Lessons learned while running my first tour

Note to self while in Buenos Aires: "I don't know why I thought I would have as much time to blog as I did last year. I don't think I understood how much time it takes to organize a group of people each day, especially when I tried to make this a tour where we didn't just walk around together and do the same things. That may have been a nutty idea..."

Some of the tour participants have been kind enough to be guest writers on the blog so that you can see all of our adventures, not just the ones I have had. Thanks to Connie, Felicita, Larry and Stevyn so far!

I learned a lot running a tour. This was a WAY different experience than I have going to Buenos Aires by myself. That made me try some different things and see the culture in new ways. Here is what I learned about myself and about Buenos Aires, tango, and Argentina.

What to keep in mind running a tour

Lesson 1: Let yourself be a tourist!

I never allow myself to just be a tourist. Since my student days in Europe and my days as a Peace Corps volunteer, I have always tried to fit in as soon as possible; to blend in and not be noticed.

Because of that, I never did most of the touristy things other people apparently do on their first trip to Buenos Aires! I still have tons of things I have not done yet, even after visiting since 1999! This was the first time I really played tourist, and it was fun!

Lesson 2: Take the pulse of the city by talking to taxi drivers

I always talk to taxi drivers when I am in Buenos Aires. They give me diverse reactions to the economic and political climate of the city, and help me catch up since my last visit. I rarely take taxis, but since I was with a group who DID take taxis, I would sit in the front and talk to the driver. I got a lot of Spanish practice as well as information.

I always learn about Buenos Aires when I go there, but going with a group made me ask different questions and learn new aspects of the city than if I had gone alone.

Lesson 3: Take time for yourself!

I have always thought I was mildly extroverted. Despite having anxiety nightmares each night before the start of the teaching quarter at the university (for years!), I never quite put that together with being shy. I love to talk to people one-to-one, but in groups I don't do as well. Because my Myers-Briggs showed me almost right down the middle of the introvert/extrovert divide, but on the "E" side, I somehow decided I was an extrovert! Nope.If I ever run a tour again, I will have to schedule in more down time for myself so that I can be more of a "people person" for the other hours of the day. Do not expect that you are going to get any vacation.

Lesson 4: Expect that people's wishes will change

I tried to prepare my tour participants for how Buenos Aires would be, but I couldn't prepare for their reactions to the place.

  • Some people came wanting to learn Spanish. Some took their lessons and really enjoyed them. One person doubled the Spanish I set up for them. One person quit Spanish because it was too stressful. I am happy that Verbum was able to be so flexible with their needs.
  • One person came hoping to jump from beginner status right into the milongas. I didn't realize how shy he was, and I don't think he realized how intense that would be for him. In the end, going to lessons fit him a lot better and was more relaxing. If I had forced him to go with his original plan, we would have both been very frustrated.
  • One person came with expectations that everyone in Argentina danced tango, and that everyone traveling must be coming to dance; and that he would dance the night away each day. I didn't ever say that, but again, I can't see inside of people's heads, and I didn't know there was such an expectation. After a few brutal visits to the milongas, where a stranger does not always get to dance; younger people focus on younger people; and quality of movement wins over number of steps you know, he was able to go out and dance and enjoy himself, but with a better understanding of the Buenos Aires tango scene.

The takeaway

Next time, spend less time getting everything set up perfectly before leaving, and allow a few days of adjustment for people to figure out what they REALLY want; and expect that your first few days will be spent running madly around, helping people adjust.

Lesson 5: Communication is key

Smartphones are GOOD

Next time, I am going to insist that everyone has a smartphone! We have half smartphones and half "dumb phones" and we spent a lot of time trying to track people down who were AWOL. I think a lot of time would have been saved if I could have texted/called everyone. I found out the day we left that Verizon could have shipped my husband a phone that worked as a loaner while on the trip; next time, we will do that!

Being clear

I learned a lot about how much information can fit in someone's head. Over the course of the tour, when I wanted people to remember the plan, I learned to make instructions shorter. I learned to email each part of the plan separately (i.e., milonga plans and day trip plans were in separate emails) so that people could search on their phones/computers more easily if they had forgotten. I adapted the level of detail to whether I was speaking to the person with ADHD or the person on the spectrum or the detail-oriented person. "Clear" means for THAT person, not what I think is clear.

The takeway

If you know the people you are taking on tour, it will work better. The people I knew better had a smoother ride because I already knew how to talk to them and how they processed stress and information. I don't think I would run a tour for people I don't know at all: that would be WAY harder.