Everyone is telling you to quit your day job, live the dream, escape your office cubicle and travel the world, right? You’re sitting at your desk reading this, dreaming of open roads and stunning sights, but probably wondering ‘how the hell can anyone afford that?’
The answer, my friends, is to earn while you’re travelling.
There’s a number of different paths to earning as you travel; teaching English overseas, working remotely for your company, becoming a virtual assistant or even travel blogging – but only one option that will enrich your travel experience. Becoming a tour guide is one of the most rewarding and exhilarating ways to see the world, learn about a country’s culture and history while sharing your love of travel with people just like you.
Here’s 8 reasons why being a tour guide is the best way to travel the world and still earn a living.
A tour group travelling through Morocco.
1. You’ll learn a valuable skill set for a future career
Tour Guides wear multiple ‘hats’ while running a trip. It may look like your guide is having a relaxed holiday alongside the group, but the reality is that a tour guide is a travel agent, therapist, accountant, event manager, historian, conflict resolution manager, tax and currency expert and professional public speaker. All skills which carry across impressively to any future career.
Depending on what types of tours you decide to lead, you’ll also be required to become certified in a few different core competency areas which are irreplacable skills to possess for your own travels as well.
See Also: Learn more about TourRadar's Adventure Guide of the Year Awards
2. You will see more countries & cities than you ever thought possible
In most cases, a tour guide does not just do the same tour loop for an entire season. A fully trained tour guide will have the opportunity to guide many different itineraries for their tour company – meaning you will visit, study and experience new destinations multiple times! Start racking up that country count, you’re about to become a professional full-time traveller.
See Also: The Truth About Being a Tour Guide: Exposed
3. You will be living the dream
You will be paid to travel. Your job, every day, will be to show first-time travellers their way around a new destination. As a tour guide, ‘work’ means being a part of someone’s happiest holiday memories. You are actually required to have fun for a living while travelling! Be warned – most of your friends back at their desk jobs will be insanely jealous of your daily updates from Monaco, Barcelona and Bali.
A traveller is introduced to stunning hidden waterfalls.
4. You’ll become an expert on history, art and architecture
To be a truly excellent tour guide, you need to know your stuff, which means studying up on architectural styles, historical fun facts and the best places to eat, drink and party. This isn’t your boring old history teacher studying – think researching the funniest stories of a royal family or the perfect recipe for goulash to share with your groups. Pretty soon you will be an expert in Corinthian columns, traditional eating habits in multiple countries and the hilarious history of inter-country grudges. Your pub quiz score is going to go through the roof once you’ve become a tour guide!
5. Your colleagues will be just like you!
Forget trying to make friends with Steve from HR who just doesn’t understand your wanderlust obsession. When you work in the travel industry, all your colleagues are as crazy about travel as you are! You will finally be surrounded by people who understand and encourage your need to see the world and experience new cultures. It will be a relief and inspiration all at once. (Sorry Steve)
See Also: The 11 Best Travel Jobs In The World
6. You can save while travelling
When you are guiding, your transport expenses, accommodation and some meals are all covered – meaning half of what you earn can be saved. With no rent, car payments or gas bills, you can accrue a decent amount in savings while you travel. This means that at the end of a season of guiding you will have some cash stashed for your own travel adventures!
Being a tour guide lets you save money while travelling.
7. You will become a destination expert
Knowing a destination inside out means you’ll know all the best restaurants, bars, cafes and insider tips to maximize the fun you’ll have while also getting the best possible price on meals and drinks.
8. You’ll have friends all over the world
Just like anyone who takes a tour, at the end of a trip you are best friends with the other people who shared the experience with you. That means, as a tour guide, you will have hundreds of best friends who were on your tours scattered across the world. Next time you go backpacking in Australia, Mexico, South Africa or Canada you’ll have local friends from your tours ready to show you their home towns, and maybe even a free couch to crash on. What an excellent excuse to do even more travelling!
The Moroccan tour group in action.
Becoming a tour guide isn’t easy, there are some intensive training and a long interview process, but if you manage to score the job, it is undoubtedly the best way to travel the world and still earn the cash you need to enjoy it!
So, are you ready to abandon the 9 to 5?
