How to Become a Tour Guide

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Imagine being paid to take a European cruise, raft the Bi'o-Bi'o or lead
treks out of Katmandu. But that's just half of a tour guide's job. You'll
also have to take care of every imaginable problem on a trip--and
some problems you could never imagine.

  • Make sure you have solid people skills as well as infinite patience. Be honest about whether you're comfortable being "on" for 10, 12, even 18 hours a day. That's more important than knowing all about art, history or geography.

  • Get trained and certified at a school for tour guides, such as International Tour Management Institute (itmitourtraining.com). Although this isn't essential, these schools may help land a job.

  • Get hired by a tour company. The larger the company, the more work you'll have and the more chance to travel to exotic parts of the world.

  • Sign on with a company headquartered in your own country if you want to go abroad. It's easier than getting a work permit with a foreign company (see 163 Work Abroad).

  • Expect to operate as an independent contractor rather than an employee, especially with smaller companies. Although you'll have to arrange your own insurance coverage, think how much you'll save while you're working and the company is covering your hotel, meals and transportation.

  • Research the area you'll be touring extensively. Companies provide some basic information, but it's good to do homework on your own. You'll have more confidence, and people on your tour will appreciate your expert touch--which may lead to bigger tips and word-of-mouth recommendations from your clients.

  • Be a master of organization--you need to juggle your time and handle details such as getting through customs and finding lost luggage (see 1 Get Organized, 3 Write an Effective To-Do List and 423 Prevent Lost Luggage). You'll be in charge of transportation logistics, accommodations (finding hotels or setting up camp), meals, equipment repairs and maintenance, and more.

  • Stay calm when other people aren't. You have to handle all emergencies, whether a monsoon hits, the bus breaks down, a client has a meltdown or the hotel is overbooked.

  • Plan for a minimum of personal free time on a trip. That's just as well: Once you take care of all the arrangements and everyone else's needs, you'll have very little energy and time to go exploring on your own--or even do your laundry.

  • Be aware that you set the tone of a trip. If you're upbeat and enthusiastic, others will join in and have fun.

Tips & Warnings

  • Speaking a foreign language is helpful but usually not necessary, unless you're leading a tour of people from another country where a different language is spoken.
  • If you have the knowledge or the skills, you can be a specialized guide, leading culinary tours, art history trips and more. Adventure tours are becoming more popular--to get hired as a guide, you need to be good at rafting, climbing or other outdoor activity.
  • Depending on the area or country in which they work, tour guides often earn between $8 and $14 an hour.

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