'Women are terrible drivers', 'women can't read maps', 'women have no sense of direction'. We all know the stereotypes surrounding us ladies behind the wheel, so imagine for a second being the driver of an 18 tonne coach. Yeah...#realtalk
But do you know what? For Ana Fidalgo, despite the usual BS which, lets be fair, us ladies know how to handle, being a Contiki coach driver is hands down the best job in the world. We caught up with her to find out why...
Give us a little intro to who you are…
Hi, I’m Ana and I like to drive big things! I am 32 years old and have been working for Contiki as a coach driver since 2012.
Where has your job taken you this past summer?
This past summer, I’ve been to the most amazing places around Europe, driving different circuits as much as possible so I can see every corner of the continent. I’ve been to Scandinavia, driving through Denmark, Norway, Sweden & Finland, where the spectacular scenery and frozen lakes took my breath away. I drove our Great Britain & Ireland trip, which saw me driving through new places for 16 days on the left hand side of the road.
But perhaps the most memorable experience for me, was driving our Spain, Morocco & Portugal trip. It was amazing to take our travelers to Portugal, my home country, and drive them around Lisbon, my home city, even driving them past the building I was born in!
Morocco though, was the highlight of my career. I was the very first female Contiki driver to ever attempt driving Morocco, and I was ready for the challenge. Driving here, I had to show the men who was boss and assert my authority, which was empowering to say the least.
There are also some insane roads through the Atlas Mountains where the width of the coach just fits in the road, and sometimes you even have to drive off the road to overtake. These situations are challenging, but for me, they are also what makes you stronger.
What’s the best bit about being a Contiki Driver?
For me, this job is not just about the driving. What gets me up every day is working with an incredible Trip Manager and changing people’s lives.
Your Trip Manager is like your sibling and you do everything together; you count on each other, you share smiles, experiences, and have a sense of loyalty to one another. For the period of time you travel together, they are your family.
And then there are the travelers themselves, who are like a big and beautiful family. I see beauty in every single person and for me if the person is different, that’s what makes me curious about them. On a Contiki trip you have 50 people of different nationalities, different life experiences, different jobs and reasons to travel, all bought together by this one shared passion – travel – and it’s my responsibility to get them around safely. Seeing people smile at new places, or at each other, is what makes me happy and is the reason I’m still doing this job.
Why did you decide to become a driver? What about the job appealed to you?
I’ve had a passion for driving for as long as I can remember, and my whole career to date has been within the transport industry. I took my coach driving license when I was 24, which allowed me to get jobs driving buses inside the airport, and trams through the narrow streets of Lisbon. When I saw the ad for the Contiki Driver role in a local newspaper, I knew I had to apply for it. I hadn’t travelled much previously, but from the little travel I had done, I knew I wanted to do more.
I wanted to meet people, practice my English, and most of all see where my passion for driving could take me. Contiki has been the best thing that has ever happened in my life and I’m so glad I followed my instinct.
Was the training process to become a Contiki driver difficult?
I’m not going to lie, the training process was rigorous, and made even harder because my English was not very good and I had a limited vocabulary. I put my head down and did everything I was told; I knew my previous experience as a driver was helpful, but I was there to improve myself, not to be better than anyone else. I wanted to learn, and the trainers teaching us were so experienced. Quitting was never an option, and whilst it was really tiring and challenging at times, I knew that it was all for something – having this incredible job at the end of it.
How does it feel being a woman in what is commonly perceived as a male dominated job?
I’ve grown up with brothers and worked in male dominated environments all my life, and in fact I prefer those environments – I feel like men respect me more when I’m doing the same job as them. I’m used to competing with men for jobs.
What makes me proud though, is working for a company like Contiki, who are more inclusive than any other company I’ve worked for previously.
Contiki recognise talent and look after you, and are completely in tune with the way our society is changing and modernising.
Are people surprised when they see you behind the wheel? How does that feel?
Definitely! You get a lot of female bus drivers, but female coach drivers are really rare. Best of all the travelers love it! They feel like I’m an inspiration for them, and that in turn makes me want to be a better driver. They’re always surprised because of my size that I can lift and load the bags better than most men, and how easily I play Tetris to fit everyone’s luggage under the coach. When I parallel park I always joke and say, next time I’ll do it with my eyes open – they love it!
The downside of being a female driver is that men often don’t take you seriously – they don’t think I’m as professional as them, or as good as them, and they try to teach me how to drive. How do I deal with it? I ignore them, and trust in my own knowledge and experience.
People have called me arrogant or stubborn because of this, but that is my way of dealing with the stereotyping.
Would you encourage more women to get into coach driving?
I would definitely encourage more women to get into coach driving – it’s the most comfortable seat in the house! The auxiliary control means it’s far simpler to drive a coach than most people would believe, and you also get some seriously toned arms from loading and unloading bags every day!
Women shouldn’t be shying away from roles like mine just because they see men in the driving seat – there’s literally nothing I can’t do in my role that a man could.
So ladies (and gents) – what do you say? Think Ana’s job sounds pretty bad ass and want a slice of the pie for yourself? We have good news – Contiki are hiring! Head on over to our jobs page to read the requirements and get the application process moving.