Joel Freedman sold his law practice after an epiphany he had on a Tauck Tour in China. As he befriended a charismatic tour guide, he thought, “This job would be perfect for me. Travel has always been one of my passions. How do I turn this into a second career?”
Not long after his China trip, Freedman was off to Denver for a 10-day course to get his tour director certification.
“Think of all the things that can go wrong on a trip: lost luggage, illness, flat tires, weather, all kinds of moving parts and plans changing,” Freedman said. He recounted a recent dilemma in which he escorted a group of seniors across the border to Canada. When they presented their vaccination documents, several had the wrong type of COVID test results (rapid versus PCR) required for entry. Soon, Freedman was putting some travelers in hotel rooms for a few days while they retook the COVID test, while leading the others into Canada. Many of the travelers were furious, and Freedman found himself having to smooth over tensions on both sides.
Freedman is licensed to work anywhere in the U.S., but sticks mostly to regions east of the Mississippi. “I just escorted an Irish group here, and you might find me in New Orleans, D.C., or Manhattan on any given day,” he said.
Freedman’s calm demeanor is an asset when it comes to dealing with frequent breakdowns and flight and restaurant cancellations due to COVID. He’s still enthusiastic about his work. “This job is the coolest thing ever! Maine fall foliage, New Hampshire, Cape Cod, the Florida Everglades, Great Smoky Mountains, Philadelphia Museum of Art … I can work nonstop. I love rail tours.”
New York City is perhaps Freedman’s favorite tour destination. “I have seen some Broadway shows multiple times,” he said. “I think ‘Beautiful’ maybe six times. I escorted a group who got drenched in a thunderstorm in the middle of Central Park. Then we showed up at a Manhattan restaurant (confirmed weeks ahead) to find a sign in the window, ‘Closed due to COVID until February.’ No warning!”
Freedman admits that he’s tipped handsomely by adult travelers, many of whom follow him to sign up for his tours. His heart is also rooted in Tikkun Olam. He frequently takes groups of college-bound students (often from minority communities) on tours of college campuses, charging them a per diem rate, which is a sacrifice that he considers worth making.
“They are very grateful and respectful,” Freedman recalled. “Perhaps their own families cannot be of much help in this situation. We especially tour Boston, home to Harvard, MIT and Tufts. There I am on the bus, giving lessons in etiquette, in more of a counselor role.”
Another fun tour on Freedman’s itinerary is for high school students interested in the performing arts. For these students, he arranges workshops with actors, behind-the-scenes technicians, even trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Radio City Music Hall.
Freedman’s hard work is paying off. He will soon assume the lead position in the Atlanta Tour Guide Association, utilizing his high energy and extensive contacts to secure speakers from the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau and arrange conferences.
Freedman graduated from Emory Law School. In his spare time, he competes in body building competitions. Having raised three adult children with wife, Donna, one might ask how all this traveling fits into his family life.
“Donna might come a few days before or after a tour and enjoy the sights with just the two of us,” Freedman said. “She and I are off to Iceland on our own soon to see the northern lights. My new professional role has enormous benefits. I enjoy influencing people in a positive way.”
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Business Brief
- joel freedman
- Tauck Tour
- Center for Disease Control
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Tikkun Olam
- Emory Law School
- Atlanta Tour Guide Association
- Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Great Smoky Mountains
- Florida Everglades
- Cape Cod