For most travellers it’s the people they meet that linger longest in the memory, whether it’s the safari guide you’ve spent days spotting rhinos with or the street-food vendor that serves up the highlight of your trip. Andy Turner selects eleven travel heroes that go beyond the call of duty – add yours in the comments below.
1. New York taxi drivers
NYC cabbies may occasionally be irascible and directionally challenged, but they often have a life story to make your jaw drop (and will insist on telling it to you between 5th and Williamsburg). With 96% of yellow cab drivers born outside the USA, it’s a true United Nations workforce, perhaps worth a place on a human UNESCO list. You talkin’ to me?
2. The Queen’s Guard, London
Flesh and blood tourist attractions, London‘s Queen’s Guard – stationed outside Buckingham Palace – are often mistaken for clockwork robots, probably as they have to spend several hours standing still. Just remember that beneath the seriously heavy helmet is a human being who may not enjoy being poked at by a selfie stick. If you decide to get too close then be prepared for the consequences.
3. Skydiving instructors
Strapping yourself to a giggling tourist and jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft takes a certain amount of daring, will power and a dispassionate sense of self preservation. And if, say, you haven’t hit it off, it’s a long way down. Tandem skydivers of the world – we salute you!
4. Mountain porters, Nepal
When you’re fighting for breath on your way to Everest Base Camp, it is humbling to be overtaken by a guy in flip flops carrying three times his body weight… on a strap around his head. Despite their remarkable strength, many porters suffer from hypothermia and altitude sickness due to inadequate clothing and acclimatisation. You can help by donating to the Porters’ Clothing Bank in Kathmandu.
5. Surf lifesavers, Australia
Visit an Australian beach and it’s a safe bet that someone in red and yellow (or blue if it’s Bondi) will be keeping a close eye on you, whether you’re falling off a surfboard or discovering that you’re not quite up to ocean swimming the hard way. While they’re often shorthand for sun-kissed physical perfection (Bondi Rescue hasn’t lasted 10 seasons without a few hotties), Aussie lifeguards are bonafide heroes saving 12,000 lives per year.
6. Tuk-tuk drivers
The humble tuk-tuk (also known as the bajaj, tempo, lapa or “baby taxi”) is a one-vehicle emblem for adventurous travel. From Mexico to Mubai, their drivers manage to weave between belching lorries, errant cows and meteor-sized potholes, delivering you and your backpack safely to airports, backstreet hostels and remote white-sand beaches. Not bad for a clapped-out Hyundai.
7. Street-food vendors
Whether it’s a loud and frenetic Asian night market or a pop-up bar in Brazil dishing out caipirinhas, street-food vendors are responsible for arguably the world’s tastiest and most memorable dishes. Check out our gallery of the world’s finest street-side flavours.
8. Wildlife rangers, Africa
Next time you see a wild animal in Africa rather than, say, a taxidermist’s shop or an ivory showroom, spare a thought for those on the front line against poachers. According to the Thin Green Line foundation over a thousand park rangers have been killed in the last ten years, protecting rhinos, elephants and big cats for the next generation.
9. Scuba instructors
While they regularly top “greatest job in the world” polls, scuba instructors don’t just flirt with newlyweds on their honeymoon in the Maldives. They’re responsible for the most dangerous creature in the ocean: the beginner scuba diver. Ensuring newbies don’t drown, get the bends or collide with a pristine reef isn’t for the faint hearted; oh, and the money’s often terrible. Still, on balance, it beats working in an office.
10. Cabin crew, 30,000ft
Is there any job that has become less glamorous over the last few decades? Once the career of choice for those dreaming of a life of exotic travel and dishing out Dom Pérignon to the world’s elite, cabin crew are now likely to be dealing with an angry mob of passengers in a windswept hanger miles from civilisation (and that’s if they’re not being called something unrepeatable by a drunk supermodel).
11. Anyone who has to dress up for tourists
Often a much-needed summer job for “resting” actors, performing as an eighteenth-century peasant, an elf or (heaven forbid) a Disney character is not for sissies. Giving hugs to members of the public or posing for endless selfies can cause a rictus grin to appear on your face, not to mention all the kids asking how people went to the loo in “olden times”.
12. [Insert your travel heroes here]
Has someone made your trip of a lifetime unforgettable? Maybe you’ve stayed somewhere amazing or travelled with a brilliant tour operator. Nominate your travel heroes here and you could win a cool bundle of travel gear.