Guiding Tips: Include a Rooming List to Document Gratuities for Housekeeping

Several years ago at a trip leader training, someone asked the question, “At the end of a travel program what happens to the tips intended for housekeeping?

Some quick background: The travel company had been providing tips to the housekeeping staff (at the various hotels utilized on tours) by paying the hotels directly. The expectation was these funds would navigate corporate accounting departments and “trickle down” to the individuals who did the work. The general feedback was these funds were not getting paid out, and if this was being paid out, had not been communicated to staff or observed in paychecks. To ensure that housekeeping was receiving their hard-earned tips, the travel company made the individual trip leaders responsible for this. The company would deposit the tips for housekeeping into the trip leader’s bank account, who then had to pull this out of their bank as cash, and then pay the housekeeping manager directly at the end of the trip.

Then another question was asked, “How does someone know if the cash even reaches housekeeping?” The answer from the travel company was, “We don’t know. There’s no way to track this once the trip leaders pull it from their account.”

Whoa! This was not just a glaring hole in the travel company’s process, but one that left the trip leader in a precarious position regarding their honesty if anyone ever asked the question, “What happened to the money?”  Integrity and being mindful of others’ hard work mean everything in the hospitality/travel business. Having integrity questioned –or even an ounce of suspicion– is a death knell to one’s career.

After that day, I documented everything related to tips intended for others, and I did this with a simple process. I’ve listed this as A, B, C, & D:

A) TAKE A PHOTO: At the end of the trip, when I am ready to pay out tips for housekeeping, I lay out the following items and take a photo that shows:

  • The Rooming List (this must include my traveler’s room numbers and the dates); I include a little note on the rooming list saying this is tip money for housekeeping’s hard work.
  • The correct amount of cash out, and I clearly display the ID numbers and amount of each bill.
  • An envelope with the housekeeping manager’s name [if possible] or at least their title; near and edge I write the date, the time, and the travel company’s trip ID.
  • A big “Thank You” is written on the envelope with the name of the travel company and my name.

B) DELIVER: I put the rooming list and cash in the envelope and immediately deliver this to the front desk staff, preferably when two people are at the desk, or someone whom I have a working relationship with, and I say, “Please place this envelope directly in the Housekeeping Manager’s mailbox.” I stay to make sure I see the envelope go into their mailbox or at least make its way into the staff room, then I thank the person when they return. Many front desks have cameras, and if I see one, I make sure to look at the camera for a moment so there is a record of me having delivered the tip envelope.

C) DOCUMENT: Depending on the situation, I might email my manager at the main office about this being delivered and I document the time and place this happened and even give a name of who this was delivered to.  Regardless, I always include the earlier photo when I electronically submit all my transaction receipts at the end of the trip for reconciliation.

D). CYA (Cover Your A$$): Lastly, I keep a copy of this with my trip documents in my own files and I never get rid of this information.

This sounds a bit like overkill, but again, integrity is everything in this business; I want to make sure those who have helped my travelers receive their tips, and I also wish to practice CYA [Cover Your Backside].

On a walking tour that I led last year, a woman approached and asked about housekeeping tips since they were supposedly included in what she and others on the trip had paid. On two separate trips, with other companies, she found the tipping policy to be gray or nonexistent. This was a concern for the woman as her mother had been a housekeeper for decades and rarely received tips or was recognized. I agreed that housekeeping staff are the unsung heroes of any tour, and I wanted them to receive what was theirs. I explained the company she was currently traveling with recognized this was an issue and provided tip money to the leader to then pay the housekeeping manager directly. And, to ensure better accountability, I briefly mentioned my own process. The woman choked up and began to cry. She returned a few minutes later and thanked me for caring. At the end of the trip, she thanked me again and said she would be traveling again with the same company.

Three Golden Moments for Trip Leaders That Will Make or Break an Adventure Travel Program

As a trip leader, the first interactions with your group are golden. Participants want to know if they will be safe and if you as a leader are professional, approachable, and will help them to succeed in this adventure. Operations differ at different travel companies, but here are 3 golden moments that can set the tone of your entire adventure travel program.

Golden Moment #1: The Pre-Trip Communication Email
Not all companies provide this information to leaders before a trip, but If you have access to names and emails -and time- sending a pre-trip communication to your participants can be golden. You will help your travelers be better prepared, and they will greatly appreciate your effort.

