We are privileged to interview an Aussie who has been recognised in the 2019 Wanderlust World Guide Awards as one of the best tour guides in the world. Having met Tim on a tour of Eastern Europe in 2019 I can see why – his infectious enthusiasm, knowledge and people management skills were inspiring. Malcolm Ebb
ME: Tell us something about your background and work history prior to joining the travel industry.
TP: I grew up in Queensland and Tasmania, moving back and forth between the 2 during my school years. I think constantly relocating at an early age developed a sense of travel and wanderlust in me! I spent six and a half years in the Royal Australian Navy when I was young, working as an Aviation Avionics Technician on naval helicopters. During this time, I took my first trip to Europe. As soon as I stepped off the plane into the ‘Old World’ I knew that Europe was the place for me and that travel was all I wanted to do!
ME: How did you end up working in the travel industry as a tour leader?
TP: I moved to the UK in 1998 after a 4 month road trip across the USA. I was well aware of the possibilities available in the travel industry having attended some travel company presentation evenings before leaving Australia, so started looking for opportunities right away. I was invited to an interview with Contiki Holidays, which of course as every Aussie knows caters to 18-35’s, and is a sister company of Insight Vacations. I was accepted onto Contiki’s famously tough training trip – 2 and a half months being put through the paces around Europe. It’s regarded in the industry as the best training program for Travel Directors in Europe, And I went on to conduct a number of training programs in later years as a training manager. Following successful completion of the training I embarked on my first season as a Trip Manager, which included a 46 day trip to 19 countries!
ME: Your knowledge and understanding of European history is remarkable! As an Aussie, how hard was it to gain that depth of knowledge and apply it in your day to day professional role?
TP: I’m fascinated by the historical patchwork of Europe. I love the subject, and over the last 22 years have enjoyed putting the puzzle together. During that time, I’ve lived in England, Italy, France & Poland. I’ve met many people who’ve lived through the turbulent times of Europe’s recent history, particularly here in Poland and the Central & Eastern parts of the continent. I’ve eaten dinners and enjoyed evenings recounting stories of recent wars with locals in Sarajevo, Belgrade & Zagreb. I’m friends with many of the best local experts of history & culture in Paris, Florence & Rome. These personal experiences are invaluable in understanding Europe. I search for these types of interaction & experiences so that I can better understand the subjects I want to pass on to my guests. Of course, I devour books on historical topics too, but nothing beats the firsthand account of locals who’ve been there, or the constant exposure to the great cities, architecture & artworks of Europe.
ME: As a tour Director for Insight Vacations you are responsible for managing groups of people from all walks of life. What are the major challenges you deal with from tour to tour?
TP: It’s important in my role to understand that everybody on a trip is different, from different countries and backgrounds and with different needs & expectations. I try to relate to everybody on a personal basis. There may be 40 guests on a trip but it’s important to make the travel experience personal for everybody. The major challenges are probably the logistics. Travelling through multiple countries on a journey, you need to be ready to deal with all of the unforeseen that can affect itinerary and guest enjoyment. Always having a backup plan for when something unexpected happens and being able to think on your feet and outside the box are important.
ME: You live in a small village in Poland with your wife and 2 young children. Your job means that you are absent for weeks at a time so when you are home family time must be very precious.
TP: Yes absolutely! I sometimes go away for 2-3 two week trips back to back. My children are 7 and 4 years old, so as soon as I return home it’s all family time, straight to the backyard to kick footballs, building Lego and off to school & pre-school. We live in the mountains of Southern Poland close to Krakow, and are within 5 hours drive of Budapest, Prague, Warsaw & Vienna, so if I am away on multiple trips and longer periods my wife Sabina will bring Maks & Matylda to see me in those cities. It’s a difficult balancing act but thankfully Insight Vacations is also very understanding in allocating trips that allow me plenty of time at home. The advantage of this job also is that I get a lot of time with my family over the European winter which is when we head off on family adventures.
ME: Which countries have you visited and which ones can you highly recommend to Aussies and Kiwis?
TP: I’ve lost count of the number of countries I’ve visited, but I’d recommend them all! Poland is a fascinating country which is still somewhat ‘undiscovered’ by many Aussies & Kiwis, and Italy & France are 2 of my all-time favourites. The countries of the former Yugoslavia & the Balkans are a magnificent melting pot of cultures & diversity, turbulent history and stunning landscapes. Aussies & Kiwis certainly always enjoy the stunning coastlines of Croatia & Montenegro. From my recent family travels, I can’t recommend Vietnam & Kenya highly enough!
ME: Mark Twain is credited with the saying “travel broadens the mind”. What does this mean to you?
TP: I love that quote in its entirety. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I live by that quote, and bring my children up according to it!