Sarah Langford is one of Expat Explore’s longest standing tour leaders. Originally from the North East of England and currently living in Amsterdam, she’s been to over 50 countries and guided more than 12 different tour itineraries for Expat Explore over the last 4 years.
Sarah is not only a true explorer, she’s also a language and history lover, foodie and shopper par excellence. We caught up with her in London to drink some much loved British tea!
Congratulations on being chosen as tour leader of the year at Expat Explore! What makes you so good at your job?
Organisation is the key to being a good tour leader, and that means being organised as a person also as well as arranging hotels, restaurants and much more for the clients. On a tour you have so much going on that with a straight head is the best way to start. Although it goes with out saying that challenges do occur of course! It takes time to gain experience and to know how things work best. I am now at a stage where I know what to do and when. I also know quite well the individual cultures of our passengers which helps me to appreciate them and bring the group together.
I am very glad that I have received the award this year, it means a lot to me but I have to say that we have so many good tour leaders at the moment. There are a lot of that deserve it as well!
Where were you born?
North-east of England. I lived in the village where Captain Cook was born (Marton) and went to school in North Yorkshire in a tiny place called Stokesley.
What did you do after school?
I deferred university for a year and went to Hong Kong instead because I really wanted to travel! One of my best friends was from Hong Kong, and it was a good opportunity to get out of the UK. I stayed there for 6 months, working at Hong Kong Fashion Week and doing all the exploring I could to all the sights – Hong Kong Disneyland, Ocean Park and others.
After this, I went to university and enrolled for Business Management. I worked in London and in Australia after that.
You’ve liked travelling for as long as you can remember?
Yes, all my life! I also really love foreign languages.
You can speak some European languages and you’ve also lived all over Europe?
After English, the language that I can speak best is French. I lived in France (for about 15 months) in a small village of about 100 people called Breaux! its right on the border to Belgium, close to Luxembourg – a big beer drinking community. I can also speak Dutch, as I currently live in the Netherlands, and basic German, basic Italian, Spanish – pretty much all the countries we travel to on the Classic Europe Tour.
At the moment, you work from Amsterdam?
I work on tours departing from the Netherlands, and more specifically, the Classic Europe Tour. It’s a new tour, and departs and finishes in Amsterdam.
What do you think sparked your interest in travel?
I’ve just always liked that feeling of uncertainty. It’s a bit of a challenge when you don’t understand the language or the culture . I like being somewhere where you are not completely in your comfort zone.
At what age did you start travelling?
I was very fortunate to start travelling with my parents from a young age. My first time abroad was when I was about 2 or 3. We mostly travelled to places like Greece and the Spanish Islands.
And how did you find your way to Expat Explore?
In 2012, My best friend came on tour with Expat Explore and heard they were looking for staff! At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be away from home for so long, but I did it anyway. My first tour was the 12-day Europe Escape Tour. I’ve been with Expat ever since, four years now!
Hardest thing about being a tour leader?
The hardest thing for me is dealing with different cultures. I mean, you can be as organised as possible and then you can get to Italy and just the way the Italians are, they live in organised chaos! And then something that is supposed to be quite simple is just not. Languages and communication are also a challenge from time to time. I often wish that I could speak to everyone on the coach in their mother-tongue! Maybe one day.
Everyone asks this question and its such a difficult one! I always say Switzerland is naturally beautiful, but then…. Italy is in a league of its own with the food and the people. I think Florence is exceptional and it is my favourite stop on the Classic Europe Tour. It’s a small city and easy on foot; it’s flat and you can see all of it in 30 minutes. The culture, the fashion, and in my opinion, one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe is the Cathedral in Florence.
The most interesting people in Europe?
If I could live somewhere in Europe, I think it would have to be Ljubljana in Slovenia. Slovenia as a country is quite young, and historically, the country has been through quite a lot of changes. Like, they used to be part of Yugoslavia; they used to be German-speaking country and now they have their own language – Slovene. A country like that has so much history and change. So it’s very interesting for me to see how their culture is today!
What food do you look forward to on tour?
At the start of my tours, I always say: “The way to a woman’s heart is through her belly!” I love eating and one of the drivers calls me ‘monster munch’ because we just eat our way through Europe! Everywhere you go, you can find regional food that’s really good. You have to look for what the locals eat!
Currywurst in Germany is like a comfort food to me. It’s always nice to stroll around Paris and eat a crepe. Nutella-filled seems to be the most popular, but I prefer savoury like traditional Jambon Emmental (ham and cheese). You can watch it being made before your eyes and then take a stroll as you eat it. The Slovenes have also nailed the art of ice cream with ‘prekmurska gibanica’, they even boast that it’s better than in Italy! I have to agree, the simple vanilla ice cream with pumpkin oil is an absolute favourite. There is just something tasty to try in every country!! I could go on and on…
Favourite travel tips for first-time travellers?
