By our attitude and actions, we provide an atmosphere and approach for our clients to connect with new cultures and to cultivate their own explorer within.
— Shireen Dock

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

ITMI graduation year: 2012

Travel bucket list: Myanmar, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Madagascar

Tour essentials: iPhone, walking shoes, and a bathing suit

What or who inspired you to become a tour director?

I have always wanted to travel! As a child I collected postcards from far off places and had pen pals all over the world. My parents noticed this and got me National Geographic magazine, and the first time I traveled by plane was at just 9 years old. Ever since I have wanted to see more of the world. As soon as I could, I started working in foreign countries and organized my own trips to different countries and cultures.

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

I am lucky in that these worlds are more interrelated for me than most people. My children are grown and live in Europe, and love to travel themselves. In fact, just a few years ago, I spent a month traveling through India with my oldest son. Also, my husband’s work takes him overseas several times a year. So, we are able to create family get-togethers and reunions in different places. And it is important to plan these so they actually happen.

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

As well as a love of new places and experiences, I think a tour director needs to genuinely enjoy people – to find them as interesting as the places, and hence to understand and appreciate both the delights and difficulties that travel can unexpectedly bring up for them. It also helps to be really organized and to have patience when others don’t. 

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

Ahead of time, prepare for your trip as well as you can. By this I mean find out about where you are going. For example: What is it like there? Are there important local customs to respect? What is special about it? What is off the beaten track? Get a sense of the range of possibilities and which ones are most important for you. Just seeing lots of things can be superficial. Think about what experiences you really want to dive into and savor. Then make sure you allow enough time for them.

Once the journey has begun, be flexible and ready to make the most of every experience. For example, if a connecting flight is delayed, find out if a local delicacy or drink is served in the airport. If an attraction is closed, ask locals where they would go or what they would see and do. These can become among the best moments of a trip. 

What destinations are on your travel bucket list?

Hopefully my ‘bucket’ is a long way off, so my list includes destinations as far-flung as Myanmar, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Madagascar.

What are three things you must always take with you?

My iPhone (which takes the place of my phone, guide books, pocket camera and diary, so is cheating a bit), a good pair of walking shoes (obviously), and a swimsuit (just in case).

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

I am really interested in how a people and their culture interrelate and create each other – like tea in India, or music in Cuba, or wine in France. I would lead a small group of fellow aficionados off the beaten track to meet with locals whose lives are entwined with the production of something culturally significant. We would follow this product from its origins to consumption through first hand experiences with locals and their ways of life. We would also take the opportunity to savor the variety of these products along the way.       

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

If I could, I would like to travel with John Muir. He is an inspiration to me. I would like to take him to some of the places he discovered and get his reactions to the changes that have taken place.  

How has tour directing impacted your perspective of the world?

Going from traveler to tour director is definitely a change in perspective. Instead of opening a world for myself, I am now doing that for others. It is like being a hostess at a grand banquet, only this banquet is so grand it includes the world. So, there are the added responsibilities of assisting my guests in not only navigating the buffet tables of foreign delights and delicacies, but also how to interact with those whose lives they are only beginning to know about.    

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

First, be honest with yourself. Being a guide or tour director requires an unusual array of skills. Both jobs involve a lot interaction with people, punctual schedules with sudden last minute changes, lots of information on local attractions to remember, and more than a bit of public speaking. If you are put off by any of these, you may want to reconsider.

Second, even if you are a punctual people person with a photographic memory, a high tolerance for ambiguity, and are a former stand-up comic, there is still a lot to learn. So, take a certified course from a reputable tour guide/director school … such as ITMI.         

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

Yes, and not just in the obvious way that we are the representatives of our home country to the people of the countries we tour. We are also ambassadors of goodwill for our clients in that we set them at ease as they enter new worlds of experience. By our attitude and actions, we provide an atmosphere and approach for our clients to connect with new cultures and to cultivate their own explorer within.