International Tour Management Institute (ITMI)

The Premier Training Institute for Tour & Travel Professionals Since 1976

Making the World a Better Place Through Travel

Ellen McCarty

Hometown: Belmont, California

ITMI graduation year: 2004

Travel bucket list: Cambodia, Jerusalem, Angkor Wat Temple

Tour essentials: yoga mat, computer, and camera

You realize that every country on earth holds a part of you and that when you travel there, that part awakens and enriches you.
Machu Picchu
Hawaiian Islands

What or who inspired you to become a tour director?

A friend who is also a tour director. She is cool under pressure and one of the loveliest people I know. We practiced meditation together in Burma and she recruited me into the field.

How do you balance your personal life with your travel career?

I have friends everywhere. I’m someone who loves people but also relishes time alone so I can handle long stretches on the road by myself.

What qualities do you feel make for a good tour director?

The ability to talk about history and current events in a way that makes your clients feel their lives are more meaningful—even magical. Also, the ability to be patient and kind while meeting tight deadlines.

What advice would you give to a first-time traveler?

Try to let go of expectations, and at least once a day, take a moment to feel gratitude for where you are. Put down the camera and take a mental snapshot of how it feels to be where you are—the sights, the sounds. Sometimes thoughts can take over and you miss the actual experience.

What destinations are on your travel bucket list?

Antarctica & Japan.

What are three things you must always take with you?

In order of importance: yoga mat, computer and camera.

If you could design your own customized tour to reflect your passions, what would it look like?

Spiritual sites of the ancient world: eg: Machu Picchu, Peru; Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia & Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem.

Name someone famous you’d like to travel with and where you’d like to take them.

This already happened to me. I had the movie actress Ellen Dow on my tour. She was born in northern Italy when it was still a part of Austria prior to WWI. While on my Alps tour, at 88 years old, she danced (impromptu) for hours for our group—demonstrating traditional Austrian dances during a dinner. It was a lesson in how to live life.

How has tour directing impacted your perspective of the world?

You realize that every country on earth holds a part of you and that when you travel there, that part awakens and enriches you.      

What advice would you give someone if they wanted to become a tour director or guide?

This career is tough. You work long days without much personal time and without much sleep, so you need to have a strong foundation of mental and physical health and also a means to rejuvenate yourself everyday—even if for just a few minutes (eg: a yoga mat).

Being a tour director isn’t about traveling for your own enjoyment. It’s about opening the minds of your clients and enriching their lives. Make a point to remember what makes you feel passionate about a destination when you first arrive, so that you can communicate that passion years later when that same place may seem routine and ordinary.

Do you agree that a tour director is actually an ambassador of goodwill? If so, why?

Yes. I hope shedding light on what we assume about foreign cultures makes my clients less likely to make snap judgments about other people in other cultures or to believe in stereotypes. If we don’t take the time to really know a culture or a people (or even a person) well, it’s very difficult to choose the right course of action to help them or to communicate effectively. Even if we have pure intentions, our assumptions may cause more harm than good.