How to Navigate the Client-Guide Relationship
So you’ve booked your next adventure. Nicely done! What’s more, you’ve followed the wisdom of the sages and hired a professional guide or outfitter to assist you in your travels. Smart move.
However, the client-guide relationship can be tricky, so I’m offering these words of advice, starting with a lesson I learned from Homer. [No, not that one!]
One of the main themes in Homer’s The Odyssey is the notion of xenia, an ancient Greek concept of hospitality and treatment of those who are far from home. Odysseus finds himself in many situations where xenia is applied — or violated. I am reminded of Odysseus and this theme when I travel. Countless cultures apply the principles of xenia when interacting with outsiders. They’ll offer portions of an already meager meal to a guest, or make space in cramped quarters to provide shelter. I’ve also been to places where the opposite is the norm.
I’ve also learned that xenia is a two-sided coin. The burden of hospitality may fall upon the host, but in return the guest must not be a burden upon the host. Courtesy and graciousness are an obligation.
If you find yourself on a guided adventure in a strange land, think of yourself as the guest, and your guide as the host. To wit:
You are a Guest. Act Like One. There may be some behaviors you can get away with at home, but this is not your home. There are rules — and more importantly, laws — in this foreign land. Your responsibility as the guest/client is to know those rules and laws and to obey them. If the sign says “no trespassing,” don’t trespass. Even if an epic photo op awaits. Breaking cultural rules and laws of the land is a sign of disrespect for the people of that land. When you go over to the house of some new friends for the first time, the first thing you [should] ask is “shoes on or off?”
Your guide can be a great asset when it comes to understanding the customs of their land. Ask questions. Your interest in following local customs and laws will earn you an ally — and hopefully a friend. Which dovetails nicely into my next piece of advice, which is:
Make Friends. Sure, you are paying for their service, but that doesn’t mean there has to be an awkward barrier between you and your guide. They are human beings, just like you and me. Guides have families, experienced childhoods, got into adventures, love some kind of music. Your adventure will always be a little less rewarding if you don’t come away with some sort of real connection with your guide. You don’t have to be soul mates, but you ARE on the same trip together. That’s common ground, isn’t it?
Be Generous. The best guests are givers. Let’s hop back to that house-guest analogy. You’re invited over for a dinner party. What do you do? You bring some flowers or something to contribute to the meal. You also help with meal prep and clean up. Do the same with your guides. Bring a gift that represents you and your country or region. Help schlep, or set up camp, or break down camp, or cook, or clean up. Be an asset, not a liability. And I know what you’re thinking, “But we paid to have all our stuff carried.” Maybe so, but do you REALLY want to be remembered as that “lazy so-and-so” who sat on your a$$ when everyone else pitched in?
Also, don’t be stingy when it comes to tipping. On most guided expeditions that involve porters, it is customary to tip at or near the journey’s end. Find out ahead of time what is customary.
I’ve been on many trips to some pretty remote places. Although I feel pretty comfortable on my own in some spots (Everest; Bugaboos), there are others (Chad) where I’d be a waterless fish without some sort of local help to steer me true. In at least one situation, having someone who knew the lay of the land kept me safe when some knife-wielding locals descended on our group. [Check the footage from that confrontation below] I’m never too proud to know when I am lacking the experience or know-how to successfully complete a journey or adventure. And I hope you never are, too.
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