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Jobs and Careers Abroad in Adventure Travel

Questions and Answers

Leading a Tour on the Inca Trail
Leading a tour on the Inca Trail.

“Find a job you love” says Confucius, “and you never have to do a days work in your life.”

I have written previously about the rewarding and varied lifestyle of an adventure tour leader in “Work Abroad Leading Adventure Travel Tours: How Make Your Trips Pay.” In the article for Transitions Abroad, I described how I had found the job I love and how it had taken me to over 15 countries in four continents that many people only dream of visiting.

The article has generated an enormous response. My inbox has been flooded with emails from individuals on both sides of the Atlantic looking for more practical advice about tour leading jobs, and more specifically, how to find one for themselves.

In general they ask the following questions: 

How Much Does It Pay to Lead Adventure Tours?

Tour leading is not well paid but does offer an excellent opportunity to save money.

Daily rates start at between £10 and £25 (US$15 - US$40) for a new leader and you can expect to receive at least 50% more in tips. Most companies offer a pay raise over time, but it is the way of life that really allows you to save.

When on the road, you will rarely, if ever, have to reach into your own pocket to pay for anything. Food and accommodations are usually covered, and few bars will expect you to pay for your own drinks when you are bringing them tourists with money to burn week after week.

There are even opportunities to make commissions from shops and travel agents if you can help them sell their wares. So in short, you will never be short of funds while you are tour leading. And if you have the self-control not to blow all your earnings during your down time, you can even save a tidy sum.

I am a Citizen of North America, Where Can I Find This Kind of Work?

While it is true that the majority of leading adventure travel tour operators are based in Europe, there are also a number based in the U.S. and Canada which offer employment to North American residents. These travel operators include:

GAP Adventures Worldwide

GAP (Great Adventure People) Adventures Worldwide has been operating since 1990 and has its head office in Toronto. They recruit tour leaders from a number of countries including the U.S., U.K., and Canada. A truly worldwide outfit, GAP organizes tours everywhere from South America to Central Asia.

Tour leader recruitment is done via a PDF application on their website, and although they look favorably on candidates with specific language skills, these are only mandatory for certain regions (i.e. South America). The minimum initial contract is 18 months and no minimum age is specified. If you’re looking for security and adventure during these “credit crunch” times, GAP Adventure’s 18-month contracts may be an attractive way to escape the recession and see the world.

Footloose

Footloose offers a variety of small group tours and expeditions including lodging tours, trekking tours, camping tours, and family adventures. Originally focusing on North America, in recent years they have begun to operate tours in Central and South America too.

Footloose only hires US citizens for tour leading positions and applicants must be over 23 years of age and have a clean driving record. In contrast to GAP’s 18-month contract, Footloose will hire tour leaders for a single summer season and for the right people, offers either shorter- or longer-term contracts as well. To apply send a resume (check the resource box below for details).

Backroads

Backroads has been helping people to discover the world through active travel for over thirty years. Operating a variety of biking, hiking and multi-sport vacations, the company philosophy that “...active travel is, at its heart, a way of connecting more authentically with the world’ has won them numerous awards and established the company as a leader in the field.

Backroads will be recruiting for tour leaders, camp chefs, and camp assistant positions from March, 2009. Individuals over the age of 21 and legally entitled to work in the US, Canada, EU or Switzerland are entitled to apply. Application forms are available through the recruitment pages of the company website.

Leading a Tour in Patagonia.
Leading a tour in Patagonia.

What Are the Long-Term Career Opportunities?

Tour leading has a shelf life for most people. Something about the transient existence and the distance from one’s loved ones means that most people retire from tour leading after three or four years. So what then?

Tour operators design, market, sell, and coordinate numerous simultaneous tours across the globe, and the operations departments are filled with former tour leaders. Moving back to HQ to train, coordinate and equip future tour leaders is a logical progression for many. There are many possible paths you may take:

  • If you have ever dreamt of being a travel writer or photographer, no way of life will provide you with more opportunity, access, and inspiration to master your craft than leading groups around the world.
  • Many tour leaders develop an expertise in a specific region and go on to either write guidebooks or provide the often breathtaking images for them.
  • Tour leading is such a varied and challenging job that after several years you will have a whole new set of skills suitable for any number of professions.
  • Briefing your travel groups, you may discover a latent talent for presenting or teaching.
  • The meticulous preparation required for organising complex tours makes event planning and management a natural next step.
  • You may discover a new passion for one of the many aspects of a country about which you will acquire in-depth knowledge, be it archaeology, architecture, languages, or all of the above.
  • You may simply use tour leading as a “career break”  or “Gap Year” and go back to whatever it was you were doing before you read this article.

No matter which path you take, or whatever you go on to do after your time “on the road,” you will return a more well-traveled, well-rounded, and fulfilled person than when you left. And you will have an address book full of new friends to go along with memories that will last a lifetime

For More Information

The following are links to a number of North American adventure travel tour operators and the relevant recruitment pages of their respective websites:

GAP: www.gapadventures.com

Backroads: www.backroads.com/job_listings

Intrepid Suntrek: www.intrepidsuntrek.com/suntrek/employment.php

 
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