So You Want to Be a Tour Guide

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.

Tour director Carrie Fitchett. (Photograph courtesy Carrie Fitchett)

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.

Consider Training
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.

Comments

  1. Liz
    Canada
    January 23, 2013, 2:03 am

    That is a very exciting career. Almost everyone I talk to about traveling want to do it, and aren’t sure whats holding them back. Many different reasons. I would love to work and travel. Learn the histories and cultures of different countries. Missing out on important family events would be hard. Thanks for the post!

  2. mukesh gaur
    jaipur india
    January 23, 2013, 3:27 am

    yes i want to become a tour guide.

  3. Maria Esther Segura
    Quito, Ecuador
    January 23, 2013, 11:40 am

    I m so happy to be a tour guide here in Ecuador because I have the way to know everything i want i now my country and different people comming from everywhere, it is one of the most beutiful carrers . Come to discover my country …ECUADOR

  4. Elaine Rodriguez
    New York, NY
    January 23, 2013, 9:08 pm

    I’m a graduate of the International Guide Academy in Denver, and I’m having the time of my life traveling all over the world. This year I will be spending a total of 5 months touring in Europe, 6 weeks in Australia, and in 3 weeks I’ll be leading 2 tours in beautiful Hawaii. I currently work for three different companies on three different continents. Carrie Fitchett is right-you make your tuition money back after a few tours. I’m living a dream. Chase yours.

  5. Sandi Wheaton
    January 23, 2013, 10:21 pm

    Getting Tour Management (tour directing) certification through the International Guide Academy was one of the best decisions I have ever made, hands down. All my life I wanted a job that involved travel and made good use of my natural abilities – this career is a shockingly good fit for me… And I doubt I would even be doing it if it weren’t for IGA. Great school, great instructors, great network. Go for it, if you are interested in this industry. You’ll make the investment back after just one tour.

  6. Barbara
    Canada
    January 24, 2013, 8:33 am

    Three years ago I didn’t even know what a tour director was. I’ve always enjoyed travel, history and culture and when I finally did meet a professional tour director I knew that was the job I had always dreamed of having. Last year I graduated from the International Guide Academy and within three months landed my first tour assignment. I spent the entire summer leading tours here in Canada and already have work lined up for this coming season. Being a tour director is a demanding job and requires more than people skills and destination knowledge, it also requires a lot of attention to detail. I credit the education I received at IGA with preparing me so well to handle the demands of the job. Tour directing may not be for everyone as you are away from home for long stretches of time and it is seasonal work. For me though it is the perfect job. I spend half the year traveling around to historic sites, world class museums, bustling cities and peaceful countrysides all the while showing my beautiful country to foreign tourists – AND I get paid to do it!

  7. Camila
    March 19, 2013, 9:49 pm

    I have been considering becoming a tour guide for quite some time and have been a little “iffy” about it. I absolutely love to travel, but I still want to be able to have a life of my own at home. I know I want a career that involves travel one way or another, and thought since I enjoy learning about culture and history, that a tour guide would be the perfect job! I feel so torn at times!

  8. felix chama
    lusaka, Zambia
    March 22, 2013, 9:47 am

    I have been wishing to become a tour guide home or abroad , learn more about wild life conservation , how its managed in different parts of the world, learn about different cultures and history .Tour guide would be the very best to me with my past experience

  9. Marry
    Pakistanfashionmag
    March 29, 2013, 2:51 am

    it seems like the best job on the earth to become a tour guide, In fact every one wishes to become a tour guide meet new people, take them to show sites and current days I have seen many news many people are kidnapping people identifying them that they are tour guides but they are not actually.

  10. Rushikesh Rithe
    India
    April 12, 2013, 3:12 pm

    It’s my dream and I would love to do these job.These is totally different profession….something new

  11. Khader
    Barcelona(spain)
    April 21, 2013, 4:35 pm

    Im a jordanian tour guide living in Spain, i love my profession i would like to expan horizons and develop my work in canada or australialia.Any sugestion on how to find a tour guide job in these countries?
    Thanks

  12. Gopinath Ojha
    india,orissa
    May 3, 2013, 3:32 am

    i like to build my carrier in guiding,because travel is passion and i am also a talkative .in this field i can spend more time with different kinds of people and collect data about their culture and history.

