Small World Travel

Get Paid To Travel: What It’s Really Like To Be A Tour Guide

Alright, imagine your day goes like this. You wake up in your hotel bed early to pack as much into your day as possible. You get ready and begin your day by enjoying a free breakfast. Stepping out into the open fresh air you walk a short distance to a famous attraction (ie. Eiffel Tower or Sydney Opera House). The crowds are huge but you by-pass them because you know where to go to get the best view with no next to no one around. After you’ve finished soaking up the view you get in a vehicle and are driven to another world class monument where you take some great photos and act like a tourist.

The morning ends and it’s time for lunch. You head out to a nearby street with all your favourite restaurants. Last time you had the special, this time you’re going to have your favourite dish. Again you don’t pay. Now that you’re nourished it’s time to do something adventurous. A few days ago it was whitewater rafting, but today’s agenda includes zip lining. It does not disappoint! Everyone loved it but after all the adrenaline you need a rest.

You head back to your hotel and collect yourself. Dinner reservations are at 7:30 at a place that serves the best local food in town. You consider taking a hot tub before getting ready. Arriving at the restaurant you are greeted like an old friend. You enjoy one of the countless great things on the menu and again no bill shows up.  Wow, it has been a big day but there is a really great bar just around the corner with live music – you gotta check it out.  A few drinks, good music and some  great chat with your friends about the fun times you had that day, it is now finally time to head back to the hotel. Tomorrow you travel to a different city where you will have a day just like this one. You sleep especially well, knowing that the hotel is free and you are actually getting paid to do this every day.

Yup. That’s right, it’s a job. In its most glamorized form, this is what the life of a Tour Leader or Manager looks like. But before you rush into your current employers’ office to tell them you quit and are going to become a Tour Leader, let’s go over some of the skills and personality traits it takes to be a good Tour Manager and see if it’s a right fit for you.


What is a Tour Leader/Manager

There are different forms of tour guides and leaders. Some will take you on multi-day treks through the Himalayan mountains in Nepal, others will take you cycling through the back country of Europe and some will take you by train, plane and bus to North America’s best cities and National Parks.  No matter the type of travel, when you book a group tour someone has got to be there to show everyone where to go, what to see and let them know the unique and interesting stuff about the places they are visiting. The name Leader and Manager don’t typically have much difference, but leader or manager implies that these guides will be travelling with you for the entire trip. They aren’t just people with a lot of knowledge on one site or one attraction, they know a lot about everything you are going to see during the whole trip.

What is a Tour Leaders Responsibilities

Besides being equipped with local knowledge the Tour Leaders are specifically hired to make sure you are literally having the time of your life. They are looking out to make sure every detail and function of your tour goes according to plan. They arrange, organized, utilize and deliver on every aspect of the tour. Their job is to look after each and every concern a client has on the trip.

So apart from being full-time entertainers, tour leaders need to arrange transportation, book activities, prep hotel bookings, manage a budget, coordinate some specific meal and diet plans and be a walking compass.

There are also the side responsibilities that come up from time to time like, being a nurse, therapist, BFF, wifi locator, driver, translator and walking encyclopedia. 


What are the Challenges of being a Tour Leader

Just like any job, being a Tour Leader comes with its own set of difficulties. Often a larger set of challenges than most jobs because once you start a tour –  you are working 24/7. The clock never stops when you have people’s safety, well-being and general happiness levels to look after.

The motto when being trained as a guide goes “You want to be like a duck – calm and cool on the exterior but underneath the surface you are paddling like hell to make sure everything is running smoothly.” 

Dealing with late planes and trains or no-show buses, sick passengers, stolen valuables, cancelled activities or reservations, rude people, bad weather and long days are a few of the things that will present themselves as challenges and none of them come at a great time. However, If you have your head on straight and can think critically this won’t be an issue. Good guides always find ways of turning all these negative situations around.

The real challenge is being positive and energetic all the time. You may have just done this same tour four times in a row and it’s beginning to have its toll on you. You need to act as though it’s your first time and you are just as excited, if not more than everyone else, to be there. And even though you are surrounded by (mostly) happy and friendly people, you develop a feeling of isolation. Making good friends in the weeks during the trip only to have to start from scratch again on day one of the new tour. The same sights and same hotel beds can begin to blend into one giant repetitive holiday. It’s important to appreciate the little things and find a time where you can switch off and chat with a friend or family member.


What Are the Highlight of Being a Tour Leader

The job is 90% about having fun and traveling – that is the number one reason most people become tour leaders. Free meals, hotels and activities while travelling around to the world’s best spots and seeing some of the best sights on the planet is a solid perk. Not only do you get to travel to all these places complimentary, you get a paycheque while doing it. That said,  the excitement of travel is bound to wear off at some point and most guides don’t stick around only for the travel but because of the great people they meet and the joy they experience from bringing passengers to the amazing places they love.

Watching a travellers reactions of excitement and joy when they arrive at a place they have been saving up for and looking forward to for months, years or decades and bringing them knowledge and insight into the history, culture and beauty of that place is really what keeps a leader thriving on the job.

Depending on the size of the tour, often a Leader will run a trip alone. You have no boss, nobody to micro manage you, just an outline of what the day should look like and you get to manage it how you like.

The job as a tour guide will open your eyes to the world and the leadership skills you learn during from the job will open up many opportunities within the tourism and travel industry all over the globe. There is so much potential in the industry and many guides go on to working in management positions after life on the road.


What Does it Take to be a Tour Leader

You must have a passion for travel and people. These are key traits to any great guide. Different countries and different companies hire guides depending on their qualifications. In some countries like Turkey you need to have gone to university to become a guide or other countries like Egypt and Peru it is very difficult to get a job if you are not a national of the country. All companies though, will look for adaptable, determined and charismatic people. When you are applying for a job as a tour leader it is so important to be yourself. Show them the type of person they would want to travel with. Think of why you want to become a Tour Leader – if your answer is money, this probably won’t be the job for you.

Do Tour Leaders Make a Lot of Money

The very simple answer is no. They don’t make a great deal of money, especially if you are to factor in the responsibilities, the around the clock working hours, high stress of the job and being away from home for long periods of time. But what the jobs lacks in financial benefit it makes up for in perks, experience, and personal growth.

So whether you are looking for a summer job, a way to get paid to travel, a change in your line of work, or a long-term career, being a Tour Leader is a ‘real job’ and one of the most exciting, challenging and rewarding ones you will ever have.


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