The Guide's Manual Pt. 1 - Creating a Tour Sketch

Aktualisiert: 13. Jan. 2021

So I have decided to start a new series on this blog, in which I intend to share a few of the "Tricks of the Trade" which I learned during my time guiding biking tours for cruise ship passengers and during my time as a guide in northern Sweden. For this first issue, I would like to discuss a frequently reappearing topic: Memorising your Tour.

A few challenges come with this one:

The first being that in some environments, not all ways are permitted. Some tracks might pose some dangers that can be avoided by others. Some routes might offer a stunning view of wherever you are, while others, often just a few meters apart might leave your view blocked by forests or buildings, disappointing your guests, especially if you have promised them a nice lookout.

The second challenge is your tour's exact sequence, something I noticed to be especially challenging on long multiday excursions. It is merely the ungodly amount of "points of interest" that will let you either forget completely about some or get their sequence muddled up. Both of these scenarios can lead to a horrible situation if the one thing you forgot about just happened to be a dangerous thing you should have briefed your guests about beforehand.

Of course, the primary way to deal with this is experience. If you have guided the same tour three or four times, you will become intimately familiar with all its particular challenges. Also, an experienced guide should always recognise dangerous areas. Even if you completely forgot about this area being there, you will still be able to stop your group, brief them for the challenge and lead everybody out safely. But what if I told you, there was a way to speed up the process? That somehow you could increase your familiarity with a tour, so that just after one time out exploring the track you have all that stuff memorised? This technique can even be used to better prepare for the odd occasion when you guide an excursion with guests without ever having it explored prior.

This does not like like something that can be rembered in just a few hours. But we will get there.
Tour track through Rotterdam

Here you can see the picture of a biking tour I used to guide through Rotterdam. On first glance, it looks easy, but let me break down the numbers for you: There are about 70 turns to take, 127 streets to continue straight over 13 "Points of Interest" and 8 sections I would consider dangerous enough to warrant a preliminary briefing before riding through. Will, you be able to remember 218 single instructions? You know what? There is a second, completely different tour in Rotterdam. So double this number. But I have another surprise for you. Rotterdam is only one port of call on a weekly cruise with four other stops, each with two different tours. So we are actually at over 2000 single instructions you need to remember as a tour guide on this cruise, considering all the excursions are somewhat equal. But it does not stop here. Remember the "Points of Interest"? Well, you should have their history and facts memorised to the point that you not only could give a five-minute talk about each single one but also enough to answer all the possible follow up questions a guest could ask. And believe me, there are always follow up questions.

All this information would be enough to fill a book. And you, as a guide, would be expected to have this book completely memorised after taking the cruise just once. So I am here I am to help you manage this enormous task with a straightforward trick. I am talking about drawing up a Tour-Sketch. And if you want to know what that is, please refer to the Tour-Sketch I created and published for you just in the next picture. It shows the same tour you have seen in the last image, but you can probably tell that there is a little difference between them.

A super simplyfied version of the same tour

So let us first talk about what I did, and afterwards, I will explain why I did this and what kind of information is conveyed in this small sketch. But before we begin, I want to state that it is the process of creating this sketch to help you, and only you who made it, remember all the important stuff. So in case, you feel like you should do this differently, well go for it. There is no wrong way to do this, and I intend to help you find your own process by explaining my own thoroughly. So let's go.

  1. The tour is shown in one circle with no regards to corners, directions or anything else of the sort. For example, the track crosses itself two times in the real world. However, these are not included in the sketch. Also, the Start and Finish point are placed separately in the drawing, despite being physically in the same location.

  2. The "Points of Interest" are marked chronologically on the line. The distances between these points do not at all correspond to their real-world space. Some of these points are just meters apart, while others are kilometres from each other. If you remember the number of necessary instructions for the tour, I dramatically reduced the count of relevant points, from 127 to 21.

  3. For my "Points of Interest" I used five different symbols.

  • The Fullstop for dangerous parts that need a briefing beforehand

  • The little camera for places where you could take a picture & need only a short explanation of what is in front of you

  • The Megaphone for a place where a longer explanation might be necessary

  • The little waves for a potential bathing spot

  • The Clock for when you would have a more extended break at a spot

4. I also put a short description of each of the marked spots. It is probably not enough for you to recognise the importance of each spot, but enough for me to precisely know why I marked this point.