  13. mrs mokatsoane
    south africa eastern cape
    June 6, 2013, 4:38 pm

    i really want 2 be a tour guide but im shy i dont know how i will talk with people i think i have to be a tour operator.

  14. benson gotora
    dar es salaam
    June 30, 2013, 11:22 am

    napenda kua mmoja kati ta waangalizi wa watalii na naamini kua nitafanikiwa kua hivo kwani ni ndoto yangu tangu nikiwa darasa la tano.

  15. Saiba kanojia
    India
    July 8, 2013, 1:42 am

    Hi I have read the post & rcvd very insight info about this job. I m graduate in hotel & tourism mngmt currently working in Singapore as f&b executive.I do like to willingly take initiative about this career as a tour guide. This is really very fascinating job for me & I always been looking for such career so if hve any opportunity pls let me know. I m eagerly waiting for some rply.Thanks

  16. barnaby
    UK
    July 20, 2013, 4:24 am

    Great post, Annie. Most people think I’ve got the dream job already – I finished a two-month European tour working for Beyonce in May and just got back from Greece for a heavy metal band – but think of my poor eardrums! Ha ha.

    Seriously, I love travel and, even after 15 years on the road, I still love going to new places and meeting new people. Tour guiding could be the change I’m looking for. Thanks again – an informative post. I’ll follow you on Twitter.

  17. srikanth k
    Hyderabad, AP, India
    July 22, 2013, 1:02 pm

    This is what am looking for interested in exploring new places and i am a kind of wanderer…………….

  18. Trish Oliveira
    Atlanta, GA
    July 29, 2013, 11:44 pm

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the IGA instructors for my in-depth classroom training on June 2012. Less than 6 weeks after earing my International Tour Director certification, I was headed for my first tour to Cuba!

    IGA prepared me to be “tour ready” and indeed, the solid 9-day training came to be extremely valuable while I was on my first tour (which lasted 15 days).

    I am extremely confident, especially after getting wonderful reviews from the participants on this tour, and thanks to IGA, that I will be thriving in this exiting industry and new career!

  19. Shopan
    Bangladesh
    August 8, 2013, 4:02 pm

    I want to become a tour guide. Who can help me?
    My Skype id”shopan82″

    Thanks

  20. gerhard
    Ondangwa, Namibia
    August 17, 2013, 10:44 am

    my dream is to become a tour guide, thats why i am studying Travel and Tourism

  21. laye
    dakar senegal
    August 20, 2013, 6:27 pm

    hi my name is LAYE and l been doing guide for 12years and l love it you can conyact us at http://www.showmesenegal.com

  22. Simeon kalinoe
    Ambunti, east sepik province, wewak, p.n.g.
    August 27, 2013, 8:33 pm

    Tourist wanting to travel the sepik river, please contact me. Who can help me???

  23. Norman Walvi Ginting
    Indonesia
    September 20, 2013, 11:43 pm

    I’m 25 years old, i would like become a tourist guide. Can you help me to get it?

  24. Amy
    UK
    September 26, 2013, 7:12 am

    You can training to be a Tour Director/Manager in the UK with worldwidetraveltraining.com and they post jobs on their facebook page!

  25. saba
    Iran
    October 4, 2013, 5:48 am

    I am a tour guide in Isfahan from Iran
    I really suggest you to visit my country
    so It’s my site http://www.tourism.yyo.ir
    I invite you to come :)

  26. Amber Lynn
    October 10, 2013, 4:58 am

    What a fun post! Tour guide is not only a job, but a passion as well.

    It’s an incredible thing to see different people with the beautiful smiles, with faces filled with awe as they see different places and hear stories/history.

    There’s no other rewarding thing than to see people’s happy faces!

    And for travelers like me, I only desire to enjoy the trips and be safe also. That’s why I’m thankful to tour guides like you and for travel tips that I always keep in mind. Got great tips at http://www.gpapps.com.au/safety-travel-tips-how-to-stay-safe-while-travelling-in-a-foreign-country-part-2/

  27. Vanessa
    Costa Rica
    October 24, 2013, 2:41 am

    I am a tour director And tour guide in Costa Rica and I want to invite you to visit my country’s exhuberant nature, beautiful beaches, nurture your soul!

