So You Want to Be a Tour Guide?
It’s just about every traveler’s dream to see the world for free, or better yet, to get paid to travel. The good news is there are a surprising number of jobs out there that require (and finance) travel. The not-so-good news—some of these dream jobs can turn out to be nightmares if you go in with the wrong expectations.
Travel jobs can be a lot of fun, but at the end of the day the primary reason you’re there is to work. It’s important to realize you’ll be working—not vacationing—for most of the time. But for those driven by adventure, with a severe case of wanderlust, there are quite a few jobs that will pay for you to travel.
A tour guide is someone who leads visitors through an area or multiple areas and provides commentary on the “cultural and natural heritage” of that place. While guiding may be a perfect fit for some passionate travelers, there’s more to the job than marveling at the sites.
Is this the right job for you?
Of course, a love of travel is helpful for tour guides, but there’s a lot more to the job. Successful tour guides are, first and foremost, great at dealing with all kinds of people. They are also confident public speakers, well organized, patient and both interested and well-versed in the history and culture of the area.
If that sounds like you, or those are qualities you’re willing to work toward, guiding tours could be a great fit.
What qualifications do you need to be a tour guide?
Specific qualifications vary greatly based on location and specific tour companies. In general, a few cities require a special license to lead tours, but in most places it’s not a requirement. Some people either pursue degrees related to tour guiding (travel and tourism, history) or attend schools for guiding (IGA, ITMI), though both options may be helpful, they are not typically a requirement.
Language skills are often an important part of tour guiding jobs. Each guiding company sets their own requirements, but those who are able to speak more languages have a big leg up on the competition.
How much do tour guides get paid?
Pay varies by location and company—some guides negotiate their own rates, while other companies set rates. In general, tour guides don’t make tons of money, some barely make minimum wage while others can make a few hundred in a day. Tips are another factor, if you’re a great guide, which make a big difference.
Most companies cover travel expenses, which means even if you’re not making much you will usually be getting paid to travel. Finally, it’s important to realize that guiding work is usually seasonal. Tour guides might be booked solid during the summer and struggling to find work when the off season comes. Leading school tours is an option for guides in the slower months.
Where can you find a tour guiding job?
There are companies all over the world constantly looking for knowledgeable and personable guides, so it’s best to narrow down where you might want to guide and then go from there. Be sure to research any company you plan on working with, as some are better and more professional than others. A few websites to get you started:
Intrepidtravel.com—a large company that prides itself on hiring local guides
Backroads.com—a major adventure/ active travel company
Eftours.com—an educational travel tour company for students and teachers