My father was a diplomat and in the military, so we traveled all the time when I was a kid – I was born in Australia, lived in the U.S at a young age and saw my first mountains in Canada at the age of 6. My life direction went that way from an early age; I got into bush walking at 9 years old, did multi-day trips and taught myself to rock climb at age 12. I then began to teach climbing and left Australia when I was 24 with a one-way ticket to Kathmandu, $10,000 and a day pack. I’m essentially still on that same trip 30 years later.
Wow, it sounds like you’re doing what you love! How did you find yourself in the business of travel, as opposed to a being a traveler yourself?
After trekking in Nepal to Everest Base Camp, I fell in love with the place. I then traveled to India and Europe and figured I may as well get paid to travel and do what I love. I got a job as a trekking guide in Nepal in 1984 and then started my own trekking company a year later. I specialized in trekking peaks and high summer passes and then brought that business to the US. I ended up guiding for a mountain school in the summers, going back to Nepal in the fall, teaching ice climbing in the winter and promoting my trips in the spring.
It was really simple actually. I just decided I wanted to be in business, typed up some brochures on a typewriter, and placed them around Kathmandu. That was way before the internet, so I was also doing free slideshows to promote myself. It was really exciting and I gradually rustled up business. When I came to the US, I did more slideshows and asked a few people if they wanted to join me on a trip to Nepal – and that was successful. I’ve always been on the road, but I just built my business into my lifestyle. If you keep planting the seeds and put yourself out there, you’ll do good things.
Was it really as easy as just opening up shop, or did you hit a few snags along the way?
I’ve always had a business mentality. I studied business and started personal development mentoring, but I also believed in myself and trusted that if I followed my passion and ran great trips, people would come. It’s turned out really well – last year I worked four months of the year in fantastic destinations with great people, and I took home a handsome profit. That being said, I did have many years of being broke and not making any money, pulling my hair out and getting frustrated. But I paid my dues and spent many years traveling & exploring, and learning my craft.
Was there ever a point where you sat back and thought “Wow, life is pretty good”?
Not everything I have set out to do works, but a lot of the time it does. Years ago I had a vision of sailing around the Mediterranean, and then a few years later I realized, “Holey moley I should just put a trip together.” I’m not a sailor and have never sailed in Croatia, but I just put together an email and sent it out to the mailing list I’ve compiled over the years. Initially 6 people signed up, so I traveled to Croatia and put a trip together. I ended up doing four back-to-back trips, and I broke even. I had a great experience, had my expenses paid, and most importantly I got to live the dream.
I have done the research to make sure that my clients can see the best of what is on offer in just a couple of days. I make guys look like heroes to their wives because they have such a great time and get their money’s worth.
I started with Nepal because I was a climber and I wanted to climb the Himalayas. This year will be my 42nd trek in Nepal. But Nepal is hard work – you’ve got altitude and stomach problems and it can be a little stressful. About 10 years ago I started guiding in Europe, which was a nice change of pace. The destinations were amazing and it was great to have a warm shower and a hot meal at the end of the day. A couple of years later I read about the Dolomites in an article and decided I wanted to go there, and then I fell in love with the place. A couple who came on that trip suggested I do a trip to Slovenia, and said they would join me if I go. I did and they loved it, and I’m now in my 4th year guiding trips in Slovenia.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It’s pretty much the same on every trip I go. I have breakfast with the group and then we talk about the day and head off at 8.30am. In Europe, our itineraries generally start with a couple hours of hiking. Then we stop for a cappuccino, hike for a couple hours, have a nice lunch, hike again, have a beer or glass of wine and a strudel, and then hike back to the village or lodge. Then people can relax and we meet for drinks and dinner and head to bed. It’s unbelievable really. You get to hike all day, eat great food, and you can relax. I feel very blessed to do what I’m doing right now.
I try to look at every trip as the client’s trip. I’m just there to help them have a great time. When I’m guiding in the mountains I’m very safety conscious, but otherwise I’m pretty laid back. After trekking in Nepal and doing rescues on McKinley, the Dolomites is a piece of cake. I can relax and I try to be a friend to people and introduce them to the locals I’ve met along the way.
What is the best part of your job?
I would have to say the best thing is that I can do whatever I want. If I don’t want to run Croatia trips next year, I’ll take them off my schedule. And if someone calls me and I don’t like their attitude, I don’t have to let them on a trip. I’m selective of who I spend my time with. I’m following my passion and doing what I want, in the places I want to do them.
Are there any aspects of your job that you would happily to do without?
I don’t really consider what I do a job – it’s just what I do. I don’t have work hours and I can see myself doing what I’m doing for another 50 years. If I had a million dollars I’d be staying in the Dolomites, inviting people to come over and go hiking. However, bookkeeping can be very frustrating, along with the marketing side of things. And I suppose it gets tiring and lonely always being on the road. I’m looking for a place that I can spend the winters and have a long-term relationship and develop a sense of community.
I’m a professional traveler. I’ve read all the guidebooks and I have done many hikes, stayed in a bunch of hotels and eaten in a lot of restaurants to find the really great ones. I have done all the research to make sure that my clients can see the best of what is on offer in just a couple of days without making all the mistakes I have. I make guys look like heroes to their wives because they have such a great time and get their money’s worth. They get the inside scoop and get to meet people and see things that they never would on their own.
In your view, what makes a good tour guide?
There’s no doubt that you need to be a certain type of person to be a successful guide. You need to deal with a wide variety of people of all ages and social backgrounds, and deal with their fears and doubts. It’s a skill to sit down with people for breakfast, lunch and dinner for weeks and still maintain a conversation. You need people skills and you really need to care for people, and less about yourself. Guides also need to get rid of their ego and consider how they can show people a great trip without thinking about themselves.
And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a tour guide, but aren’t too sure what to look for?
With the internet nowadays you can do a lot of research very quickly, but my best advice would be to just pick up the phone and call your guide. If you’re going to spend your valuable money and time with them, you want to see if the person is someone you can jive with. You can’t always do that, but you can talk to them and get a better sense of what they are all about. Also, be honest and open about what you want to achieve from the trip. Let your guide know your vision for the trip from the get go.