  28. Kamila
    England
    October 24, 2013, 1:58 pm

    Wow! This is brilliant, finally I know what I really wan to do when I leave school. Thank you so much!!

  29. jaime
    United States
    October 25, 2013, 10:13 pm

    Im about to retire from the military. Have traveled the world and love to learn the history of every country I’ve been in. What is the recommended age to begging in this carrier.

  30. Ann-Katrin
    Taiwan/Europe/here and there
    November 5, 2013, 9:20 am

    Thanks for an interesting article. I have been travelling and blogging for years now, travelling privately at least once a month, recently I left my job in Europe to move to Taiwan to study Chinese so I can begin to make a living out of my passions; Food and travel. I have a lot of experience from working and living in an international environment and know that there are challenges with working like this, but sometimes it is easy to forget – this article points out that it’s not about hanging around the pool and be cool; Not that I expected it but suspect that’s what many people think about when they talk about travel and work. I love how this article helps balancing the view.

  31. Ravidas
    india
    November 18, 2013, 1:56 am

    I’m 24 years old, i would like become a tourist guide. Can you help me to get it? i had completed MTA (master of tourism Administration ) contact no : +91 9742322901 ,i am from India .and want to work abroad.
    ravidaswalekar@gmail.com

  32. Samson Oumo Abuya
    Nairobi Kenya
    November 18, 2013, 8:11 am

    Kenya is a crandle land for man kind.Diverse cultures and friendly inhabitant.it is internationally known for its unique experiences it offer to its visitors.Be the first to experience the same today!!!

  33. Jamie Schott
    Baltimore, MD. USA
    November 18, 2013, 11:03 am

    I just lead my first tour of Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore a few days ago and had so much fun researching and guiding friends and strangers and I’m looking to make this a regular gig. Thanks for the info and links.

  34. Sheldon Samuels
    St. Pete Florida
    November 26, 2013, 3:53 pm

    When visiting NYC, a wonderful tour guide is Marc who runs a tour called PhotoTrek Tours. This tour provides a private and custom 2 or 3 hour Photo / Walking Tour of NYC.

    The website for PhotoTrek Tours is http://www.phototrektours.com

  35. sandeep
    India
    January 12, 2:42 am

    I have been a tour guide for Taj mahal and other heritage monuments at Agra In India. And as stated in your article still I am enjoying it even after completing my five years in this profession.

  36. ernestmpande
    south africa
    January 12, 6:10 am

    Wow that is what I really want for my career is it possible in south africa?

  37. Amy
    January 18, 9:22 pm

    Does any know any good online courses? Thank you in advance!

  38. sweta s sawant
    mumbai
    February 9, 4:32 am

    hey can any one help me. i am interested to become a tour guide. pls suggest what all studies, courses are required ?

  39. vincent mudaki
    uganda
    February 13, 4:27 am

    hey there,i grew up near mgahinga and bwindi impenatrable gorilla national park,where i developed interest and love for wildlife and nature,so i had to become a tour guide

  40. Neil Rawlins
    New Zealand
    March 17, 4:40 pm

    I have been a travel guide for over 35 years, before tourism courses were around & although these courses can give you the basics, it is really experience that will make you a good guide. Thrown in at the deep end can also help! I had my beginnings on the London to Kathmandu Overland route in the late ’70s & my first job as tour leader was to meet a group at Istanbul airport, take them through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, into Israel across to Iraq then back through Turkey, down to Egypt & across Europe to London. I had only been through Turkey before & that had been 9 years earlier, so I had to learn quick. This group still keeps in touchm after 35 years! To be a good tour director, even if relying on local guides, you still need to research your area thoroughtly as you will always be asked questions. Having a good general knowledge is important & also knowing a little bit about your clients home area helps a lot. Besides Overland, I have run tours in Europe, Soviet Union, Jordan, North Africa, camel safaris in India, tours into Kashmir & Ladakh & even tours in the remote Chatham Islands. For the last 25 years have worked as a driver/guide in New Zealand, Australia & the Pacific Islands. Perhaps the biggest drawback for me has been the seasonal fluctuation of work. I am always willing to use my expertise in any new travel-related enterprise.

