Being a tour leader in the Mekong Delta.

Being a tour leader in the Mekong Delta .

I Get paid to travel the world. visit more than 30 countries per year. Live in luxury hotels and on cruise ships when I work. I fly so often that the cabin crew often goes “Hi Claus” when I enter the flight cause they remember me from previous flights.


Well it is in many ways a really cool life. And I can certainly recommend it if you like to traverse the globe non stop while getting paid.

But, there are some less appealing aspects of the job too. I will try to cover both the positive and negative sides of the job in this article. As well as trying to give some guidance on how to get a job as a tour leader and what you should expect from it.



You get to fulfill people’s dreams when you are a tour leader.


On the Azores, working as a tour leader.

On the Azores, working as a tour leader.

When people take a longer trip abroad it’s very often the highlight of the year for them. And the fulfillment of a dream they have had for many years. If the trips run well for them you will be there when they are really happy and visiting these places they have been dreaming of seeing since they were kids.

This is really cool when things go well. But it can also be the opposite: They get disappointed for one reason or another. And this is where a good tour leader does everything possible to make the perfect trip for the clients.

It’s a trade where the client is not there for you. You are there for the client.           

I love when I walk down the street somewhere around the globe and people come running up to me cause they recognise me from a trip where I was their tour leader and they thank me again for the great trip they had.

This is something that happens to me a few times every year and one of the most rewarding aspects of being a tour leader.          




              You work with people from all over the world.

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Vietnamese work college. 



One of the aspects I like the most about being a tour leader is that I get to work with people from all sorts of cultural and social backgrounds.

Seeing that it’s possible to make things work and give people a great holiday despite all our differences is really great. And I love the friends I have gotten around the world through the job.

I feel truly as a global citizen. And there are few jobs where you have to deal more with modern day globalisation than when you work in travel & tourism. One week you might have to work in Brazil. Next week in Vietnam. And quickly escort some people to Greece between these jobs.




                      You work 24/7 and you are never sick.

Being a tour leader sometimes mean that you have to crawl in to holes to entertain your clients.

Being a tour leader sometimes mean that you have to crawl in to holes in order to entertain your clients.


When you work as a tour leader you often have the sole responsibility of the group. Because of that you should expect the average working day to be around 14 hours per day. And there are no days off before the group has gone home.

These hours can increase if one of your clients ends up in hospital or gets robbed.

A few times over the years, I have been in the hospital all night with a guest and gone straight from the hospital to work the next day. Without any sleep. And the clients who are not in hospital still expect to see a happy smiling tour leader who knows everything and can help them with anything.

If you have a flu or a cold or anything minor like that you go to work anyway. It’s only if you are hospitalised that you start calling the company and ask them to fly out some assistance to you. Unless you are so lucky that they have another tour leader nearby who can take over.

Being a tour leader requires very hard work ethics because you are dealing with people’s holiday. Which is  the highlight of the year for most people.




 Forget about having children if you are a tour leader.

You go whale watching when your old school friends go to pick up kids at the kindergarten.

You go whale watching when your old school friends go to pick up kids at the kindergarten.



Now having said that I must admit that I know of a few people who manage to have kids back home. But these people are blessed with a very flexible partner. And most likely also a partner with a decent wage. Because you will not get rich from being a tour leader. While I am not complaining about my finances, I probably would complain if I had the monthly expenses that the average family with kids have.

Being a tour leader requires you to be full on from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to sleep. So my advice to people who both want to work as a tour leaders and have kids is to work as tour leader before you have any kids. Or wait until the kids are so old that they can take care of themselves.




And the tour leader gets all the girls, right?

Another day at the office when being a tour leader.

Another day at the office when being a tour leader.

As a tour leader you are the center of attention. That can give you both some wanted and unwanted sexual offers.

But this is one field where you can really get into trouble if you are not careful. Personally I stay away from any relationships with clients no matter what. Should I happen to meet Miss Perfect on a tour one day, then I will also stay away from her on the tour. And then contact her once the tour is over.

