Cynthia Ballard is a tour leader…with a twist. As a My Way® manager, she's a master of transportation and lodging logistics — and she's each tour member's personal, onboard travel advisor. What Cynthia does is at the heart of a low-stress, free-spirited approach to a European vacation. Let's learn more about her!
What brought you to work for Rick Steves?
I had a pretty extensive career in the travel industry in my previous life, from booking corporate travel to owning my own travel agency. During those years, my parents regularly traveled to Europe and kept relying on the advice of this guy named Rick Steves. One day I sat down with my dad and asked him to tell me about this Europe guru who was dictating their life! I realized after that conversation, that I had to someday work for his company. So here I am! I started out in the rail department, moved to the tour department and now I travel through Europe as a My Way manager. I've always enjoyed working with the kinds of travelers Rick attracts, and this latest role fits my personality to a tee!
What do you like best about My Way vacations and our independent travelers?
I love the My Way program because it lets everyone set their own schedule and itinerary for the day. I'm always available for "office hours" each morning, where I hear all the different kinds of plans people have for the day. Then at that evening's happy hour I get to hear about all the adventures they had! It's very rewarding for me to help fully prepare "my people" for a destination so they can get the most out of each day. I also like the different age groups that go on My Way vacations. For example, it attracts older folks who want to set their own pace and not be tied to sightseeing with a group, as well as mother-daughter pairs who want a bit of structure but room for spontaneity. Each group is a special mix for me to look forward to. Last year I even had three honeymoon couples and a proposal!
Which My Way itineraries do you manage, and do you have a favorite?
Right now I manage My Way Italy, My Way Europe, and My Way Alpine Europe groups. I'd say that Alpine Europe is my favorite itinerary because I'm a mountain girl at heart and I love to hike. This itinerary has "wow" moments everywhere you turn. The Dolomites, Zugspitze, Swiss Alps, and French Alps…hiking galore! But I have to say that no matter how many times I visit Switzerland's Berner Oberland, it always amazes me, centers me, and takes my breath away.
And what's this about your unusual nickname?
It's true, on my very first tour as a Best of Europe assistant guide, I was called "Seabiscuit" after the famous racehorse. Apparently, I was walking my group up the steep hill to Germany's Rheinfels Castle a little too briskly. I heard an out-of-breath tour member yell from the back, "Hey Seabiscuit, could ya slow down a bit?!" That cracked me up, and the name's stuck with me to this day. And it's fitting, too, since I happen to be a huge fan of horseracing. My dad used to let me skip school and take me to the track instead. He taught me the art of handicapping (and told me to tell my teachers I was learning math). Best day of the year in my book is the first Saturday in May — the Kentucky Derby!
Here's what Cynthia won't tell you…but her tour members will:
"Cynthia epitomized the perfect guide. Her knowledge was outstanding. Her patience as she helped each of us plan our days was truly appreciated. She was able to deal with every age and type of traveler effortlessly. I do not know where you could find a better guide to direct a My Way tour!"
— Carolyn in Wellesley, MA