In the last post, I gave you an overview of some things you should consider and calculate before you apply to a job as a Tour Leader. In this one, I want to give you an idea of what you will actually be doing once you’re out there on the road. Oh, and you should know, while I use the title Tour Leader, there’s many terms for the same job. Tour leader, Trip Leader, Travel Directors, Trip Manager, etc. It all amounts to the same thing though.
(Český Krumlov, Czech Republic. Being a Tour Leader takes you to some amazing places!)
You will be the face of the tour company that the customer’s see, so the pressure is high to perform above and beyond the passengers’ expectations. There is a lot of focus on passenger feedback, your your salary/bonuses are often tied to this. In fact, if your average feedback score drops below a certain number, you will most likely not be invited back next season. And there’s tips, of course. Some companies expect and encourage passengers to tip the Tour Leader, other companies tell passengers that tips aren’t needed, and might even go so far as to refuse the Tour Leader asking for tips.
This is important to know, because as mentioned, the basic salary ain’t much.
However, many companies will let you make some money other ways, like getting a commission if you sell optional activities, such as entry into certain museums and sights, or tickets to guided tours or even pub crawls. One of the best things about that is that when you bring passengers along, you will usually be given free entry. Check beforehand, it’s not always guaranteed, but it is very common.
(Optional activity in Madrid: A segway tour! I should really start wearing hats, that’s just sex on wheels right there!)
Another money-saver is that some restaurants will let you eat for free if you bring in a group. Be careful about this, though. If you take passengers to a bad restaurant simply because you will eat for free, it will reflect in your tips or your feedback, so only do it if you genuinely like the place!
The same applies to bars and nightclubs. Drinking for free can be very tempting, but if your passengers don’t like a place it will come back and bite you soon enough. And, as fun as partying with your passengers can be, don’t forget that you’re still on the job and will probably have to get up early the next morning to give a guided tour or check your group out of the hotel/hostel/campsite. I never had any real problems there myself, I would normally switch to virgin drinks after the first few. Not as much fun, but neither is giving a guided walking tour with a raging hangover…
Your main job in its most basic form is simply to get your passengers safely from point A to B. That’s the most important aspect of your job, however, it’s also the part of your job that your passengers don’t even notice you’re doing. They will judge you on your local knowledge, your tour guiding, your tips and suggestions on where to go and what to see. They will expect you to socialize and generally show them the best time of their lives. They don’t care that you’re also doing accounts and writing reports. That you’re making restaurant bookings and confirming dietaries. That you’re booking transport tickets and planning special events and surprises for the passengers, while also doing accounts and studying notes on the history and culture of your next stop, reading newspapers and updates from other Tour Leaders to ensure there aren’t any unpleasant surprises like a transportation strike or any of the main sights being closed for maintenance.
To the passengers, all of that just happens, and that’s the way it should be. That’s why they’ve come on a group tour, so they don’t have to worry about any of those things! It does, however, make your job quite interesting. And exhausting!
Sleep will soon become just a distant memory… This is a pretty average week:
- Day 1: Travel day, 4 different alarm clocks set, because you CANNOT be late while a group of passengers are waiting! It’s a travel day, departure time is 08:30 so getting up at 06:45. Plenty of time to sort out last minute packing, put on makeup and eat a nice breakfast.
- Day 2: Free day! No alarm, sleep late, wake in a panic thinking you’ve overslept! Finally get up around noon, have a wander around town, visit a couple of interesting sights. Life is good.
- Day 3: Travel day, 4 different alarms set. You’re getting a little too fond of that snooze button. Departure time is 08:00, getting up at 07:00. It’s okay, you packed the night before so plenty of time. Breakfast is a little rushed, but no matter. You’re in control!
- Day 4: Free day! Alarm set by mistake, a sense of profound relief when you can keep on sleeping since you’re hungover from partying with passengers the night before. Drag your butt out of bed around 14:00, and into town to take some photos. It’s all good. Afternoon naps rock!
- Day 5: Travel day. Afraid of getting too used to alarm sounds, 4 NEW alarms set, and then the 4 original ones set as backup just after since you don’t yet trust the new sounds. Departure time 08:30, get up at 07:45. Breakfast is overrated anyway.
- Day 6: Free day! Wake up in a cold sweat, realize it’s not because you’ve overslept, you’re just hung over, so go straight back to sleep. Spend the day in bed, finally dragging yourself up and out around 18:00 when your stomach refuses to accept that a bag of crisps is enough to survive on, breakfast, lunch AND dinner.
- Day 7: Travel day. Set 4 alarms, leave alarm on table across the room so you’re forced to get up to turn it off. Leave your backup travel alarm in the bathroom with the door open, hoping the close proximity to the shower will encourage those eyes to open. Curse the snooze button and it’s siren song! Departure time is 08:30, get up at 08:00, fall asleep on the toilet and wake up at 08:15. Deodorant is almost as good as a shower, and the natural, no-makeup-look is totally in. And after all those crisps yesterday, skipping breakfast is probably a GOOD decision. Yeah. You got this.
Yes, that’s really what it’s like. I’ve walked into a restaurant with my group, the waiter asked what I wanted, and when I ordered a glass of wine, he answered “You need the bottle. I bring you bottle!” I’ve sat at the front of a tour bus in darkness, with sunglasses on, so my passengers wouldn’t see me crying from sheer stress and helplessness when EVERYTHING had gone wrong for the third day in a row…
But it’s also making friends for life, being part of a community of other Tour Leaders who will help and support you in a way you can’t even imagine. It’s getting to travel and stay in amazing locations you could never afford on your own. It’s food and museums and music and culture. It’s taking in the most spectacular views, sharing the most incredible experiences with the most amazing people. It’s falling in love, again and again and again, with the people and places you meet. It’s sharing that love with strangers and watching their world grow and expand before your eyes. It’s knowing that you have had a real and profound impact on someone else’s life. It’s feeling like you’re living in a world without limits, where literally everything is possible… and I miss it like a missing limb!
I hope you’re still here, still reading, and I hope that you are tempted to go for it. If you are, this is where you start. Most companies have started their recruitment for 2019 already, check out these links (in no particular order, and this is also not a complete list, just a selection) to see what options are out there:
Intrepid Travel: https://www.intrepidtravel.com/en/about/employment
DuVine Cycling & Adventure Company: https://www.duvine.com/careers/#Guides
Classic Journeys: https://www.classicjourneys.com/careers/
Uniworld River Cruise: http://www.bfound.net/list.aspx?CoId=2018&rq=1&dept=27975
I will write another post soon, about the training, how you can prepare and what you can expect. In the meantime, I wish you good luck and I hope I’ll see you on the road!