When you produce a VoiceMap tour, it’s tempting to start with the script. This is a mistake for outdoor tours, in our experience, because your tour gets its shape from the route it follows.
If you try to make the route fit your script, you find yourself stopping listeners too often, for too long. All this hanging around gets punctuated by long silences between locations – or you end up with writing that goes to waste because it can’t be squeezed in anywhere. (This is why we convert the travel time between locations into talk times and word counts.)
A route with a sense of discovery and a few surprises is also just as important as the information you include along the way. In fact, our reviews are often most flattering when listeners talk about where they went, not what they learnt.
The tips below outline the key decisions you need to make when you decide on your route. These are different for different transport types, and for now we’ve divided them into walking, driving and cycling tours.
We recommend reading this article about the ingredients of a perfect audio tour first.
A final note, before we dive into specifics: while it makes sense to start with the route, you don’t have to map your tour in its entirety before you begin writing the script. Every route goes through a number of iterations, and you’re normally best off getting a basic line down first and worrying about extensions and alternatives that make it more interesting later. It’s a playful process, with plenty of room to make improvements along the way. In the early stages, your line on the map is more pencil than permanent marker.
Deciding on the best route for walking tours #
- It’s okay to start small. Map the first few blocks if you like, and see how this comes together before you map the rest of the tour.
- Walk the route and explore alternatives, then make adjustments to the map, then walk the route again. Our best producers use this type of iteration to find a balance between zooming in to talk about specific locations and zooming out to bring the tour together as a whole.
- If you can’t access the route easily or often, set up a sandbox tour close to home and use this to get a better feeling for how everything fits together.
- Give yourself enough space to do most of the talking while your listener is moving. If they’re walking, they’re listening out for directions, so they have to be more engaged. But their attention also tends to wander when any particular stop lasts for longer than three minutes – or when too many stops are clustered together. (If you have a lot to say, it can even make sense to deliberately make your route slightly longer and more circuitous.)
- Aim for a route that takes between 30 minutes and an hour to walk. That’s from about 2.5km up to roughly 5km – or 1.5mi to 3mi. Mapmaker shows you the route’s distance and estimated walking time when you draw your route line.
- Long walks require long scripts, and even with some much-needed quiet time along the way, every ten minutes of walking adds another 1,500 words or so to the script.
- If you do have some longer stops in mind, include spots on the tour where a longer pause makes sense – like a shaded bench or a great view over the city. These will give your listener a bit of a rest and prepare them for more walking. Well structured tours have extended stretches of walking punctuated by longer stops with more substantial stories.
- Make the tour circular if that doesn’t require too many compromises. Listeners find it convenient to finish tours back where they started.
- If you end your tour somewhere completely different, choose that location with as much care as the starting point. Locations close to public transport make sense – but great spots to take a break after the walk work well too.
Deciding on the best route for driving tours #
- Use the “snap to roads” option in Mapmaker. It draws a line that neatly follows the road. You can also get speed limits in Mapmaker and use these to get estimated talk times and word counts that match travel times.
- Where possible, drive the route or even part of it, to get a feel for where you can add points of interest, or more contextual locations to fill in the spaces in between, and where you’ll need to break up the narrative to provide directions. This can help find a route with the least amount of twists and turns, and visualize the flow of the story. If this isn’t an option, then creating a test tour around your neighbourhood can get you more comfortable with mapping a longer, more involved route.
- For city tours, think about closing times for attractions along the way. For example, visiting attractions that might close earlier, towards the start of the tour.
- Where possible, try to avoid additional expenses for the listener, like toll roads or attractions that require paid parking. If you do include these, it should be clearly stated to the listener, both in the tour description and the starting location, to manage their expectations.
- Keep your route simple. You need to tell listeners where to go ahead of time on driving tours, especially if they’re turning left or right, and every time you give directions, you interrupt your story.
- You can occasionally ask listeners to stop, but pulling over on busy, unfamiliar streets is stressful, especially in city centres. Routes with long stretches of open road are ideal.
- Try to keep your route to under two hours of actual driving and aim for 60 to 90 minutes of speaking along the way. When tours are longer than this, they’re a significant investment to produce, with scripts well over 10,000 words. They also ask more of listeners, who might find them impractically long or overwhelmingly dense.
- Break up long routes, like full day driving tours, and offer each segment as a separate tour. But make sure each segment can stand on its own. When tours are broken up into parts – so Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, etc. – they become much more complicated to package, distribute and sell. Listeners don’t typically buy more than Part 1, or they don’t buy any of them because their journey doesn’t include the starting point of Part 1.
- Manage the listener’s attention. When a tour takes under an hour to drive, it’s okay to talk most of the time. When the drive is longer than an hour, group your content into clusters. Talk for 15 minutes across four or five locations, for example, then have ten minutes of silence and give listeners a chance to chat and reflect before they reach the next cluster of locations. You can let listeners know when a long silence is coming up, but the VoiceMap app also displays the distance to the next location prominently and they can keep an eye on that.
- Use silence effectively, but don’t use it as an excuse to have a single location that doesn’t say much followed by five minutes of silence followed by another location that doesn’t say much, and so on.
- To see what tours are most successful, especially in your region, go to voicemap.me/tour and filter by transport type to only show driving tours. You’ll notice that many of our driving tours have routes that fit into one of three broad categories:
- Circular, with a destination close to the original starting point. This often makes sense for city tours, like History on The Maumee. Circular tours leave the listener in familiar territory, but they can tie the story together with a twist by revealing new perspectives on the same location. History on the Maumee leaves the listener with a view over the Maumee River, on the opposite bank to the tour’s starting point. It’s like the final shot in a film, with a grand sweep that brings the tour to a close. Listeners can also get back to the starting point easily, if they need to.
- Links connecting two or more destinations, often along a popular drive. This can make a boring highway journey more meaningful, like this Interstate 55 tour between St. Louis and Springfield, or use backroads and byways to make getting from A to B more interesting, like this Pebble Beach tour that takes you from Monterey to Pebble Beach. Lynn Momboisse’s series of three Lake Tahoe driving tours takes listeners all the way around the lake, and covers all of its major attractions.
- Concluding the narrative arc. The final stop is also the conclusion of the story you started at the beginning of your tour. For example, the Modoc War: A Homeland Lost, the final stop is at the location of a significant turning point in the Modoc War that ultimately led to the Modoc’s defeat.
Deciding on the best route for a cycling tour #
- Listener safety while cycling is paramount. Try to pick a route that follows bike paths, and if your listeners have to share a busy road with cars and pedestrians, keep content to a minimum while they’re moving. When a specific story requires close attention, stop them while they listen to it.
How can we make this more useful?
Was this part of the tutorial not detailed or clear enough? What questions do you still have that could have been answered here?