Living the Tour Director Life—With Patti Olson
“Patti has more energy than I ever had. She loves to travel (especially Alaska where she used to live). She is always excited to help people have the best vacation possible.” ~Bob Neff, Jr.
Where’s your hometown?
I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, but I left just after turning 17 and lived the next 23 years in Alaska — first attending college in Fairbanks, then marrying and raising our family: a boy and a girl. My husband and I moved to Lancaster to be closer to our parents, while we were traveling around the world doing short-term Christian radio projects over a 9-year period. Basically, we were living out of a suitcase for nine years, adjusting to local culture in nine countries, all near the Equator. I think that’s why I love being a Bob Neff Tour Director—I still get to travel to exciting places and have a ministry to our passengers. I’ve been traveling with Bob Neff Tours for eight years now.
What are your favorite BNT tours?
I really like longer tours to far away places, so Alaska is always my number one tour. I’ve done both Land & Sea and the Land-Only tour. With Land & Sea, travelers really get to see the beauty and remoteness of the Inside Passage, but they also get to see where the majority of Alaskans live and work. Next to Alaska is the Panama Canal tour, which I’ve been blessed to do twice so far. I love history, and the story of how the Panama Canal was built is amazing. Then, seeing the different ecosystems of Central America from the comfort and safety of a cruise ship opens our eyes to very different cultures and the desire to share God’s love with people who are needy spiritually. For number three, I would have to pick any tour that goes to Europe, like the Rhine River tour, the wonderful 500th Anniversary of the Reformation tour (our next one will be in 2517…), and coming up soon, Oberammergau’s passion play.
What’s the hardest thing for you as a Tour Director?
I always tell my passengers that the very hardest part of my job is gathering them for a group picture! Once I have a good group photo, I can relax and enjoy the tour myself.
What’s the best thing about being a Tour Director?
The best thing about being a Tour Director is our wonderful passengers. My job is to care for them, do all I can so that they have the best vacation ever, but more than that, I love to get to know them personally, help them with any difficulties they have along the way, and pray with them for special prayer needs. Whether we were doing mission work overseas, or traveling as a tour director, it’s all about the people. I also really enjoy seeing people who basically are with strangers when the tour starts, but we come home as a family. As the tour progresses, the passengers begin to look out for each other and care about their fellow travelers. It’s beautiful to see these relationships develop along the journey.
What makes you unique as a TD?
I’m not sure that I would call myself unique—all our tour directors love to travel and interact with our passengers. Some have a great sense of humor, others can lead great singing in the coach. My forte, if anything, might be that I love history. And, I love to dig back into time for all the places where we go. My passengers would probably say it’s my energy. They have nicknamed me the Energizer Bunny because I never seem to stop moving.
Is there some skill or experience you bring from a previous job or an earlier time in your life to your work as a TD?
Lots of passengers have asked if I used to teach school, and they are correct. Organization, research, and creativity in finding activities for “coach time” are parallel to skills I learned as a teacher. But adults are so much easier to manage! I actually have a Master’s Degree in adult non-remedial education, but don’t tell anyone.
What’s your funniest memory as a TD?
I always wear a red beret so travelers can easily spot me in a crowd. I have never wanted to carry a flag or hold up a folded umbrella. Even though I am short, they never fail to find me, and they always remember the tour director is the lady in the red hat. But, if I wear a black hat or no hat, I hear from everyone: Where’s your red hat? How will be find you? Once, I told them that I was off duty! That didn’t go over very well.
What would you say is key to your work?
My faith is key to my work. There are so many times along the way that passengers need a special touch from the Lord, and we can share these concerns in prayer either individually or corporately with the group. And God really does answer prayer! I’ve seen it many times with a lost bag (or lost passenger!), a distressing phone call from home while we are still days away from our return. I really love the morning devotional time. I look for short devotional messages that are keyed to each day’s theme or activity, drawing our thinking to God’s grace and blessings that relate to where we are visiting. And, I like hearing my passengers’ testimonies when they can share about what the Lord is doing in their lives. Each story is precious.
Give us your top three traveling tips:
1. Bring your suitcase, but leave the baggage home. In other words, be open to new experiences, meeting new people, being a blessing to others as they bless you along the way. Let the Lord open your eyes to new sights, new experiences, new ways of seeing His creation.
2. Relax, enjoy yourself. Learn about the new places we are visiting and take lots of photos to preserve your memories and to share with loved ones back home.
3. Get to know the other passengers and share life experiences with them. Keep smiling and laughing.
Suggestions on shoes and luggage?
Don’t overpack; bring clothes that can be interchanged and layered. During the day, wear comfortable and safe walking shoes with closed toes, and save your other shoes for back at the hotel. Hotels almost always have shampoo, conditioner, hair dryers and amenities to meet your needs. Bring only the day’s essentials on the coach as overhead storage is limited. And always bring a pencil or pen for the games we do along the way.
Take a look at some of Patti’s favorite photos from the road:
What have you learned as a TD?
As I’ve traveled with Bob Neff Tours, I’ve learned a lot from my passengers about Lancaster County culture. I moved here from out west, so the local customs are all new to me. But more than that, I’ve learned what a blessing it is to work for and travel with fellow Christians. What a difference it makes compared to travel with other groups. And, since I love to do background on every destination well before we travel there, I’ve learned a lot about so many places in the US and abroad. Educators often say that they want to train children to be lifelong learners, and I think that I definitely am that! I never tire of traveling and am always ready to answer a travel request with, “Yes. I’d love to do that tour. When do we leave?”
Favorite Bible verse?
My all-time favorite Bible verse is Psalm 121:1-2 (and in King James):
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
This verse speaks to my heart and soul and comforts me whenever I feel troubled.
What is the one place you return to again and again, and will in the future?
Like I said earlier, Alaska is my go-to place. I consider it “home” since I first went there alone when I was just 17. And, it’s where my husband and I were married 50 years ago and where we raised our two children. Of course, the mountains speak to me as in Psalm 121. They are a tangible and constant reminder of our great God, his never-ending power and strength.
What is the question you wished I’d asked?
The question you could have asked: Where do you get your energy? I am always energized by the excitement of travel, seeing new places and witnessing first-hand the Lord at work throughout the world. I love meeting new people, those traveling with me and those at the destinations. I am blessed each and every day by being a tour director with Bob Neff Tours.
For His Glory!
What’s “A Day in the Life of Tour Director” look like…
The day begins with breakfast in the hotel, greeting passengers to check with them that they had a good night’s sleep and their rooms were satisfactory. Then, it’s time to pay the hotel and gather everyone to board the coach, collect all the keys people forgot to turn in, count noses, then depart. Most mornings there is time for a short devotional, which I key to our theme for the day. Then, I review our day’s schedule. Our days are usually filled with fun activities and interesting places to explore. After returning to our hotel in the evening, the last hour or two before settling down to sleep is to do all the paperwork for the day, accounting for expenses, then review the next day’s schedule and background information. Very soon morning comes and everything repeats.
Interview by Karen Leslie, BNT Travel Blog Curator