The problem is that if you as a tour leader is walking around and giving more attention to one person in the group than to the rest, then you can be sure that the group will be very unhappy. The group will most likely gang up against you and the person you give attention. and probably file a complaint to the company. Especially if the reason is that you are having an affair with that person.

I have seen some cases where fellow tour leaders have gotten into real big trouble because of that. And I know several people who ended up losing their job because of it.

That does not mean I stay celibate when I work as a tour leader though.

As a tour leader I work closely with local guides, hotel receptionists, hotel managers and such. And there are some very nice girls working in the tourist trade. I have had my fun there more than a few times and I won’t die wondering. so don’t feel sorry for me cause I consider clients an absolute no go in sexual terms :-).

But always make sure to not let affairs or relationships on the road interfere with your professionalism at work.

While you are working the clients always come first. Both you and your romance have to understand that. Or you won’t last very long in the business.




 And the booze is free.

Cheers to the world.

Cheers to the world.


Now here is another thing that you need to think about if you want to be a tour leader.

As the tour leader you can mostly drink for free. And there is almost always someone in the group who wants to buy you a drink.

Of all things in the life of a tour leader, this is where I have seen the most people go down the drains. Lose their job. Or having to quit cause they couldn’t control their alcohol consumption.

I am myself a very happy drinker. And I love my micro brew beer and my red wine. But I barely touch it at work.

It’s only if I am doing a wine tasting or maybe I will have a last night beer with the guests at the end of a tour. But on a normal tour day I never drink.

This is partly because I love to go for a drink when I am off and I am not hiding it. You can find hundreds of photos on the web where I am having a beer in my hand. And that can scare potential employers if they think you can not control your drinking.

Therefore I opt to not drink at work. I like to joke with that people who only know me from work think I am an alcoholics anonymous or a muslim. While those who only know me from outside work think I am never sober :-).

But I strongly believe in keeping work and free time strongly separated when it comes to alcohol. Otherwise you might very quickly find yourself in trouble. One way or another.




What qualifications do you need in order to be a tour leader?

Life is a beach when being a tour leader (sometimes).

Life is a beach when being a tour leader (sometimes).


When working as a tour leader you first of all need people skills, as you need to get along with people from all walks of life.

Having a degree in something surely doesn’t hurt. It can give you a certain authority in some fields, which is very good. But I have personally managed to work several years as a tour leader on 5 continents without having any degree. So it’s not like it’s a must.

A first aid certificate can be very useful to have as some companies might require it.

I have never been asked for one. But I see some companies do that. It also helps you a lot when clients start to faint, have heart attacks and so on. And they do that fairly often when they are on holiday. In this case you are responsible for getting them back on their feet. Or in hospital. And hopefully back on the tour.

You also need to be good in stressed situations and not panic. Just because a tyre blows on the bus while you drive 100 kilometers an hour on the freeway. Or because you can’t get your clients back home because of a general strike. Protestors blocking their airport. Or because a volcano erupts and closes the airspace for several days. I have tried all these things myself. Plus a few more. And I am still here to tell the story. So it’s possible to deal with these things as long as you stay calm and think fast.

But being able to stay calm and think fast is very important in this trade. Because you will get into plenty of situations you can never imagine, or prepare yourself for. But to me this is part of the charm in this job.




 You have to be a good dictator.

Your tourists will have to see The Iguazu falls whether they like it or not 🙂



Like it or not. But as a tour leader you are a dictator. And you better get used to it and get comfortable with it. Cause if you don’t, then one of your guests will take the lead and become the dictator instead of you. And this is the last thing you want to happen. You might very well end up getting fired if you let some random guest take charge of the group.

But remember that you have to be a good dictator that make people happy. Because it’s you who are there for the people and not the people who are there for you. So you have to come up with some orders that makes as many people happy as possible and make the people who might not like your order understand why you had to give it.

The reason why I write this is because you need to have some authority when you are leading a group. Otherwise they will start to feel that things are chaos and no one is in charge. A tour leader who is calm, but has authority is what makes a group of holiday makers happy. Try not to scream and shout unless you really have to. Screaming and shouting tends to stress and scare many people. Your job is to keep everyone calm and happy. Especially in a case of emergency.

