjoy and appreciate the little things

Learning to appreciate the little things in life is a very important thing to learn. It’s sometimes about sitting in a park and watching an old couple walk past, children playing and laughing or having a conversation with a new friend you have just made. You don’t always have to be doing big things to see the beauty in the little things.

7. Patience is really a virtueTake what you need

The more patience you learn the more you can appreciate. it doesn’t help getting your knickers in a twist because you don’t understand what is going on; sometimes you need to wait and all will be revealed in time. Be patient with yourself too, life n the road is not easy and sometimes it can take a while to adjust and learn things about yourself.

8. You are not the centre of the universe

Get out of you bubble that only you occupy because there is no need for it. In fact, burst that bubble entirely, get out of your comfort zone and realise it is not only you that matters. Life on the road teaches you to adapt and make new friends. You learn that there are other people in the world that matter and the friendships you make on the road are often the pure and last.

9. Call me cultured

Travelling can be an annihilation to the senses, overwhelming and fascinating all at the same time. Exploring new places and cultures helps you grow as a person. It allows for a common understanding of humankind and what makes each of us tick. You learn to accept people for who they are even if that means that you are sometimes perplexed by their customs.

10. Compassion

We aren’t all fortunate to see what the big wide world has to offer. You see what others who are less fortunate than you have to go through on a daily basis and you think yourself lucky that you don’t have to worry about what they do. It teaches you to be compassionate towards others whether you like it or not and you learn things about yourself that you never thought possible.

A life of endless travel will enrich your life in more ways than anyone could ever imagine; whether or not you take the step out the door is all up to you

“Is This All Worth It?”-Contiki Training Part Three

Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher once said “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Sometimes we do things in life and later question if the decision we made was worth it. Is becoming a Contiki Tour Manager worth it?

Being a Contiki Tour Manager is not for everyone and on training a few people fell by the wayside and decided to leave while others left on their own accord.

It takes a certain person to do this job and if you happen to be reading this blog for an insight then let me be honest with you; it is no walk in the park and if you think it’s going to be some kind of holiday you are sadly mistaken. From the moment you wake till the instant you go to sleep your brain is buzzing.

On training the only time you get to yourself is in the shower or when you sleep, even that is limited. You get off the coach and run in cities you have never seen, hoping you are running in the correct direction. Your actions get questioned on a daily basis and often you find out that the running you did, around the city you have never seen, was not as beneficial than if you had you run in another direction. The trainers push you harder each day, testing your patience and ability to remember facts on the spot.

You drag yourself out of bed every morning after a few hours sleep, you try your hardest to keep your eyes open on the coach when all they seem to want to do is close and on a daily basis you get told that you are not good enough and need to improve.

Is it all worth it you may be asking? Well the proof is in the pudding. This is the most incredible job, many say it’s the best job in the world, and being away from it during the Christmas season has made me realise that this is true.

Never before have I heard of a job that allows for so much personal development, one where you hop on the coach in the morning in one country and you are in a new country by lunch time. Where you meet incredible people from all walks of life and experience different cultures while sharing memories with clients and colleagues that become your best friends.

I don’t find that I am the same person I was before Contiki, I am a better version of myself. I think I can speak for many of the tour managers when I say that training and life on the road changes you.

What are these changes you may be wondering? Well it took me a while to figure it out for myself.

I have fewer plans, perhaps you can say I am more of a free spirit or a nomad. Before Contiki I always had a set plan; I was to finish university, get a top paying job, find a place to live, get a boyfriend and a dog and settle.

Settle? The last thing I want now is to settle! So what if I don’t know where I am going to be in 5 years and I don’t have a structured plan for the way my life ‘should’ turn out? I am living life to the fullest, seeing more of the world than most and having the adventure of a lifetime. The wise Lao Tzu also said “A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”

Travelling opens your eyes to the big wide world and when you travel you see the world a little differently. You develop a profound appreciation for the way that other countries and cultures work, understanding what makes them tick.

It’s like leaning how to swim; you are thrown on the deep end, without floating armbands to bring you to the top, but eventually you learn to paddle your way to the edge and before you know it you are swimming with a huge grin on your face.

Not many things are easy the first time round but once you get used to it you find you improve. You begin to swim in places where before you felt like you were drowning.

Working with people and ensuring you have effective communication skills, that transcend cultural boundaries, is something you learn through this job. Working with people is not easy and often presents itself with challenges that make you rethink your approach. I have learnt patience working as a Tour Manager and figured out ways to communicate in different situations.

Like any job there are days that are more testing than others but there has not been one day where I have not wanted to be working as a Tour Manager. Or where I have questioned my decision to pack my bags, leave my friends and family for an adventurous life on the road. I know that they are there supporting me with every step I take.

So if you are questioning whether to do the same, or are at a crossroads in life without any idea of which way to turn remember this;

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” It may be time to take that step.

A Successful Season of Living the Dream

It is about time I got back in the saddle and wrote about the last eight crazy months of my life. 

If I look back to where I was in March of this year and the person that I am now, I am not sure I would be able to recognise myself. Contiki has changed me, changed me in ways that I didn’t think a job could.

Leaving home with a suitcase, an assignment I had put months into and butterflies in my stomach, I was excited to venture into the unknown and try something new.

Over the next few weeks I will delve into my training trip with Contiki, the ups and the downs as well as the challenges I faced in the toughest training possible. Then I will give you some insight into life on the road as a first year Contiki tour manager.

For now all I am going to say is that if you are sitting here reading this and wanting to change your life in some way; do it. Don’t wait around or make excuses because if you don’t try you will never know. I took a chance, applied on a whim and in all honesty it was the best thing that I could have done.

Contiki have an incredible marketing campaign this year. It is all about seizing the moment, and making the one life that you have count. I have jumped on this bandwagon and I am living the dream, start living yours.

Keep an eye out for some substantial articles in the coming weeks.

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