Working as a Tour Guide: An Easy Ride?

By Lucian Reed-Drake

Travel and get paid for it. Sounds like a dream job doesn’t it? Yet is being a tour guide or other jobs in the tour industry really all play and no work?

Our very own Lucian (me!) from Working Abroad Magazine has been there, done that and even waggled his flag above the tourist crowds at places like the Trevi Fountain in Rome. I’ve been a tour manager for 2 years now and whilst I can say it’s definitely no easy ride, it is an incredible job being a guide.

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Guide Tours - Job Opportunities Worldwide

First up, credentials. Do you have what it takes to be work in the tour industry? Patience, hard work and a sociable personality is a good start. Most of all, you have to be a people’s person. After all you are leading a group of people, organizing a group of people, chatting, informing, partying and even sometimes counseling a group of people. Add to the personality pot a level headed non stress-head, an innate ability to be very organized, and the ability to think-on-your-feet (and coach, car, ferry, boat or plane).

Second up, lifestyle. Are you ready to live out of your suitcase for long periods of time? Are you ready to say au revoir to your closest friends and family but bonjour to lots of short-term and great friendships. If you are ready, then let’s rumble…

Time to apply. You have to figure out what kind of guide you want to be. There are many choices out there, it depends on the destinations and the style of travel you are rooting for.

For the European coach circuit, the best known are Contiki Holidays and Busabout. Catering for 18-35 year old guests typically, both young although both very fun indeed.

Contiki specialize in tailor-made holidays all over the world, and in particular the European circuit, seeking Tour Managers, Drivers, Mobile Cooks and On-Site Reps.

The training for Tour Managers and Drivers is hardcore, and well renowned in the industry. Imagine 22 countries in 68 days, learning intensively every European history, culture, customs and also where every European city’s ATM, hospital and museum is, then you are halfway there. Minimal sleep, impromptu talks on the microphone and maximum commitment, it’s survival of the fittest and if you get through ‘boot camp’, you’re trained to an impeccably high standard and you are ready for your next biggest test of all, your first tour.

As a Tour Manager you will be guiding 51 people for the time of their lives in everything they do; travel, eat, walking tours, sightsee, excursions, party…I missed out sleep as you won’t get much of it. It’s a true 24 hour job, but a brilliant one at that. As a Driver, you have to navigate around European road signs in funny languages and take charge of a huge chunk of metal around pinball machines for cars such as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Mobile Cook; cook, and lots of it whilst living on the road with your team and 51 hungry campers. On-Site Rep – clean, cook, talk, and party for 6-8 months at a famous European city with a bunch of other fun-loving colleagues.

Busabout are more of an independent travelers circuit with a flexible “hop on, hop off” route around Europe. Driver and On Board Guides are required for the busy seasons and festivals, and although their training is not quite as intense as Contiki, the study of history and being under pressure comes with the job. The On Board Guides ‘check-in’ travelers, give spiels of the locations and interact with hundreds of passengers in places in their career, in places such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or La Tomatina – a tomato throwing festival near Valencia!

The application process for Contiki and Busabout is tough, as is the competition. Be prepared, show your public speaking skills and after a military style interrogation, you may just be placed on a training trip pre-season, typically any time around March-April-May each year. Finally, most of these positions you should hold or be able to obtain a valid European Union passport or UK work permit. Check their details before you apply.

For even more information talk to us on our interactive Working Abroad Facebook group and start some discussions!

Many regard the European circuit to be the teething process for aspiring tour guides, and experienced guides can move on to higher paid jobs at Trafalgar Tours, other global tour itineraries or hiring your services as a freelance guide.

So there is Europe, how about guiding past tigers and lions in Africa, or escorting passengers in the Caribbean? And how much does a tour guide get paid to travel the world?  Find out more in our next blog…