  • Send a pre-trip email about 7-10 days before the trip begins.
  • Introduce your history with the area they are visiting, what they will be experiencing, a general idea about the weather they will encounter, and about helpful gear to have (as this is in addition to what the company provided).
  • Remind them the travel company remains their best point of contact before their trip.
  • Confirm to see them on X date at Y time and provide a personal email and phone number.

If you don’t have access to this information, don’t worry, just make sure Golden Moment #2 is knocked out of the park.

Golden Moment #2: Checking-In 
This differs from company to company, but at the trip’s beginning, there is often a quick check-in followed shortly after that by a more formal welcome. This part covers the check-in. Keep the check-in short and sweet and down to a few basics:

  • Welcome them; let them know they are in the right spot.
  • Let them know where the nearest restrooms are and what the hotel’s Wi-Fi password is.
  • Ask if they have all their luggage and if their check-in at the hotel was okay.
  • Ask them to set their watches to the local time (many people use watches); their phones will auto-update.
  • Inform them -although unlikely- where to gather if an emergency occurs (i.e fire alarm).
  • Give them any welcome materials from the travel or expedition company.
  • Let them know where/when to meet next, even if it’s in the same room.

Golden Moment #3: The First Night Welcome / Dinner / Presentation
I amend these depending on the situation such as the speed of when dinner is ready, how tired participants are, etc. My notes are for a group no larger than 24 travelers.

In the Room: (If this is possible, I have arrived much earlier to set up and review paperwork)

  1. On each dining table, I try to provide a printed sheet with a URL or a process for the group to share photos of their shared experience.
  2. I have set up a portable projector and my foldable fabric screen.
  3. On a side table are hands-on items like topo maps, park maps, brochures, local natural history books, molds of animal tracks they might see, etc.

These are some core items to include in a first night’s welcome:

Start On Time, Show Empathy, and Have a Purposeful Welcome

  • Start on time; inform them that you respect their time by being on time.
  • Understand that many have traveled far, possibly from a different time zone, and are likely tired.
  • Keep the first evening’s welcome (with dinner) to an hour and fifteen minutes.
  • Announce that the trip’s experience has officially begun.
  • Give a quick overview of what they can expect that evening and when you will be finished.
  • Announce that their experience on this travel program has officially begun.


  • Introduce any other staff (like a naturalist or area expert)
  • Provide an overview of the uniqueness of the trip experience and why you are qualified to be their guide.
  • Provide a space for the travelers to introduce themselves (I try to keep this to about 20 minutes, definitely less than half an hour.)
  • Let people eat (depending on the situation, sometimes I start the evening directly with dinner, it really depends on the needs of the program at that time, so be flexible)

The Presentation:

  • I usually start my presentation just as people are halfway through dinner.
  • As a lead-in, I let them know about ways to share photos with the group during their trip. I also give them a heads-up that I’ll be leading a short and optional [natural history or interpretive] walk, at the end of that evening for those who might want to stretch their legs.
  • Try to keep the presentation to 20 minutes with 5 minutes for questions
    • The presentation should be colorful with photos (from previous trips on the itinerary) helping to tell the story of the program.
    • I share my personal reason for being on that trip.
    • The rest of the presentation includes logistical info: the shuttle, the terrain, safety protocols, meals, communications, etc.
    • The 2nd to the last slide covers the weather for the next day.
    • The final slide includes 5 data points -what I want them to remember- and this slide is all about the next day:
      1. For a wake-up I suggest using their phone AND setting a time with the main desk; don’t use the in-room clock.
      2. Breakfast is at X time and Y location.
      3. Gear to bring (daypack, sunhat, sunglasses, etc.)
      4. We depart at X time at Y location (or if there is a speaker, or walk, etc.)
      5. I say that I’ll see everyone in the morning; for those interested in the short natural history walk join me in 20 minutes.

These first three interactions with your group are golden. Let them see that they are in professional hands, that you love what you do, that you respect their time, and assure them they will be having a life-enhancing experience on your adventure travel trip.

    An Easy “On the Go” Tool for Helping to Tell the Story of an Educational Adventure Tour

    When leading an educational adventure how does one tell the program’s story, while keeping those on your tour informed, imparting knowledge that helps them to make a connection, is lightweight, and “on the go?”

    When building out my interpretive program I develop it so I can carry laminated sheets. For lack of a better term, I often call them placards. Here is the set of placards I use while visiting central Oregon on a 6-day educational travel program. There are about 80 placards that support my trip’s 1 interpretive theme and 3 sub-themes.

