As part of my new focus on mature travellers, I asked David and Helen about their experience of leading walking tours in France.
Why did you choose to move to France?
. . . We were looking for a different way to earn a living, and the space, and the climate appealed to us too.
What are the challenges of leading walking tours in France?
. . .This is not a third world country, obviously, and Americans especially don’t appreciate that. . .If you want luggage moved, picnics provided etc. you have to do it yourselves or you have a very expensive tour.
Do you lead walks for mixed nationalities?
. . . We didn’t lead many walks, just one tour for groups of Americans, most of our walks were self-guided.
How do you manage cultural differences?
. . . Walkers are mostly a self-reliant lot, we had a few Australians who thought the soup was too watery ( it didn’t have stock-cubes added ), and a few Americans who moaned, but mostly it wasn’t an issue.
Did you speak French before you went there to live? How did you learn the language?
. . . Yes, up to a point. Then we learnt as we went along
How many tours a year do you lead?
. . . We are retired now, we did lead up to 5 a year.
Do you do your own marketing, or pay an agency? If so, why?
. . . After the first few years we decided we couldn’t both be the people on the ground and do the selling, so from then on we either sold via Tour Operators, or managed T O’s walks for them.
What have been your biggest successes?
. . . Self-guided walks in Correze / Lot and Guided Walking in the Dordogne for Country Walkers
And what breakdowns have you experienced?
. . . If something went wrong, once it was a car accident a couple had as they drove to the first hotel, . . . . .then the whole trip would go wrong thereafter.
How do you get the supplies you need for your campsite?
. . . We didn’t operate walks from a campsite but between hotels.
. . .We operated rafting from campsites, and bought our equipment beforehand, and shopped in the local town.
What safety equipment do you advise your guests to bring?
. . .Serious walking shoes, suncream, sunglasses, hats, long-sleeved shirts, raingear.
Do you lead only groups? Or singles/couples/families?
. . . Occasionally, not often.
How do you advertise and market your walking tours?
. . . After the first few years, we let the Tour Operators we worked with do the advertising.
What is your favourite walk?
. . . the GR480 in Correze and Lot.
What was your best travel experience?
. . . Meeting 2 teenagers on a Greek island, we gave them a lift and they showed us proudly round their village, it was Greek National Day, by chance, too.
Where do you go on holiday?
. . . Once we retired we went in a campervan, through Europe and North Africa. We mostly holiday in winter as we live in France.
Have you ever had emergencies to deal with? How did you cope with them?
. . . Not too many. The local French are great, helpful if you need something. The most traumatic was the group of Americans we had at the time of the 9/11 attack on the twin towers. One lady had her office in one of the towers so was very distressed. Flights were suspended for some days following so they were delayed getting home. However, all adults and they coped although we did need to supply quite a bit of extra back-up.
What happens when the weather turns nasty?
. . . It varies. The Dutch, Scots and Northern Irish get out packs of cards. Some people find fault with everything though.
Has anyone ever gone off on their own and got into trouble? What would you do if so?
. . . No. You just cope as best you can. Don’t flap. The occasional Australian who got lost as the sun was in the wrong place!
What advice would you give to a tour guide coming to work in your area?
. . . A sense of humour is the best thing to bring.
Do you ever employ a tour guide? If so, how would you advise an aspiring guide to make contact with you?
. . . No, We are retired now anyway.
Please add any other comments you think a tour guide would be interested in.
. . . It must be a great way to see the world ! You need to be young, enthusiastic, self-reliant, but you know all that !