For today’s travel consumer, quality of experience is what is most important in terms of value for the dollar. That experience can be enhanced or unfortunately soured by our personal experiences with a tour guide.

“A great guide can make a successful trip just as quickly as an average or sub-par guide can ruin one,” says Dan Austin, co-founder and Director of Austin-Lehman Adventures (ALA), a leading active tour company based in Billings, Montana.

With over 20 years in the business, Austin probably knows what he’s talking about. ALA was honored this year by the editors of National Geographic Adventure Magazine with its highest accolade as one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

“We take great care in selecting and assigning our guides knowing that your guide is often what, in the end, defines your travel experience.” says Austin.

So what makes a great guide? Here are the top traits ALA looks for:

A great guide is:

  1.  Focused with laser-like precision on making sure that you feel like a V.I.P. and your satisfaction is what’s most important
  2.  Naturally Intuitive and has the innate ability to foretell what a guest is thinking or wanting. Along with this comes the skill to listen to and interpret both the verbal and body language of a guest.
  3.  Spontaneous and can seamlessly deal with the unexpected, both pleasant and potentially disastrous. This means having a Plan B ready in case of such things as sudden weather changes, lodging snafus and road delays.
  4.  Passionate and eager to share his or her knowledge to welcoming ears. A great guide’s enthusiasm and energy is quickly contagious as is a thirst for knowledge about an unfamiliar destination.
  5.  An Expert Juggler. The ability to multi-task is essential, switching from chauffeur, coach, and doctor, to teacher, culinary wizard, athlete, mechanic, social worker and psychologist, all in a heartbeat. A great guide has the natural ability to calmly keep many balls in the air at once with poise, precision and patience.
  6. Gifted with a Sense of Humor and through timing and application, break the ice during a tense or stressful moment, loosen everyone up to break out of their shell, encourage silliness and the emergence of one’s inner child, and in doing so, create strong bonds between absolute strangers.

“With developments like Google, 24-hour high-definition travel television, online forums, Twitter, Facebook and more guidebooks and travel blogs than you can shake a stick at, it seems like informed, independent travel is easier than ever,” says Austin. “But no matter how much research, planning and consultation goes into a trip; travelers who choose to fly solo are still missing two key elements essential for a truly world-class vacation: the knowledge that comes with experience, and peace of mind that there is a guardian angel looking out for you.”

Austin says he tips his hat to the ALA team that consistently delivers the ALA service promise to its discerning clientele. ALA takes pride in its extensive staff and guide training programs and boasts one of the most generous (1:6) guide to guest ratios in the business.

Austin-Lehman Adventures manages all of the arrangements for its selected destinations that include iconic regions of North, Central and South America as well as southern Africa and in spring 2009, cycling holidays in Europe. Small groups are limited to 12 guests (18 on family departures). Rates include first-class accommodations, most meals and beverages, expert guides, park entry fees, multisport activities such as hiking, biking, rafting, horseback riding and more, ground transportation, luggage service and unlimited memories.

For a copy of the 2009 catalog as well as information on ALA’s 66 unique itineraries for active adult and family travel, please call toll-free 1.800.575.1540, or e-mail To review current trips, schedules and itineraries you can log onto its website:

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