    I also have about 10 placards with just data. For example, when we visit Bend, Oregon, travelers want to know about the cost of housing, population, etc. While I sometimes use the placards to help me remember, and even after discussing them, I often pass around the placards or share them during a meal so people can read at their leisure and better the photos.

    On each placard, I include a color photo on one side and on the other text in 14-point font. This makes it easier to read for eyes that are over 50.

    When I am working with a local or knowledge expert, I try to research their emphasis and then selectively use my materials to help them tell their story. It is like helping to set the stage so the sage on that stage can better succeed.

    One of my favorite uses of placards was on an intergenerational (grandparents and their grandchildren) trip to Crater Lake National Park. That morning, I gave a brief presentation about where we were visiting and what to look out for, including a rare sight known as The Old Man of the Lake, a centuries old tree trunk that floats upright and traverses the lake’s clear waters. When I was done, I passed the placards around so people who wanted could read up a bit more. The placards included:
    – basics about the lake water’s clarity
    – the newts & crawdads of the area
    – key info about the lake’s depth with a detailed satellite image
    – how the lake is the source point of various watersheds
    – more about the Old Man of the Lake (shown left).

    Then our group was to hike 700 feet down to Cleetwood Cove where we would board a boat for a two-hour boat ride inside the 5-mile wide caldera. While returning across the lake, one of the kids called out that she had seen in the distance something on the water. She asked the caption if the boat could investigate, the captain did and everyone received a rare surprise, seeing the Old Man of the Lake up close.

    Afterward, the captain pulled me aside and mentioned that he had known where the Old Man of the Lake was, but it was just far enough out of our route that he was not going to make a stop unless someone said they had observed it. She was surprised that someone so young in my group knew about the old man and was so eager about seeing this wonderful natural feature.

    It is feedback like that that makes my job so wonderful, and having items that are lightweight, supports a theme, adds that bit of magic that makes travel so wonderful, and can better help me keep the program on schedule, are golden.

    If interpretation is an idea you would like to know more about, here is a short video from the National Association for Interpretation.

    Preparing Daily Updates on an Adventure Travel Tour

    Whether you are running an eco-trip, daily hikes, a week-long active travel program, or leading a bus trip, participants like knowing what to expect. Providing them with good information -throughout the day at key times- can help you, and the travelers, focus on the rest of the trip. Here are some hard-learned tips.

    I plan my updates the evening before, it’s often about 9 pm when I have returned to my room and can prepare my materials and what I need to be successful that next day. This includes updating the schedule to include recent updates, planning around unexpected changes, and mapping this out so the people I am responsible for can have a safe and enjoyable time. I usually write it out on lined paper, or waterproof paper for taking into the field, though an iPad or similar could be used for more in-city programs.

    The daily updates look something like this:

    Breakfast Announcements: (What to Expect That Day)

    • A quick overview of the day.
    • Specific information about the day (or outdoor activity or sightseeing walk). This includes the schedule, the weather, and what to expect. I also include any information about water, snacks, and what they can leave on the bus/shuttle, etc.
    • I pass out any maps and remind them to review the additional trip information at a side table when they finished their breakfast. At the table are additional maps, brochures, natural history books, etc. There might even be a full trail description on foam boards or large paper that can be easily folded and moved.
    • Briefly go over equipment and I make sure everyone has the needed gear they need.
    • I mention how and when lunches are going to work (if lunch is boxed at they carry, or at a local cafe, etc).
    • A point is made about the buildings we will visit, such as visitor centers, and I let them know if real bathrooms will be available or if this is something more basic.
    • I end the announcements by letting them know that I’ll give another update at lunch or when a specific activity ends.
    • Ask if there are any questions.

    Lunch or Early Afternoon Update (What to Expect Later in the Afternoon)

    • At this point, the day is about half over and I’ve had an opportunity to observe people. I watch to see if anyone is tired, or maybe needs to sit something out, if I notice this I try to speak with them in private before I give the group any updates.
    • During this short update, I mention what the next activity is and when we should be returning.

