In the late 90s, I was a European Tour Manager for a company that specialised in tours for 18-35 year olds. See?
Aside: Gotta love those ‘mom jeans’.
I always said I would never go on one of these tours, let alone work as a TM, but when you have a devastating breakup in Paris from a 5-year relationship and you still want to see all the places you were supposed to see on that trip with your now ex-boyfriend, you book a last-minute tour.
After said Parisian breakup, I arrived home (in London) on the Eurostar, got on the phone, and booked a 2-week trip that started the next morning at 7am. I was back in Paris within 24 hours of leaving and on that trip, I met 5 women who became my bus besties. I am still in touch with Michelle, the tall blonde.
Months later, while I was living in London and doing day-to-day relief teaching, I saw that the tour company was hiring. “I could do that job,” I thought. I applied, along with a couple thousand others, and after an interview process that would NOT pass muster in this #metoo world, I got a spot on the 7-week training trip.
Surviving that was like getting to the final four of Survivor. It was something akin to bootcamp, but with less creature comforts. We averaged 4-5 hours of sleep a night and we slept in tents – in winter – in the snow. We were quizzed relentlessly on routes, opening times, history, currency conversion, places of interest, and architecture. I made lifelong friends, because, really, in the extreme circumstances, all we had some days were each other.
And then I was placed in charge of my own tour – a 5-week camper – the first of a long season that took me into November. It was one of the best and worst years of my life. The best because of the friendships I made, the places I saw, and the experiences I had. And the worst because … well, that’s another blog post.
But, one of the most incredible things about that time is the material it has given me for my writing.
In my 1st and 3rd books, the main character is Sarah Parsons, and like me, she once ran tours in Europe. When her sister, Cat (the main character is book #2), books a 2-week bus tour around around Europe to escape her lovelorn flatmate, Sarah is able to rattle off the full itinerary without hesitation.
And Cat booking that tour meant that I got to write a 2-week bus tour around Europe!
Cat’s 3 bus besties are inspired by my real life bus besties. Michelle inspired Mama Lou, Weyleen (far left above) inspired Jaelee, and Sophie (second from the left) inspired Danielle. I was able to write the places in great detail, because I’d been to them many (many) times. And I was able to write exactly what it’s like to travel on a bus tour – right down to the (ridiculously) early starts, the heinous ablution blocks, the tight schedules, the fast-but-firm friendships that are formed, and how wonderfully Europe excites and entices the senses.
Here’s a little peek into that world…
My first tour, Florence
My fifth tour, Florence
With my first crew, Lucy and Richard
It was brilliant fun writing That Night in Paris. Early readers are loving it, and you can preorder now (April 15 for the ebook and June/July for the print version) – just follow the link above.