Tour leading in the Mekong Delta.

Tour leading 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. And I fly so often that the cabin crew often goes “Hi Claus” when I enter the flight cause they remember me from previous flights. Tour leading is not too bad really 🙂

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.

 

 

When you are tour leading you get to fulfill peoples dreams.

 Tour leading on a volcano in the Atlantic ocean.

 Tour leading on a volcano in the Atlantic ocean.

 

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 runs 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.

Being part of peoples life when they live out a dream they have had for years is one of the most rewarding aspects of this job in my opinion.

This is really cool when things go well. But things 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 the one who is 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 there 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 this is one of the most rewarding aspects of tour leading if you ask me.

 

 

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 tour leading 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 tourism and have to work one week in Brazil. The next week in Vietnam. And maybe quickly escort some people to Greece between these jobs.

 

 

You work 24/7 and you are never sick.

 Tour leading includes crawling in to holes to entertain your clients.

 Tour leading includes crawling in to holes to entertain your clients.

 

When you work as a tour leader you often have the sole responsibility of the group. 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 end up in hospital or get robbed.

I have a few times over the years been in hospital all night with a guest. And gone straight from the hospital to work the next day without any sleep. 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 for you.

Being a tour leader requires very hard work ethics cause you are dealing with peoples holiday which is  the highlight of the year for most people.

 

 

Forget about having children if you are a tour leader.

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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. And while I am not complaining about my finances I probably would complain if I had the outcomes 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 a tour leader before you have any kids. Or simply wait until the kids are so old that they don’t need you to be at home with them.

 

 

And the tour leader gets all the girls right?

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Another day at the office.

 

As a tour leader you are the center of attention and that can give you both some wanted and unwanted sexual offers. But this is one field where you can really get in to 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, then I will also stay away. But then contact her once the tour is over.

The problem is that if you as a tour leader is 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. And they most likely gang up against you and 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 in to 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 when you are tour leading.

While you are working the clients always comes first. And both you and and your romance will have to understand that. Or you won’t last very long in the business of tour leading.

 

 

And the booze is free. So don’t touch it.

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Cheers to the world. When you are not working.

 

 

Now here is another thing that you need to think about if you want to be a tour leader. When tour leading you can mostly drink for free. And there is almost always someone in the group who asks you if they can 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 drinking.

I am myself a very happy drinker and love my micro brews and my red wine. But I hardly ever touch it at work. It’s only if I am doing a wine tasting. Or maybe having 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 not working. 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 is something that can scare potential employers. As they might think you can not control your drinking.

Therefor 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 living my life in a bar. I strongly believe in keeping work and free time 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?

Tour leading in Baja California.

Tour leading in Baja California.

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. But I have personally managed to work more than 20 years as a tour leader on 5 continents without having any degree. So it’s not like it’s a must when you are tour leading.

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 many companies ask for that. And it also help you a lot when clients start to faint, drop to the ground from heart attacks and so on. They actually do that fairly often when they are on holiday. and you are responsible for getting them back on their feet and back on the tour.

You also need to be good in stressed situations. You should not panic just because a tyre blows on the bus while you drive 100 kilometers hour on the freeway. Or because you can’t get your clients back home because of a general strike. Protestors blocking roads. Or because a volcano erupts and closes the airspace over Europe for several days.

I have tried all these things myself plus a few more. And I am still here to tell the story and I am still tour leading. 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 thinking fast is very important in this trade. Cause you will get in to plenty of situations you can never imagine or prepare yourself for. But to me this is just part of the charm in this job in my hmble opinion.

 

 

 

You have to be a good dictator when tour leading.

Tour leading at the Iguacu falls.

Tour leading at the Iguacu falls.

Like it or not. but when you are tour leading 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 then you will quickly be in trouble. Quite possibly, you will also lose your job in the end.

But remember that you have to be a good dictator that makes people happy. Cause 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 your orders and commands should make the people who might not like your orders 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. If you are not really sure whether you should turn right or left at the next corner with your group then never ask for their suggestion. If you do that you will most likely have a group of people who starts to argue over it. Someone in the group will also be trying to take charge instead of you. And 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. They will sometimes tell your employer that this thing ruined the entire trip for them. In this case, you will be the one standing with the blame. Cause you are the leader who should be in charge.

I have made the mistakes I mention here myself when I was new as a tour leader. 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, so that you can make the best possible decisions on their behalf. But remember to make the decisions for the group. Do not leave it to other people, as 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 right away that you have made the most wise decision.

 

 

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

I have taken more than 15 tour groups to Singapore.