    Pre-Dinner Update (What to Expect That Evening)

    • It’s late in the afternoon and people have usually finished up their hike or activity and are tired. I say I’ll be making an announcement about dinner ten minutes before we are back at the hotel.
    • If they need to rest and recharge on the shuttle, I let them rest.
    • When I make my update, I remind them about attire (casual, more dress-up attire, etc), and remind them if they pre-ordered any meals earlier in the week (and I pass around a list to remind them) or say if this is off the menu, etc.
    • If the dinner is on their own I let them know about local restaurants either via a list or better yet with a hand-made map that I researched and made for them. I also announce that I will be dining at a certain restaurant, and those who wish to join me are welcome.
    • I try to end on an upbeat note involving dessert, then the time we should be returning to the hotel where I will give another update.

    Post-Dinner Update (What to Expect the Next Day):

    • After dinner, everyone has a full tummy and hopefully is relaxed. Because of this, I keep what they have to remember to 3 items:
      • I give a basic overview of the day’s schedule,
      • Mention the weather and what is good to wear or pack.
      • Where and when I will see them next
    • The process repeats: it’s often about 9 pm when I’m able to return to my room, prepare my materials for the next day, and organize what I need to be successful.

    I’m always informing my travelers about what to expect throughout the day at key times. At the end of the day when I return to my room, I plan out the next day based on any recent changes, and the whole process repeats. I find I can use about 90% of the same materials on future trips, but it’s that 10% where new problems often hide, so I always have to review the schedule, make tweaks, and map things out for those on my trip.

    How to Create a Water Discovery Kit for Your Traveling Outdoor Classroom

    Creeks and rivers are amazing storytellers – they can teach, captivate, and inspire curious minds.

    I always try to include creeks and rivers into the larger interpretive theme of a tour or educational travel program, especially when these waterways can provoke people into broadening their horizons.

    It’s always fun to open up an itinerary so trip participants can look under rocks, get their feet wet, observe critters in the water, touch, hear, smell, see, and learn more about the story of a place.

    To help with bringing this story to life I bring along a simple “Water Discovery Kit.” The kit can be made at home, packs well, and weighs just a few pounds. It includes:

    • 1 Gallon-sized Plastic Bucket with Handle
    • 1 10x Microscope
    • 2 Dip Nets
    • 1 Big Pipette (medium-sized turkey baster)
    • 1 Thermometer
    • 3 Magnification Loops
    • 1 Set of Laminated Instructions
    • 1 Plankton Net with ziplock
    • 6 Small Pipettes
    • 3 Round clear observation dishes
    • 3 Rectangular clear observation dishes
    • 3 Rectangular observations plates
    • 1 Funnel
    • 1 Gallon-sized ziplock
    • 1 Secchi dish (8-inch)

    Everything on the list fits inside the bucket, except for the Secchi disk which I carry separately.  The kit can be used by elementary kids on up, though it works best when various generations (grandparents and grandchildren) are involved.

    Guiding Tips: Learning About “Vegan Issues” on Tour

    Shown: Two vegan “small plate” dishes enjoyed at an Indian restaurant while on tour; Gobi Manchurian – fried cauliflower tossed in a sweet and sour sauce, and Samosa Chaat – two savory bean and pea pastries topped with a garbanzo bean curry and house chutneys.

    As a trip leader, I love creating meaningful experiences for participants – especially through food! For me, tour directing and eating vegan are complimentary flavors.

    That’s why I’m surprised when fellow guides and tour leaders express derision towards vegans. At a recent annual guide meeting for an educational travel company, these sentiments were expressed in a hot topic segment titled, VEGAN ISSUES.  The frustration was palpable as vegans were derided with words such as, “problematic,” “unsociable,” “quiet,” “freaks,” and phrases such as “I wish they would just stay home,” or “Why can’t they eat normal food like everyone else?”.

    These responses were not unexpected, because about a decade ago, I had similar views. Fortunately, I tried to become a better guide and I learned about such matters. I eventually learned that vegans aren’t problems on tour. For the trip leader of any meaningful or transformative travel experience, what is required is a better knowledge of the audience.

    To help my fellow guides, here are seven tips to help them to better understand the vegans in their group. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a start. These 7 points originate from actual questions I received from fellow guides.

    1. Why are vegans, vegan? And, what is plant-based?
    Vegans eat the same food as everyone else, except it’s not made from animals. Vegans value compassion. They seek to eliminate, as much as practical and possible, the use of and exploitation of animals in their everyday lives.  They understand the most immediate way to enact compassion is to control what they put on their plate. Another group to know about is plant-based travelers; they eat plants solely for dietary or health benefits. Veganism takes plant-based a step further and includes the ethical component.