How can travellers better prepare themselves for a coach trip?
Pack as light as possible. If you don’t need it, don’t bring it. Make life easy for yourself. When I pack, I try and think about how many days I’ll be travelling, the countries we’re going to and the weather. Pack for the number of days you’ll be on the road, be realistic and keep it minimal.
What mistakes do you find travellers make?
Luggage. Many people do not do research at all. They think Europe is cold all year round and pack big sweaters even when the tour is in May or June! You can find out everything online, so do your research!
And what about the different cultures on the coach?
Again, be open minded. People tend to stick to their own family or people from their own nationality. Chat to people from other countries – this is why we travel! Usually, by the end of the tour, we’re like one big happy family, anyway. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true.
Why should people travel?
As a tour leader, it’s my job to teach people about history and culture. I truly believe that this is one of the most important reasons we should travel. People discover a lot historically, they realise why something is a certain way, or why it happened. People learn a lot more and they also get more confidence to explore by themselves. Something I think we should all learn to do! The more we learn about other cultures, the better!
Where do you want to travel to in future?
Well, everywhere! We have a lot of passengers from Asia, so I would love to visit them. I want to go to America – both North and South. In Europe, Eastern Europe is a likeable place for me. In the smaller countries like Poland, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Czech Republic, the culture is really quite contrasted to what you find in central Europe – Germany, France or Italy.
Countries like Germany, France or Italy are the common ones that people are most familiar with. For example, when we travel to Ljubljana, people have never even heard of Slovenia, let alone Ljubljana. In the countries and culture in this region, the diversity is just amazing and I’d quite like to explore them more in future. They really put you on your toes – language-wise, culture-wise and food-wise.
How can people budget better for their tour?
We have such a variety of people travelling with us. Some women want to buy that designer handbag on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France. Others just want to learn more about the culture and the food. I always say: do your research! You can find out prices online before you go, and then budget accordingly.
How should people plan and prepare for their free days?
Well, again it’s up to personal choice. We do a walking tour and explain how the public transport works on the first day, and we offer lists of things to do on our website. The best thing you can do is go check it out and see what is of interest to you. Have some idea of what you want to do and see when you get on tour and on the day you can see how you feel and what is realistically possible to do on the day ahead.
It’s important to drink lots of water, and it’s always good to have snacks on you. As far as fitness is concerned, we do lots and lots of walking… so passengers have to be fit!
What is your favourite part of the Classic Europe tour?
Jungfraujoch in the Swiss Alps. Especially when you’re having wonderful weather and it’s sunny. I’ve been on top of Jungfrau maybe 50/60 times and, to be honest, for me it’s not as exciting, but now I spend time up there to just watch people’s reaction. Sometimes people have never seen snow before – to see their faces is quite amazing.
What’s the most important thing you want people to experience on tour?
I find it so disheartening when people stay in the hotel on free days! We travel to explore and I like seeing people giving that 100% when on tour and going all the way as much as possible.
There have been so many funny and special moments. Couples getting engaged at the top of Jungfraujoch in Switzerland, boat rides in Venice and some passengers meeting famous people like the Pope! On my last tour, we were doing the walking tour in Rome. We were tired and it had been a long day, and the weather wasn’t great. We were led by an Italian guide and as we crossed the zebra crossing, an Italian policeman that was directing the traffic decided to stop us and send us all the way back to the opposite side of the road. I’m still not sure why, but it was quite amusing! We had to walk quite an extra distance – laughing and happy of course!
Is it not sad to say goodbye to people time and again?
At the end of each tour, we do something I like to call love notes. So, how it works is that tour leaders hand a piece of card to each passenger, and they can write a note (or even draw you a nice picture). That way you can remember everyone. You connect with every single person on tour, and to think that you might not see them again is really sad. But I like to stay in contact via social media, and I’ve even visited some of the travellers in their home countries! From time to time I read the notes and it makes me feel better.
What’s next for Sarah Langford?
More travel, of course!I have enrolled in a language course to learn better German. I will be moving to Switzerland soon, and want to keep on experiencing new things and visit new places. Like always, I want to find time for family and friends – it’s always good to remember where you came from when you see so many new places.
Join Sarah on tour with one of our multi-country European tours – ask for her by name! You can also follow her travels on Instagram (@sarahexpatexplore) or find her as “Sarah Tour Leader Langford” on Facebook . If you’ve been on tour with Sarah give her a shout out in the comment section!