As a coach driver for Expat Explore Travel you have the responsibility of keeping a busload of travellers safe and on schedule. Travelling across multiple European countries means you have to easily adjust to countless traffic laws and rules. With over 50 Europe tours in the driver seat, Gary Partridge is known as the ‘smooth operator’ of Expat Explore’s 12-day Europe Escape tours. If you’ve been on board with Gary you might remember a teddy named ‘Ted’ sitting on the coach dashboard. Ted was a gift from Gary’s daughter for his first training tour in 2011. Gary started taking pictures of Ted all around Europe for his daughter and ever since Ted has been on every Expat Explore tour with Gary. Recently we called shotgun to sit next to Gary (and Ted) and find out what it’s like being on the road in Europe.
I’m a coach driver. But it’s about so much more than that. I have a very big responsibility of transporting 40 plus people through Europe to all the main attractions, hotels, restaurants and on driving tours. The drive from one destination to another is an important part of any tour. On the Europe Escape tour we travel to seven countries including France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. The passengers see extras like Pisa and Austria en route. For most people this is their first time to Europe and this tour is the taster of what this continent has to offer. To witness their reaction to some of the destinations and attractions is an absolute privilege. It’s not always easy to be away from home for long periods at a time, but I really love what I do.
My aim is to make it as comfortable and safe for everyone on board. Outside of comfort, cleanliness is one of my main concerns. People don’t always notice, but after each day, it’s my responsibility to clean the coach. I want to give them an environment they feel comfortable in, so I make sure the coach is clean, they have access to fresh drinking water and that there is suitable background music.
Security and safety is my absolute main concern. On the Europe Escape tour I adhere to rules of eight European countries. The bikes in Amsterdam have their own lanes; the trams in Belgium have theirs; the Germans have the Autobahn. The different side of the road you drive on, different vehicles have different priority and different cultures have different drivers. It’s important to adapt to the city/country you travel in. Being on time is also crucial! We have to get people to the next destinations on time, so that they can make the most of their time.
The biggest compliment to me is when people go to sleep on the coach. It means people feel safe when I’m driving. My aim is to get everyone to sleep. Except on some parts of the road, I always pump the music, because they absolutely have to be awake to see the landscapes and scenic areas!
Coach travel is a good way to experience Europe because you get to see more. It makes travelling so much easier, because we take our passengers everywhere they need to go – top attractions , hotels and restaurants. When you are not on the coach, you are out exploring on foot or learning the ropes of public transport. The little stops in between, the routes we take, the things we can show you on the road are completely different to what you’ll see on the way to the airport or even on a train. Also, when you take a flight, you lose time getting to and from the airport. On a coach, the journey starts the moment you get on board and continues to the moment you get off on the last day. The passengers always have the best of times on the coach, when they meet new people and share the experience. What a huge privilege to witness this.
The biggest compliment to me is when people go to sleep on the coach. It means people feel safe when I’m driving.
The best part of my job is the different routes that we take. Depending on the weather and the traffic, the routes to any destination may change. Sometimes, you are stuck on the freeway, but most of the time, we get to take the scenic routes. The road from Paris to Switzerland, for instance, offers the most beautiful and quaint French villages on the way. I always hope the people are awake to see this. I love taking the scenic routes, and I’m always looking for new and interesting ones that we can take people on. I always say that you can learn so much from a foreign country by just watching the people, streets and buildings from your seat.
As a driver, my relationship with the tour leader is really important. As a team, we are responsible for the safety and comfort of the group. How well we work together definitely adds to the experience of all the passengers. I always like to say it’s like a mommy and daddy thing. It’s my full responsibility to take you to your destination, while the tour leader makes sure you have enough to eat and a comfortable bed to sleep in.
People always ask me if I get tired of doing the same tour. Yes, it’s the same tour, but it’s always with different people. People from all ends of the earth. Everybody’s got different stories, and you meet some of the most inspirational people. Another great thing is that I get to see the seasons change . Right now its autumn, so there are the golds, the reds and the yellows where the greens used to be. I get to see all these destinations in different seasons. Snow in Boppard up the hills that wasn’t there last time and the view from the Susten Pass that looks different every single time. The scenery changes. I’ll never get tired of it.
If you’ve been on tour with Gary give him a shout in the comment section below. If you want to find out more about the Europe Escape tour you can find out more on our website.