    2. Why are vegans quiet?
    Vegans are often stereotyped as being quiet. Some can be. Many vegans tend to be reserved when traveling because they don’t want to be judged or derided. Here are some actual quotes from tour directors:

    • “Why don’t they eat like normal people?
    • “If they can’t eat normal food on a tour, they should be made to eat what the rest eat!”
    • “They seem smart, too bad they can’t figure out what they’re going to eat this week.”

    Any traveler might be quiet when a tour director’s personal biases (yes, biases) are communicated. Trip leaders need to understand that everyone on their tour wants to eat good-tasting, wholesome food. Vegans want food without the animal or hidden animal products.

    3. Why are they vegan at home, but not while traveling?
    I often hear trip leaders say, “Why are they vegan at home, but not while traveling?” At home, all of us can control ingredients, quantity, salt, oils, etc., but this can be very difficult for anyone during a week-long travel program. Vegans have learned to be pros when it comes to ordering food selectively at restaurants to avoid hidden animal products, substituting side dishes, or supplementing their travel meals by visiting the store. However, on tour, most of the travel company’s pre-selected restaurants on an itinerary are solidly meat-centric. When confronted with zero choices, many vegan travelers just won’t eat. Others might order various side dishes to create something of a meal. Others might make a ‘what causes the least harm’ decision. Maybe they need to eat something they normally would not so they have the energy to enjoy their trip. Maybe, they need to regulate blood sugar or take medicine with food.

    4. Why don’t they eat the restaurant’s special vegan meal?
    The biggest frustration I’ve heard from tour directors is that the specially prepared vegan meal rarely gets eaten. I can say without hesitation – 95% of the specially prepared
    vegan meals on tours are notoriously bad. These vegan meals might be made well-intentioned, but non-vegan staff often have no idea what vegans eat. The results can range from lackluster to downright frightful. If someone on tour is skipping meals, their basic needs are not being met.

    5. What about vegans eating alternative meat on tours?
    The target audience for alternative meat products (like Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat) isn’t plant-eaters, the target audience is meat-eaters who want to reduce the amount of meat they are eating. To many vegans, alternative meat is junk food and is eaten sparingly.

    6. What do vegans eat?
    Vegan food can be as diverse as a fresh salad or pizza. Vegan food can run the range of food as apples, bananas, blueberries, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, potatoes, corn, green peas, winter squash, barley, millet, oats, quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, tahini, almond butter, or even rice, soy, oat, almond, and cashew milk. The entire vegetable and fruit aisle at the store is vegan. A good part of the grain aisle and some of the bread aisle is vegan. Additionally, there are plant-based mayonnaise, cheeses, and other sandwich condiments that taste like traditional products and are cost-effective. On the social side, most french fries and beer are vegan. There’s no shortage of plant-based foods or creative ways to eat vegan while on tour, here’s a few:

    Shown: Some of the vegan meals, desserts, and snacks served on the tours and trips I’ve led.

    7. How should I talk to the vegan on my tour?
    Have a conversation as you would with any human being on your trip. Remember, vegans want to eat delicious food too. If they have a question about food it’s originating from a place of compassion. Use compassion as a starting point – as you should with all travelers. I try to set this tone in my pre-trip welcome letter, I explain that while our trip has made efforts to eat at places that offer a variety of foods some of the menus can be limited. I add that we will have an opportunity to stop by a local grocery store so all participants can supplement food, and grab something fresh and healthy if needed. At times when travelers explore a town on their own, I always find a local restaurant that offers a selection of vegan options and invite others to join me. I also speak with the office about locating restaurants that are generally healthier. During the tour, if needed, I speak with kitchen staff to see about suggestions for substitutions.

    On a tour, everyone can experience new places through local tastes. It does require some up-front communication with travelers about what to expect on a trip. It also requires some greater knowledge of your audience.

    Note: The list of foods on #6 comes from Forks Over Knives

    When Travel Experiences Are Not in Context, Guests Don’t Remember

    In recent years, adventure learning companies have focused on quantity versus quality in regards to their programs. As a trip leader, I’ve seen it too often.

    In a rush to increase destination offerings, for a wider audience, many of the experiences are often not in context with the purpose of the trip. The result is that after a week-long program the guest remembers they participated in some fun things, but are not exactly sure how they grew as a person. If they cannot successfully answer this, then how is your company unique? And, why should they return?

