Colin Mairs loves to sing and dance while wearing a kilt, which is perfectly fine as he's a Scotland guide with a profound love for his country and its traditions. Let's get to know this fine laddie, shall we?
Colin, how did you get your start in traveling and guiding?
A lot of my early childhood family vacations were in Scotland, so I have many happy childhood memories of taking walks in the Scottish countryside on rainy days and enjoying the long summer evenings. My parents instilled a love of Scotland in me and they still travel around the country a lot. My first trip abroad was aged 10 to France, closely followed by a trip to the USA. Later on I studied French at university with really no idea what I wanted to do with it! But I knew I enjoyed traveling and learning languages so went to live in Portugal after uni, just to learn Portuguese. I lived with a Portuguese family and worked as an English and French language teaching assistant through the week, and got a part time job guiding port wine cellar tours on the weekends. That was my first job as a tour guide, in 2008. When I came back to Scotland after Portugal, I started working with a tour company doing driver-guided minibus tours around Scotland. At the same time I did the two-year, part-time course to become a professional Scottish Tourist Guide (STGA Blue Badge) and qualified from the course as the youngest Blue Badge guide in Scotland in 2012.
What path led you to Rick Steves?
Rick was coming to Glasgow to update the Scotland guidebook. He asked a friend of mine to take him around the city. She wasn't available so she recommended me. I didn't really know much about Rick or his company before I met him (but I did google him)! At the end of our 12-hour day pounding the streets of Glasgow, Rick asked me if I'd be interested in leading his 10-day Best of Scotland tour. That has been the biggest turning point in my guiding career to date!
What do you like about traveling with Rick Steves tour members?
I like that our tour members understand and agree to the "no grumps" policy! People generally come to the tour with a positive attitude and that makes a big difference to the enjoyment of the tour for everyone involved! I enjoy talking to tour members about the other RSE tours they have been on and the other guides they have been with. Nine times out of 10, I know the other guides personally and we share a nice moment of having that person in common — just two degrees of separation!
Is it true you like to sing on your tours?
Well, my dad sang in bands when I was young and we also went to a lot of music festivals around the country. It was natural for me to join in. And now I can't help but sing a lot on my tours! Sometimes I joke that it's like touring with a band around the country, but my gigs are all inside a moving bus (and occasionally in the odd pub if the musicians there will play backing for me)!
Do you really commute to Scotland from New Zealand?
True! I moved to New Zealand in 2015 to be with my now wife, Claudia. In the northern hemisphere's off-season I live in New Zealand, which is the southern hemisphere's high-season. I also lead my own small-group tours there that are similar in style to Rick's tours, so basically my personal off-season is squeezed in between either hemisphere's high season!
Can we talk about scotch for a moment?
Since you've asked, I've recently developed a deeper interest in Scotch whisky. People sometimes get the wrong idea when I tell them that whisky is one of my hobbies — but it's not just about drinking the whisky! People like me who class ourselves as "whisky geeks" love to read about the history of whisky, the intricacies of the production and maturing processes that make one scotch different from another, and generally every little fact and detail linked to the Scotch whisky industry. Scotch holds a rich history and culture, unlike any other drink around the world. It's Scotland's number one export industry and, regardless of where I am in the world, if I tell someone I'm from Scotland one of the first things they will say is "Ahhh… Scotch whisky!" Growing out of this, I've started my own small-group tours, touring the whisky distilleries of Scotland. If you're not seriously interested in Scotch whisky, I'm sure you would find these tours boring with the amount of geeking-out on whisky that goes on!
Here's what Colin won't tell you…but his tour members will:
"Colin's fine sense of humor and attention to detail were key to our successful tour; his organizational and people skills were excellent. His bus ride commentary was entirely pleasant and interesting. He managed our activities in a thoughtful way (without ever treating us like children or old people), and sometimes he improvised to bring us good surprises!"
— Jane in Santa Cruz, CA