I have taken more than 15 tour groups to 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. And that can turn them in to 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 get’s to the room there is no toilet paper and the poor old lady is really in need of a toilet. This will most likely get her very annoyed and frustrated. She will run down the reception and tell you to help her. And you better do it right away. Because if you tell her to wait a little then you might just forget it, because you have so many things to do as a tour leader. And while she is sitting in her room and becoming more and more desperate from holding it in, she will start to see everything that could possibly be wrong with that hotel. She will most likely complain to the travel agency about both 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. Because the friendly tour leader was so fast to help her. And you will have an easier client for the rest of the tour. This was toilet paper I mentioned here, but it could be other things as well.

I did for instance have a client to checked in to a 5 star Hotel in Singapore and demanded a new hotel an hour later cause the place was “an uninhabitable ruin”. Once I calmed her down a little I found out that the reason why she was so upset was that there was not 2 free bottles of water in the room, like she had at the previous hotel she stayed in Saigon. A little chat and a visit to the 7/11 across the road calmed her down to a point where she could start enjoying Singapore.

 

 

What is the pay like when you are tour leading?

Azores 004

I’m a low income guy who live in airplanes.

Let’s be honest:

The pay almost always suck in this business. But you can make decent money once you become experienced. You get rich in so many other ways though. And this is why we are so many people who don’t wanna work with other things.

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. Starting your tour leading career by doing some work for free is not a bad idea though. I did that myself for a few months before I became established enough to demand some better pay.

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

This is ok if you do not have mortgage back home. And wife and kids for that matter. But as I have mentioned before, then 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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Go and meet the world of tourism at some travel shows.

 

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.

The Wanderlust magazine has a  good job section by the way. And Travelmassive is a very good website to look at as well, if you want to become a travel & tourism professional.

I have personally found many tour leading jobs while attending travel shows. At the travel shows I walk around and chit chat with various travel agencies and tell them that I am a professional tour leader. When I do that they usually ask for my card. And within a few weeks I often get a mail from them asking if I am interested in working with them. Remember to always have a business card handy 24 hours a day.

This is of course a lot easier once you are established. But if you have a lot of drive then this is one good way to enter the world of tourism. Most owners of travel agencies are hyperactive types who love people who show initiative. Not people who just sit around, waiting for opportunities to be served to them 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.

12 Comments

  1. Jinwen Vivian

    nice fun articles!typically your style…

  2. Hey Claus, I nominated you for a “Liebster blogging award”. For more details, please check: http://www.myfeetaremeanttoroam.com/my-first-blogging-award/

  3. Claus my friend. This is what I would have done if the tools had been available. It is like reading an echo of times past. Having spent a better part of my life in your profession, I have added your “icon” onto my Favorites Bar, as a lot of your writings bring me back to those days. We will run into each other again. No doubt………d:o)

    • Great to hear from you here Erik.
      I have a few more stories up my sleeve that will be posted here in the future.

  4. Truly,you are a tour leader.many congrats for such a true and well worded info.that is exactly how it is to be a Tour Leader.I am a tour leader myself leading English and Dutch speaking clients too in Overland travel where I am paid per trip.I have been very much interested on your article and would humbly request if you can have any trips which I can do for you on this part of the world.I have done many trips with in East Africa and Zanzibar and I need a job.I am ready to buy you a crate of Tusker beer,if that will lead me to having a job.we in Kenya or rather in Africa are not that lucky to attend such travel shows as most of them take place very far from our reach.If need be let, me furnish you with my resume for you to understand better my capabilities.In terms of applying for a job, in East Africa it works but very very little.you need to be tribally correct or having an insider to fight for you,what you know counts very little but there are those whom we survive the hard way.I do hope may be you have a way I can be helped.cheers.

    • Hi’ mate.
      I am not in a posittion to hire as I am a freelancer just like you who work from job to job, so all I can say is keep working hard for those jobs and excute the jobs well when you get them so the clients keep coming back to you.
      All the best from Brazil.

  5. I like the valuable info you supply to your articles.

    I’ll bookmark your weblog and take a look at once more
    right here frequently. I’m fairly sure I will learn a
    lot of new stuff proper here! Best of luck for the following!

  6. Very good website you have here but I was curious if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics talked about in this article?
    I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get advice from other knowledgeable
    individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
    Thank you!

  7. Awesome! I’m sure I will be confident enough to be a tour guide when I have travelled to a lot more countries..:-)

  8. Pingback: This is how I finance traveling the world 365 days a year. - Travelling Claus

  9. Pingback: Being a freelancer in tourism

  10. Hi , It is very good information for me as you have given for tour leader..I have just started! I will be confidant enough to be tour guide.

    Thanks

    • Thank you for your nice comment Rina. I wish you all the best with your job and maybe we will be working together one day, somewhere around the world. 🙂

  11. Pingback: Today, it’s 30 years ago that I started living as a nomad. - Travelling Claus

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