Our on-tour lives are divided between two very different kinds of experience. Usually our on-tour experience feels like treading water. We’re just trying our hardest to stay afloat in a sea of logistical demands and difficulties. We’re hoping to stay afloat while the trip takes us away. We finish the day exhausted, feeling like it’s a miracle we made it.

The other kind of experience is what I’m interested in. Let’s call them “wow moments”– when everything stops, time seems stands still, and we recognize just how incredible the moment is. It’s the kind of moment that our travelers finish the trip still remembering, and mentioning in their evaluations.

After we’ve been doing this job for a while, we begin to swim better, and the job gets easier. Then the job becomes about creating these wow moments. Creating experiences and connections that make our job worthwhile, and transform our travelers’ experience.

What are wow moments?

It could be a person you meet, a meal, an emotional experience, a surprise, or a quirky, off-the-beaten-path stop. Ultimately, we’re talking about something wonderful and unexpected that leaves a lasting impression on a trip. An experience that connects your group to the the place, the people you’re with, and those also meet.

For me, these have been the moments when I’ve met a Vietnam vet who talks to my group at the Wall in DC. Or a small little boulangerie in Paris whose owner I know, and treats my group to a little pastry tasting menu. It could be as simple as noticing the sunset out the window of the bus and pulling over to take photos and just contemplate, or the simple act of asking the manager of the restaurant where you ate dinner to come and tell the group the story of the place. Whatever it is, you’re trying to connect the traveler with a sense of what the environment is most authentically about.

What do these moments have in common?

  • They involve people. Ones you meet, ones you talk about. People relate to other people.
  • The experiences are special. Unique. Unscripted.
  • They are customized. Make the group feel special.
  • They connect the group with the place you’re in.

How do you create these moments?

  • Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking yourself, How can I create something special here, right now, for my group? We get wrapped up in logistics and trying to stay one step ahead, but the more you invest yourself in the group’s experience, the more they and you are all going to get out of it.
  • Involve surprise. “Since we’re going great on time, I want to take you somewhere special.” Or: Today, there will be a surprise. It could be a place, or food, or shop, or person…
  • Make the moment poetic. A little silence spent somewhere reflecting. An experience isn’t always about extremes. It can be as simple as noticing how calm the weather is near the water
  • Make it emotional. People connect to feeling, whether it’s laughing or crying. It draws the group together.
  • Sell yourself, and the experience. It’s important to remind the group just how great the experience is. Yes, it’s a crass marketing technique, but it helps to prime the group. Say something like No one else stops here! or This is an incredible find.
  • Always be specific. The details of a place. The description of the food. The details in a story you tell. The name of a restaurant manager who tells you about the place. Specifics make a place come alive.
  • Remember, you’re giving the group an experience, not simply providing a service. In the film, you’re the director, but also the choreographer. And the scriptwriter — you tell them how;
  • Be yourself, and open up to the group, within reason. It gives the traveler a reason to share, too. Who you are is special, unique, and brings value, by virtue of you being a human being. Never, ever try to imitate someone else’s style.