Check out TourRadar’s Adventure Guide of the Year Awards, with a judging panel comprised of ATTA members and prizes sponsored by Garmin and ExOfficio.
When people say “I wish I could travel for a living!” I start talking about the sheer number of opportunities out there.
Before settling into travel blogging and journalism (I’m actually using my college major!), I spent some time as an international tour director and guide, learning firsthand what goes into leading groups of people through some of the world’s most famous sights. It can be a dream job if you know what you’re getting into. I felt like I earned my master’s degree in European history from everything I learned, and often served as a makeshift therapist for travelers. We’d even come up with nicknames, like “QNE” for Questions Never End.
The truth is there’s no one way to go about landing your dream job. But it does help to pick as many brains as possible.
I sat down and chatted with Carrie Fitchett, a sought-after tour director working with Educational Travel Adventures, about what to know if you’re thinking about pursuing her line of work. “When I researched jobs that said ‘TRAVEL FOR A LIVING!,’ they were all things where people go, stay in the hotel, drink bad coffee all day, and wear heels,” she said. “I didn’t want to do that or sit in an office with a headset and sell places I’ve never been to. That’s why this job made sense,” she said.
Know the Lingo: Tour Director vs. Tour Guide
A tour director is the one responsible for logistics, confirmations, planning, damage control, and group dynamics. They also give commentary on history and culture. A tour guide gives specific narration in a place, often joining the tour group for just a couple of hours. If you want to dip into this world, local guiding is great, and perfect if you want to go home each night. There is also long-term contract work available on cruises, from big ships to smaller river cruises.
Know the Pros
If you’re in a rut at your current job, here’s a chance to do something different each and every day. This is a job that can take you all over the world to events like the Olympics and the World Cup. “It’s the ridiculous things I get to do every single day — whether it’s museums, shows, or eating dinner in the Eiffel Tower — but it’s also the dynamic of people,” Fitchett said. “When someone waits their whole life to go to Paris, I get to take them. It’s the look on their face as they experience it for the first time, and I’m a part of that memory.”
Know the Cons
Most tour directors are freelance, which brings its own set of challenges, like needing independent health insurance and struggling to cobble together enough work — especially at the beginning. You’ll also be getting very little sleep when you’re confirming the next day’s activities and studying commentary. “True colors come out on tour,” Fitchett said. “Sometimes people are ungrateful or bossy or think they know more about a place than you…But even if I think it’s the silliest question I’ve ever heard in my life, I have to answer it so they feel good about it.” Scheduling may keep you away from home for weeks or month at a time, so you might have to skip important events, like weddings or funerals.
The International Tour Management Institute (ITMI) is a well-known guide program, offering two-week trainings in San Francisco and an annual symposium to connect tour companies with guides. The high price tag (around $3,500 for tuition) doesn’t include housing or meals, but the pay off can be well worth it. “The money will come back to you in your first couple of tours,” Fitchett said. “Plus, I made amazing friends and priceless contacts.” There is also the International Guide Academy in Colorado, as well as many online options.
Adults vs. Students
Most tour directors choose to work a mix of adult and student tours. Student tours provide a way to make money in the spring in places like Boston, New York, and D.C., when adult tours run less frequently. Adult tours, usually clustered in summer and fall, can take you all over the world. But there’s a difference: “With kids, you affect and change lives. Maybe they’ve never traveled and you show them what’s out there,” Fitchett said. On the other hand,with adults, “the whole trip is more chill, but in the downtime you might be freaking out over what question they’ll ask next.”
Going Off Road
You may burn out or get tired of always being on the road. That doesn’t mean your career in the tour business is over. There are behind-the-scenes roles to be played at tour companies — like developing product, which involves choosing the right hotel, transportation, and activity partners, as well as sales, event planning, and social media.
Bottom Line: Is It Right for You?
“For this job, you have to love every part of travel, and know you will be living out of a suitcase and never sleeping,” Fitchett said. “But I absolutely love what I do, and I don’t need the stability right now.” But, like anything, timing is everything. “In the meantime, love the job you have!” she said. “Try a class, start locally, and talk to as many people as possible who have done it or are doing it.”
Annie Fitzsimmons is Intelligent Travel’s Urban Insider, giving you the dish on the best things to see and do in cities all over the world. Follow her travels on Twitter @anniefitz.