    An easy way to help guests grow, and nurture them for joining future trips, is to keep all of the travel program’s experiences in context with a big idea. In short, what is the big idea you want your guests/participants to remember? Think of a big idea as a unifying theme for the trip. All of the site visits, excursions, and explorations on the trip should gravitate around this big idea.

    It is very easy to build a program around generic information, which is what most tourism companies do (see photo below). It is more challenging to design an adventure learning travel program around a unifying message where all of the experiences (walks, food, guest speakers, site visits, etc) are in context with a big idea. When travel experiences are in context, guests remember they had fun, but also their discoveries.

    Building an Interpretive Theme for a Travel Program

    All lifelong learning travel managers wrestle with one idea: how to craft a transformative travel program.

    The most common approach is to select a topic (such as the topic of fire, or destinations such as the topic of Crater Lake), and then build the program around that.

    This seems simple enough, yet why then are so many travel programs such a continuous source of frustration and ambiguity for those designing the program, even for those who have to craft messaging and then market the travel program?

    The problem arises because the topic is often associated with the travel program’s theme.

    Themes should not be thought of as nouns (subject, place, or event), think of them as being a verb (interpretive).

    Another way to think about a theme is to answer, “What is the big idea I want participants to remember?”

    Some examples:

    A multi-day program built around the topic of “Fire” now becomes:

    • Theme: “Discover how fire helps forge every aspect of our life.”
    • Sub-themes might include homes/communities, food preparation, entertainment, arts, places we play, and our survival).

    A week-long bus/hiking/rafting program with the topic of “Visit Central Oregon” transforms into:

    • Theme: “Exploring Oregon’s dynamic geology allows for first-hand discovery and connection to one of the most fundamental forces of nature, in both its creative and destructive roles.”

    An active hiking program with the topic of “Exploring Crater Lake” evolves into:

    • Theme: “Crater Lake’s breathtaking beauty, seasonal weather extremes, and distinguishing natural and cultural features, combined with a variety of recreational opportunities, provide visitors with abundant chances for discovery, reflection, and inspiration.”

    Creating a theme in this light focuses all of the activities and interactions around a single idea; it helps the program designer and the trip leaders focus on what is relevant while bringing the program to life.

    Tips for Tour Directors Who Lead Natural History Walks

    Recently, I was asked to share ideas with a tour director who was new to leading natural history walks. Here are some simple tips:

    When introducing folks to a natural area I like to include in my welcome, “Are there things on this walk that you’d like to know more about?” People almost always want to know about poison ivy/oak and if they will be encountering any. Answering this takes some of the uncertainty people might have about an area off the table and helps them better enjoy the walk.

    You’re not there to be an encyclopedia.

    Do know the “big idea” of your walk. A big idea is what you want them to take when they leave.

    If you know of any good stories about the area, place names, or local colorful characters, share them.

    Think of things where people can engage their senses: look, listen, and feel.

    When you visit a neat spot (beaver pond, an interesting grove of trees, etc), ask, “What do you think you know about this?” Get them to respond and share information. Everything has a story; people of First Nations or settlers could have used even an unassuming plant as an important resource.

    If there is an area where people can be comfortable have them sit in silence for several minutes (3 is ok). Afterward, ask them what they see, hear, smell, and feel.

    Point out any temperature shifts, like when you enter a shaded or lighted area.

    Compare the feel of different tree barks. Why might they be different?

    People tend to look at big things, have them find a small area, and just observe for a few minutes. Ask them what they saw. A lot is happening on a small scale and it is just as important as the big things.

    You need to know where North is for this. Well into your walk ask them to point to the north. The results are often surprising and entertaining even when the sun is out. Bring a compass and have a young person confirm the direction.

    At the end of the walk ask people to share what they saw, heard, and smelled, etc.

    The Power of Nature Adventures (Why I Guide)

    I’m an outdoor guide because traveling and nature experiences can be powerful teachers. Here is one such story about how an encounter with a whale helped others (and myself) to grow.

    Gray whale calf. Photo: Nature Picture Library / Copyright Todd Pusser.

