Tour Group Misfits

City of David, Jerusalem

Even the most independent of travelers will find themselves as part of a group tour at some time. Whether it be in a museum or an archeological site, joining a group led by a knowledgeable guide is a basic travel experience. That’s why it is important to know how to behave properly.

Even though I’ve noticed odd behavior on tours for years, it was only on a tour of the City of David site that I really started thinking about the various types of personalities in these groups. For whatever reason, some people just have no idea how to participate in a tour group without being a colossal pain.

Know-it-all – On every tour, in every city in the world there is at least one person who thinks they know everything. It often gets to the point that I begin to wonder why they are there at all, since there is nothing left for them to learn. My favorite example of a know it all being put in their place was in the Galapagos. We were on one of our daily hikes, observing nature and intently listening to the naturalist leading the group. Throughout the hike, we had a know-it all who kept asking leading questions such as “Isn’t it true that their feet are blue because…” and “Wouldn’t you say that climate change is to blame for…”  Having been a tour guide myself at one point, I commiserated with the poor naturalist. Tour guides have a certain flow and cadence and while questions are good, incessant questions are annoying and confuse the story telling. Finally, the know it all made another supposedly factual statement about the frigate birds to which the tour guide finally said, “No, that’s actually not at all correct,” and spent 5 minutes letting him know why. She was never rude about it, but she made her point and the know it all was oddly quiet for the rest of the walk.

While it’s great to ask questions on a tour, you are there to learn and asking leading questions to prove how smart you think you are is just annoying.

Must See it First – The next personality often found in tour groups is the person who just HAS to see whatever is next first. You know who I mean, he’s the guy practically running over the tour guide to get to the next stop and then he usually stands in front so that no one else can see. I see this on every tour, but saw it in an extreme way in the City of David in Jerusalem. A portion of the tour leads the group down very steep stairs into the bowels of the earth. It’s dark, it’s wet and if you’re not careful it’s dangerous. Of course there was someone out in front who just had to make it down first, breathing down the tour guide’s neck the entire way down. He was almost to the bottom when, in his shear excitement to see, he slid and took out the guide. My first inclination, in all honesty, was to laugh. Luckily I coughed back my laughter and was relieved to see that no one was hurt. I can tell you though that the tour guide was not happy about being pushed into the floor. I don’t understand this tour psychology; everyone is going to see everything, so just relax. Also, everyone needs to realize that they are not on a private tour and that sharing the opportunity to witness whatever it may be is essential to being a good tour member.

The Doubter – This travel type isn’t seen as often as the previous two, but it is just as annoying. This person for some reason simply can’t believe that the tour guide knows more about the subject at hand than they do and actively disagrees with almost everything the guide says. The guide will say that it is Roman influence and the doubter vehemently disagrees, spouting off arcane bits of art history for the benefit of a group that has long since tuned him out. I’m really glad that this personality is somewhat rare, because the person in possession of these qualities is hard to be around for any amount of time, much less a tour which is supposed to be an enjoyable experience for everyone.

The Clueless – This may be somewhat mean, but sometimes I hear comments from people on tours that are so outlandish and bizarre you really have to wonder if they’re stable psychologically or have any level of education. When I was a tour guide in Williamsburg, Virginia, we used to keep a log of all of the inane and just stupid remarks and comments. I worked at a winery and some of my favorite comments where:

  • If the deer eat the grapes, do they get drunk?
  • Is it called Chardonnay because it’s charred?
  • I didn’t think wine was made outside of France? (really?)

I was particularly sensitive to it because I worked there, but believe me I have heard some ridiculously stupid comments on almost every tour in which I have participated. It’s ok not to know something, but I sometimes wonder at some people’s immense level of ignorance.

No one is perfect and I have absolutely been guilty of all of these tour types at one point or another, as I’m sure most people have. The key though is to not let it become your signature travel personality and instead to realize that you are sharing these wonderful travel experiences with people who are just as excited as you are.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

9 thoughts on “Tour Group Misfits”

  1. Did you notice that in 3 of these 4 annoying types of tourists, the main problem is they don’t know how to keep their mouths shut? All I can say is I’m glad my “type” didn’t make your list–the one who falls behind because they’re so caught up in taking photos. :-P

  2. This made me laugh. Great post. I’ll add two types.

    The later comer. The person who is always late. Every time free time is awarded, someone always seems to be missing at the assigned hour and shows up a few minutes late. (related to the fall behind photographer, but not the same)

    The gossiper. This person who always gossips and tells stories about everyone else in the group… Wait we might be this one :)

    stay adventurous, Craig

  3. LMFAO. I was a tour guide at Emory, and we always had a parent who was an alum who would be a know-it-all. But their facts were 25 years outdated.

    I hate, hate, hate the clueless. I applaud their attempt to learn something, but I can’t wrap my head around their stupidity. Like the couple in front of us on a catacomb tour: “Are Catholics Christian?” It’s often painful to be both Catholic and a medieval art history major on tours of early Christian and medieval sites.

    As for the know-it-alls…I try not to be that person. On art/architecture tours, I will only answer a question if no one in the group knows the answer. I always learn something new on these tours, but I tend to have a basic grasp of a lot of the talking points. Don’t hate me :)

  4. My least favourite tour group companion was a deeply racist English lady visiting Southern Africa. I’m not sure what whe was expecting, but hated that we had a black driver (and that the rest of the group loved him).
    It came to a head during preparations for a flight over the Okavango Delta and our pilot appeared – she started screaming “No! No! No! Black people aren’t designed to fly!” No idea what she meant, but the leader finally sent her packing.

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