If you are not really sure whether you should turn right or left at the next corner with your group, then never ask what they think. If you do that you will most likely have a group of people who starts to argue. And most likely, someone in the group trying to take charge instead of you.

Even if 24 out of 25 guests agree on one thing, then you can almost be sure that person number 25 will complain to the company, cause they feel they were not heard. And they will sometimes claim that this thing ruined the entire trip for them. In this case you will be the one standing with the blame as you are the leader.

I have made the mistakes I mention here myself, when I was new in the trade. But you quickly learn that you don’t wanna make them too many times. Unless you like to get the blame for everything that went wrong on peoples holiday.

So try to listen to your clients as much as you can. That way you can make the best possible decisions on their behalf. But remember to make the decisions for the group and do not leave it to other people. This is an essential part of your job. And you won’t last long in the trade if you can not make decisions on behalf of a group. And convince the group that you have made the correct decision.




A missing roll of toilet paper can turn a 5 star hotel into an uninhabitable ruin.

It's tuesday so it must be Singapore.

It’s Tuesday so it must be Singapore.


As a tour leader you help your clients with all sorts of problems. Big and small. The small problems are sometimes a little too easy to neglect though. That can turn them into big problems if you are not careful.

Let’s say you have an old lady checking in to a very nice hotel. But when she gets to the room there is no toilet paper. And the poor old lady is dying for a toilet. This will most likely get her very annoyed. She will run down the reception and tell you to help her. And you better do it right away. Cause if you tell her to wait a little then you might just forget it, cause you have so many things. And while she is sitting in her room and becoming more and more blue in the face from holding it in, she will start to see everything that could possibly be wrong with that hotel. She will very likely complain to the travel agency. Both about the hotel and the tour leader, when she comes home. All because she was getting annoyed while waiting for her toilet paper.

If you on the other hand solve the problem right away, she is likely to take it all as a positive experience. Cause the tour leader was so fast to help her. you will also have a more easygoing client for the rest of the tour. It was toilet paper I mentioned here. But it could be other things as well. Just want to point out the importance of dealing with any potential problems right away.

I did for instance have a client to check in to a 5 star Hotel in Singapore and demand a new hotel an hour later. The place was “an uninhabitable ruin” she claimed. Once I calmed her down a little I found out that the reason why she was so upset was that there were not 2 free bottles of water in the room. She had at the previous hotels she stayed on her Asia tour.  A little calm talk and a visit to the 7/11 across the road for some water calmed her down to a point where she could start enjoying Singapore.




What is the pay like as a tour leader?

I'm a low income guy who live on an airplane.

I’m a low income guy who live on an airplane.


Let’s be honest: The pay almost always sucks in this business. Tourism is a trade that people work in because they love it and are passionate about it. You are unlikely to ever get rich in money terms. But you get rich in so many other ways though. And this is why there are so many people who don’t wanna work with other things.

But if you want to make money then you should look into trading in something that is really boring. That way you have less competition, because in tourism there are constantly new companies opening up. and that is killing any price fixing and fixed wages that you see in most other trades. I actually think this is cool as this is what makes tourism the most vibrant trade in the world. That is great if you put an adventurous life over earning big bucks.

Pay varies a great deal. Some companies barely pay anything. And you might have to start with these companies when you are new. But once you get some experience then you should be able to save a bit of money up for further travels.

I currently work mainly for danish companies. This is because I am a native danish speaker. And because the global crisis has not hit Denmark as bad as some other countries. I earn roughly 200 US dollars per day and have all expenses paid while I am on tour.

This is ok if you do not have a mortgage back home. and no wife and kids. But as I have mentioned before you better find a partner with a good job if you plan to be a tour leader while having a family life back home.




How do I get started as a tour leader?

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Meet the world at travel shows if you want to become a tour leader.


There are several ways to get started. One is to approach companies with job applications. Most companies will have a section on their website that tells if they currently need any staff.

