There are different ways to travel for an extended period of time. You can save up money for a while and then quit your job like I did, travel and work various jobs along the way or find a more permanent job that involves traveling. For Taylor Hess, a backpack is his office, local hostels are his bed for the night and the commute to work might be a boat down the Amazon or a tuk-tuk to Angkor Wat. Not only does he make his own travel desires a reality, but he make’s other people’s holiday a dream come true. So, what exactly does Taylor do? He has what many would describe as a “dream job.” He is a tour leader for G Adventures. I got a chance to interview Taylor while he was visiting family in Texas before heading to South East Asia to lead tours.
How long have you been a Tour Leader for?
I started in November of 2008, so I’m just finishing my second year.
When did you decide you wanted to be a Tour Leader?
Whenever I was finishing my senior year at Texas State University. , I was working at a Public Relations firm. It was a great professional job, but I was restless and couldn’t get passionate about what I did. I decided to leave that to pursue a life of adventure and novelty!
How difficult was it for you to get the job?
I got incredibly lucky. We get hundreds of applications every year, but I applied right whenever my company was getting ready to hire for the busy season. If you are interested in applying to be a tour leader, keep in mind the tourist seasons. I was applying to work in Central America, which busy season is in December through March. This means they will start hiring people in the fall to start training for the peak season. With so many applications, timing is very important.
What past life experiences helped you get the job?
Obviously, you cannot be a tour leader if you do not have plenty of travel experience. I had traveled several times in Central America and lived in Costa Rica while studying Spanish. For job skills, I ran a small business while in University. This helped me learn how to work by myself, to improvise in difficult situations, and to be able to take responsibility and ownership of problems.
What’s the best part of being a Tour Leader besides getting to travel?
I absolutely LOVE the people I work with. I have been lucky to be surrounded by a passionate group of amazing people. I have found friends and romances that I would have never imagined and I am constantly meeting people who impact my life. I have also found plenty of free time to develop other interests. I get to play around with photography and video editing, I learned to make jewelry, and I always have a good book on me!
What’s the worst part of the job?
It can be an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes it can be a struggle living your life according to the agenda of others. A small schedule change could mean that we don’t get to see friends or a girlfriend for weeks or months sometimes. If you are having a difficult trip or are upset about anything, it can be a long time before you see a friend who you can vent to!
Is it hard to build and maintain relationships in this field of work?
Friends and significant others are a double-edged sword. On one hand, I have to say a lot of goodbyes. One the other, I am always running into amazing people who I share incredible experiences with.
How is it having a significant other and maintaining a relationship?
I would say this lifestyle is much easier if you are single. We move around so much that it is nearly impossible to maintain a committed relationship. However, we do get to meet many different people and romances can happen anywhere. Some people date other tour leaders, some form relationships with locals. Getting involved with your passengers is a bad idea.
Does leading the same tour over and over again lose its excitement?
No two groups are ever the same, so I can run an identical trip and have a completely different experience. I make it a point that on every trip I do a new activity, learn something new, or go visit a place I’ve never been before.
Sometimes it can get a bit monotonous doing the same things over and over again, but the world is full of surprises. As soon as I feel like I lose enthusiasm with hiking the cloud forest for the 47th time, I’ll see something incredible, like a resplendent quetzal for the first time land on a branch right near me, and it all seems brand new again!
What is your life like when you’re not leading tours? Are you still traveling?
It all depends. Sometimes in between trips I will just have a few days to rest up before hitting the road again, and sometimes I’ll have a week or so and have enough time for friends from home to come down and visit. Sometimes I’ll know another Tour Leader friend of mine is running a trip nearby so I’ll go to the town next door and hang out with them. There is no routine.
Another great perk is getting to know different tour operators along the road and develop relationships with them. You can often find amazing discounts or freebies on overnight sailing trips, or other incredible adventures from the business contacts we make on the road.
What kind of person does it take to be a good tour leader?
I would say that about 75% of it is personality. You have to be able to spend weeks at a time entertaining complete strangers from all parts of the world and all walks of life. You cannot get frustrated easily and you must always be able to show a positive attitude. You have to really be able to embrace the bizarre and adapt to any situation. If you are the type of person who needs a stable life and routine, you won’t be happy with the lifestyle.
What advice would give to someone thinking about becoming a Tour Leader?
If you want to become a Tour Leader, I would tell you to make sure that you understand that it is not just a job, but a complete lifestyle. Many people think that becoming a Tour Leader is like a free ticket to see the world. While it will definitely give you an opportunity to go to amazing places, some people don’t realize that it is a job and requires a lot of hard work, commitment and sacrifice.
Many people may consider being a tour leader the “dream job.” Would you agree with them?
YES! I hear so many people tell me they would love to do what I do, but they can’t because of (insert reason here). Most things that people view as limiting factors that will prevent them from living this lifestyle, are simply challenges every one of us has to deal with before we started. We all have friends, families, jobs, schools, cars, etc that we had to factor into our decision.
Do you see yourself doing this for the rest of your life?
Yikes… It is a very extreme lifestyle and Tour Leaders definitely have a lifespan before they get burned out, lonely, or just physically exhausted. My goal is to keep doing this as long as I keep enjoying it. It is very important for Tour Leaders to realize whenever they have reached the point that the frustrations outnumber the benefits.
Is being a tour leader more play and less work or more work and less play?
It is interesting. Whenever I am running a trip, I am a group’s leader for 24 hours a day for weeks at a time. Imagine a continuum: On one end you are working really really hard, and on the other end you are completely goofing off and just playing. We spend our life meandering back and forth along this continuum, but I try to keep a good balance and hover somewhere around the middle.
How is the pay in this field of work?
Most tour leaders get paid per trip-day, and it can range from $25 – $40/day. While this may not seem like a lot of money, consider that while running a trip your cost of living is zero, so the potential for saving money is great. I’ve been able to save up enough money to visit my family in the states periodically, pay my student loans, and save up for personal travel.
What are the perks and the downfalls?
This is a long and very open-ended question! The perks are endless! You get to see the world, and the rest of the world comes to you. You get to meet life-changing people, eat the most amazing food in the world, and do incredible things on a daily basis. I can’t think of anything cooler to do! It is very exhausting, both physically and mentally. Sometimes a bit of loneliness can set in, and yet sometimes you can find yourself surrounded by people and unable to find time for yourself.