  41. Subash
    India
    March 26, 2:51 am

    I want to become a tour guide meet new peoples from different cultures different countries and different languages

  42. Amir Khababa
    algeria
    March 27, 5:26 am

    i love this job because you can meet new peoples from different countries and different cultures

  43. harshit papnai
    delhi
    March 30, 3:40 am

    it is very interesting sector for job

  44. Arash
    IRAN
    April 25, 11:47 am

    thanks for your comments, I am also a tour guide in Iran. wish to cooperate with you to have a tour to Iran.

  45. Ankur tribhuvan
    New delhi, India
    May 3, 5:28 am

    Hello, Im also willing to become a tour guide…becoz i love travelling n i want to live my life by travelling different countries of the world n make tourists travel a memorable event……

  46. Mohannad
    Jordan
    May 3, 5:53 am

    Great post!

    I hope to be tour guide soon.

  47. DESMOND DMELLO
    India
    May 5, 11:57 pm

    LOVE TO BE TOUR GUIDE

  48. Prasad Joshi
    Canada
    May 7, 9:01 am

    Working as a tour guide is really a charming and lovely profession. I am currently working on a website related with online trip guide. Please have a look. http://www.joguru.com/. As personally I am also a travel loving person so I would definitely love to work as a travel guide.

  49. RUTH W
    FRONT OFFICE
    May 10, 8:03 am

    AM just overwhilmed by what they talking i real desire to be a tour guide but to this far ive never found a through way i believe my time shall come i still have hope

  50. art
    Calgary
    May 10, 4:17 pm

    Wow glad I came across this article. I am 27 years old, graduated from University a few years ago, and working at a decent paying job that I certainly do not hate…however, I would love to do something more interesting with my life. I have a passion for travel and adventure. I want to get started soon while I am still young…I dont want to wait until I am older and realize it is to late (although I guess it never really is to late). I am just not sure how to start with this….any suggestions/advice would be appreciated!

  51. praveen kumar
    coimbatore INDIA
    May 25, 9:46 am

    i am from india a country where education,is worst i am doing my thrid year of Aeronautical engineering very much interested in this Department but the education system is good soo I lost all my interest in this field I dont to study further then I thought that what I am going to became in this world then I found my interested is in travelling soo I would like be a travel guide please any help me to glow my life and I am from my middle class family I would like to bring the change in INDIA

  52. Devendra
    Jaipur, India
    May 26, 11:47 am

    I’m a tour guide/manager based of Jaipur. Been in the industry for last 7 years after wasting couple of years trying to climb the corporate ladder. Absolutely love this job. It has made me a better person in every sense…would love to do one of these traning courses in USA to sharpen my skills & improve my execution capabilities sometime soon.
    Cheers

  53. Helen.nelson
    Papua New Guinea
    May 29, 8:43 pm

    Iam glad i come across this article.am 29 years old and working with a resort in png.i like my job as a tour guide.my dream is to travel the world.

  54. Jalel
    Tunisia
    June 3, 7:21 pm

    Hi my dream is to be tour guide I have a lots of things to show to guest and to explained and I now I can get answer

  55. Esther
    Ghana
    June 13, 10:02 am

    Hi my dream is to be a tour guide am 25 years old and a graduate of global school of aviation and a diploma holder in tourism.i worked as a tour guide in Kwame Nkrumah memorial park my dream is to travel around the world

  56. Mark McGreevey
    San Francisco, CA
    June 16, 2:39 pm

    Here in San Francisco I knew a few guides, and I knew about the ITMI. But in the 1990′s it cost $2600 which I didn’t have. So I went to a big bus company, Grayline, and asked how they got their local guides. I wound up learning to drive the big buses and have had steady work with increasingly-smaller tourbus outfits ever since. The Class B license a big bus company can help you get will launch you far faster into local tourguiding and a nonstop flow of work than any institute. Tour directing to foreign countries is another ball of wax and is tough to break into at first, not to mention exhausting if you’re near 40, since you’re never home. Finally, one caveat: it’s definitely at will hiring and firing in this business. They can use you, then toss you, based on silly customer complaints, no matter your expertise. Not only that, it’s personal dislike and competition amongst the guides. That’s why I like the lack of team playing involved in “tourbus driver/guide”: you get to be the boss on board. See Napa more than three times a week!

  57. L Blum
    Las Vgeas, NV
    July 16, 2:15 pm

    I have looked at both the ITMI and IGA. I am not sure which one is right for me. Can anyone tell me more?