I would strongly suggest that you write them even if they say they have no vacant jobs at the moment. Cause if they have an application from a qualified guide already then they are often not posting the job on their page.

I have personally found many tour guiding jobs while attending travel shows, where I walk around and chit chat with various travel agencies. Tell them that I am a professional tour leader. And when I do that they usually ask for my business card. and within a few weeks I often get mail from them asking if I am interested in working with them. Remember to get some business cards printed. This is very cheap and makes it easier for people to remember who they talked to at the travel show. ITBin Berlin. World travel marketin London. And FITUR in Madrid are some of the big travel shows you can attend. There are dozens of them around the globe.

It is a lot easier to get a job once you are established. But if you have a lot of drive then travel shows is a good way to enter the world of tourism. Because most owners of travel agencies are hyperactive types who love people who show initiative and don’t just sit around waiting for opportunities to be served on a silver tray.

That was my 10 cents about being a tour leader.

Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions and I will do all I can to help you if I can.




  1. Pingback: How to Make Money Traveling & Living Abroad (PI: Travel Jobs) | GRRRL TRAVELER

  2. Jonathan Hemming

    Hello Claus,
    very interesting article. What do you feel about leading tours to places you haven’t been to before or ar unfamiliar with? Are you expected to do that often? Or do you only lead tours in places you know very well?
    Thanks 🙂

    • These days I rarely do tours to places I am not familiar with, but when I was the new kid on the block in tour guiding I sometimes did and that was hard work.
      These days I only do it if they pay me a study trip before I take the clients there.

  3. Very good article Claus. As a travel agent I have many tour company reps coming to see me, all talking how good their Tour Leaders are. This is a good and open view from the other side.
    I know it can be a very stressful but also very rewarding job. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  4. Hi Claus, nice to read your articles as they offer great inspiration! How do you manage travel insurance and income taxes? Hope you will shone a light on this 🙂

    • Being danish I can deduct a lot of my tax money when I work abroad for a danish company, so I still pay tax in Denmark as this entitles me to some free health care and pension when I get old.
      I am registered as living on my fathers adress and that is perfectly legal. And when it comes to insurance, then the companies insure me fully when I work for them and when I travel for fun, then I have an insurance through my Mastercard.

  5. Ok, just cuorious to know 🙂 Thanks for the fast reply

  6. Hi Claus, did you have to take any tour leading qualification courses beforehand?

    • Hi’ Deborah.
      I have taken a couple of training courses and they can be useful, but I have never been asked to show any certificates when getting tour guiding jobs.
      The courses can be very useful though, as you learn some very important stuff there, like how to handle crisis situations and such.
      Just like a first aid course is a very useful thing to have too.

  7. Hello Claus,

    So informative and interesting to hear about your stories! I am from Bhutan! Its time you head out here to relax on your own. Many of the travelers on first impression say’s it’s too expensive (U$ 250) per day per traveler. But its an inclusive tour package with a guide and driver and a car, the hotels and meals are reserved! and the fees for the museums and other charges with snacks and water and other misc charges on board for you. Other surprises includes picnic lunches on beautiful spots.

    Above all it’s the feelings of satisfaction being here and experiencing the Undiscovered, unexplored world in the Himalayas. I have spent 30 years of my life in the country here and went no where. I know good hiking places, remote monasteries, get you to meet a local monk to talk to about spirituality, engage yourself in meditation, biking to the remote countryside, do river rafting along a river which is flanked with beautiful countryside settings and nature, submerge your soul into interacting some of the most hospitable hosts on Earth, visit farmhouses and meet local families on random basis on your choice (Anyone will welcome you anywhere), if you love birds or any other in the jungles, i can arrange it to suit it best for your interest. The list goes on. I am fro a tour company here in the capital, with no traffic lights! I am sure you must have heard about us through your clients and friends or other sources.

    I like to go online, search sources and get to people whose profiles are deemed of Interest to you personally. This is just a glimpse and to begin with so you can have a thought of this. I will love to get to you and personalize the perfect trip for you here in the Himalayas to give you the best of memories in your life! Visit Bhutan! For more I am 24/7 online on facebook

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  9. This is, by far, the best description of us as tour leaders. Cheers to us Tour Leaders of the world!