    Two dozen people slammed themselves onto the starboard railing of our small whale-watching vessel. It listed uncomfortably sideways as people gawked. Just feet away, a baby gray whale –the length of a long kayak– floated in the rough surf. Its large black eye seemed to study each of us. Everyone was absorbed in the experience. They had forgotten their discomfort in the previous hour and a half. Up until then, it had been a bad day to be on the water: we had not seen a whale – not one! Our ship sickeningly rolled side to side in the deep troughs, the smell of diesel and vomit permeated our nostrils, cold January weather nipped our skin, the sky was oppressively overcast and the wind-chapped our lips. Worst of all was seasickness. I heard participants simultaneously cursing my name as they barfed over the boat’s edge. Some made multiple trips to the side. As they staggered back, a sick yet relieved look crossed their faces. I received several vexing glances. The words were blazed in their eyes, “Why did you make me come out here?”

    It was a hard day of whale-watching. My camera had broken too, then again maybe it was for the best. This was the first whale-watching tour that I had organized for a group and it was going horribly. I secretly wanted this trip to be over, to slink home and erase it from my memory. I wanted the trip participants to forget about it, too.

    When the young whale appeared the trip was born anew. A marine biologist shared her commentary: the mother was likely on the seabed feeding and would be returning shortly. The juvenile was not lost, just hanging out at the surface.

    Amazingly the whale stayed parallel with our ship for about twenty minutes. Then several hundred feet away from a large mass the size of a city bus rose to the surface. She dramatically announced herself by ejecting a plume of air in a geyser-like spray. This was the mother! The smaller whale joined her and they swam off together.

    The people were seasick and green in appearance and happy to return to port.  I had organized the outing as a way for overscheduled tech workers to connect with their families in the outdoors, but had I inadvertently turned more people off that helped? This was the first of several trips where unexpected situations and hardships caused me to question my outings and slowly I became disillusioned.

    I stopped leading nature adventures.

    Fast forward five years.

    I was at an outdoor market selling youth-in-nature backpacks. A man approached and we talked for a minute, then he said, “Hey, you’re that guy who led the whale-watching trip.” He briskly shook my hand and said, “Thanks.” I wondered if we were talking about the same excursion. He told me about that day, I listened with interest and then in dismay. He and his mother-in-law despised one another, and for spite, they created ever-increasing hardships for each other, often to the detriment of family members. One day, he saw my whale-watching trip advertised and suggested a pleasant outing for the entire family. But his coyness was masked with a desire that his mother-in-law have a miserable experience. In fact, she hated that whale-watching trip and wanted nothing to do with him again. To his glee, she stopped visiting altogether! Eventually, her lengthy absence spoke to his better nature and he felt guilty for his childish behavior.

    Almost a year later she returned for a holiday visit. The conversation at the dinner table was palpable; everyone in the room knew the two were enemies. As the serving plates moved about she looked at him and said, “Remember that whale-watching trip?” He suspected a trap but replied, “Yes.”

    She looked directly at him and with a heartfelt voice said, “Thank You.” The man’s mind was blown.

    She shared her story:

    The mother-in-law suspected the man invited her along so she would get sick on the boat, but she went anyway. It was a most unpleasant time. But, when she viewed the whale up close and looked into the creature’s eye, she saw there was something there, and something awakened in her. She returned home to southern California and was anxious to the point where sleep was difficult. She spent more time outside and took long walks. She started to walk to the store. Her walks became hikes and she asked her friends to join her, but they were “too busy”, so she went by herself. Later she joined a local hiking club. On these outings, she saw hills and valleys near her house that she had never seen despite having lived in the area for decades. On one hike in the Mojave Desert, she saw a magnificent vista and it inspired her to make a big decision. She decided to visit a location she had always dreamed of since she was a child: The Gyeongbokgung Palace in South Korea. Then she announced to the family around the table, “I’m leaving for Seoul in three weeks.”

    The iconic Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea. Image copyright Korea Tourism Organization.

    The man was shocked and ashamed. After dinner, the two of them had a heart-to-heart talk. The trickery and malice evaporated and they started to heal their relationship. Several weeks later the mother-in-law traveled to Korea and had a wonderful trip. In the months that followed, she visited the family more often and the two of them started to go on short walks, then longer walks. They both enjoyed being outside, even having deep conversations. A year later, they had become friends and hiking buddies. The entire family was happier and everyone was even talking about an overseas trip.

    The man finished telling me his tale. Before disappearing into the crowd he said, “Thanks again for the great trip!”

    His story was an elixir for me, it helped to renew and strengthen my own passion for connecting people with the outdoors. I started to organize and lead trips once again. Fifteen years later I’m still going strong.

    I guide because travel and being in the outdoors teach things that we can only learn by experience. Guiding is at that nexus, the point between being in the now, learning, and living; and it is best shared with others who seek it.