So now, with all the observations complete, let me explain, also for ease of reading, I have decided to mark every information contained herein with a bold script.

Alternativ version of the sketch

The tour is drawn in a circle to maximise the space on the paper available for notes. I do not need to draw the line to represent the instances of the track crossing on itself, because which direction should be taken crossing points of the track is made clear by the sequence of the "Points of Interest." To show this to you, I drew one of the crossroads to represent reality better. And If you care to notice, if you are at the WW2 Memorial and know that your next stop will be at the old harbour, well you automatically know which way to go at the crossing. The drawn line also does not show you the different corners and bends of the track, because very often you do not need to remember the exact route. Let's have an example: If you are at the "Old Harbour" you do not need to know precise directions to the "Old Watertower" because quite simply put: You can not miss it. As long as you get from the "Old Harbour" to the cycleway along the Maas (50 meters of distance) and continue upstream on this cycleway, you will reach the "Old Watertower". In fact, below, I have another picture of the tour sketch. Now, I marked all sections red, where you could easily find the track without ever having been in Rotterdam (and very little preparation) just by imagining both points on a map and choosing your route by simple logic. If you go one street left or right it should not really matter, you will still get to your goal. Also in blue are marked sections of the track I would expect you to figure out on your own if you are more familiar with Rotterdam.

What is important to note is that you do not need to figure out each point's geographic location just from the sketch. The thought process works better in real life. If you are standing for example at the "Hotelship Rotterdam" you will be able to figure out the way to your finish point only by knowing the rough direction to take and then following the roads that lead in this direction. Maby you'll take a wrong turn, but the worst that could happen is to end up at the "Erasmus Bridge" stop again, and from there you can actually see your Start/Finish point should you have miraculously forgotten which way you took between those two just hours prior. And if guessing does not work, of course, you should always have a GPS, whenever you guide a Tour, but a GPS can fail and time spent looking at your GPS is time you are looking neither at the road nor at the guests behind you, which are two far more important places to look. The last information contained here is the general direction, so if you should do your tour in the clockwise or counterclockwise direction. You'd be surprised how important this information is. One way roads turn into barriers, a nice descent becomes an uncomfortably steep uphill section, cycleways are no longer in the right location, traffic lights are not always where you need them, and the number of dangerous turns rises sharply, just by going the wrong way around. Of course, your sketch will also show the sequence of all important stops, allowing you always to brief your next leg, one of the best things you can do as a guide, only because you remember the tour correctly in your head.

So now let us talk about when to create the sketch for a moment. The first best option is to make some loose notes while exploring the tour, then afterwards sitting down with a nice cup of your preferred warm beverage, a computer to look up all the facts you need for your little talks and the piece of paper you want to draw on. Some people recommend writing cheat sheets for tests as a learning technique, simply because the limited space on the paper forces you the reevaluate all your knowledge to decide which is important enough to be written down. Well, the tour sketch works precisely the same, as you more or less have to go through the entire tour mentally to create one that helps you guide, but unlike with the exam cheat sheet I definitely recommend taking it with you on the first tour you guide. After all, there are no penalties if you sneak a quick glance while your guests are busy looking at some landmark. And after you have guided the tour a few times, well you won't need the sketch any more, except it is an excellent place to take a note, if you have discovered a new "Point of Interest", or a new dangerous area has been noticed.

The second best time to create the sketch is sitting down, with a nice cup of your preferred warm beverage, a computer to look up all the facts you need for your little talks and the piece of paper you want to draw on before you go out on your exploration round. In this case, I recommend also using a Map and Google Street View / Google Earth, but you'd be surprised how familiar you can get with a place you have never been to. Then you take your sketch with you on the exploration round to add some notes If necessary. This is also my preferred way to prepare for a tour I have to guide "blind", a word I do not really like for guided tours without the prior exploration, because as I hope is evident by now, you are never really going in blind.

This about wraps it up for the first part of my guides handbook. More blogs of the same sort will follow, and If you want to learn more about this topic, please sing up to our mailing list below. Anyways, thank you for your attention.

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