  10. Hi Clause,

    You said the pay isn’t great but I am just curious what you could expect to earn? Do certain specialisms pay more also? For example I currently work as an outdoor instructor and often lead groups around the UK, so I would be looking to mainly lead groups on trekking tours etc as both the guide and tour leader.

    I was also wondering if you are working in one country for an extended period of time, do you sometimes pay tax in that country? My thinking behind this is that many countries only charge income tax when you earn above a certain threshold in that country, which theoretically would mean you are paying a lot less tax on your income if you were to work to that threshold before moving on to another country to lead a trip.

    • Hi’ Jamie. If you work abroad, then you have to make sure that you have the right work permits, if you plan to work without a local guide and tour operator. Most of the countries I work, you will get arrested within a day or two if you work without, unless you have all your work papers and qualifications in order. So you need to have that in mind if you work outside your own country. When it comes to taxes, then I never register as living in the countries I work. That is because I mainly work for Danish companies there. And since I am Danish, then I just register as working abroad for a Danish company and then keep paying my taxes in Denmark, which are quite low, as we have a lot of tax deductions for people who are stationed abroad for a Danish company.

  11. Claus,

    Greate informative article. Please can you answer this question. Do I need any work permits for collecting tourists from airport organizing the hotels and transporting them to the points of interest where the local guides will be used at those points?

    • Hi’ Nerijus. This depends a lot on what country you are in. But as a general rule, you are accepted on a tourist visa as long as you work together with a local incoming company and is assisted by a certified local guide. This is how the vast majority of tours are run worldwide. If you start coming with your own bus with no official local guide, then you are quickly in trouble. Probably not at the airport, but at points of interest, you will most likely be asked for a permission to do tours. So always try to work in cooperation with a local incoming operator and you should be just fine in most countries around the globe.

  12. Any biking trips to mexico planned in the near future? I am planning mazatlan to acapulco…or the border with guatemala. Im doing the road from prudhoe bay to patagonia in parts.
    Just wondering if youre going that way.
    Thanks for the information.

    • Hi’ Kevin. This summer my trips with be in Europe. And next winter, I will most likely be cycling in countries like Vietnam and Sri Lanka. So not planning Mexico in the near future, but I will be back one day, that is for sure.

  13. I am very thankful to you for making this information available to me, Claus! I had considered getting a TEFL certification, or just winging it as a travel blogger; this gives me more confidence. Tusind tak!

  14. Just as I was about to think of a question you gave the answer. So apt. It was great fun reading. I have inboxed you on FB please.

  15. Hello Claus,
    Indeed very interesting! I have been myself a Tour Leader of a long time, when I was living in France and by now I would love to go back tour leading again. I am asking you an advise as it is difficult to get a proper job as it is not advertised in internet, to where do I start again to find T.O who are needing tour leaders. Now I live in Athens, Greece but always available to travel. I have also the experience of life and managing a group is to my eyes, not easy for a very young professional. Speaking few languages, I feel at ease by re-starting my old job.
    Could you kindly indicate me some TOs or other ways to step back into the job???
    Do not want to work for greek companies as they hardly pay us…:))
    Thank you so much in advance

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  17. It’s great you share this experiences. I’m a tourist guide myself in Mexico City. Looking for biking around. Still scared about doing it as a women alone. Maybe I start in a bike club. Have you find women alone biking in Mexico ?

    • Hi’ Clara. Nice to hear from you. I have come across a couple of women in Mexico cycling alone. Both local Mexican girls. So it’s doable. But finding a cycling group is probably a good idea for a start. I am a tour guide myself, sp nice to hear from a college. Maybe we will work together one day in Mexico, as I do occasionally take Danish tour groups to Mexico.

  18. Hi Claus , what a great compilations of what being a tour leaders means! cheers from a peruvian tourleader. 🙂 Safe & fun trips!

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