When I describe my job to people it’s usually met with a substantial amount of confusion. Yes, for almost half the year I do live out of a van. Yes, I do drive across the country multiple times. And yes, I do sometimes work 12 hour days. Still, I’d consider being a tour leader one of the best summer jobs out there, hands down.
I also couldn’t imagine doing anything else right now. In fact, this year I also worked over winter and will be starting my summer season early. One month from now I’ll be flying up to Northern California to get my van for the season!
While it’s definitely not for everybody, I want to go into detail on why being a tour leader is one of the all time best summer jobs you can have. Sure, it’s not easy in the slightest, but the below will explain why I continue to do it…through all seasons.
My “Normal Day” is Wacky as Hell
One day I’m secretly buying spray paint at Walmart to surprise my passengers with some legal graffiti in Texas, the next I could be putting on a beard and drinking PBR for a theme party. Some nights I’m taking my groups out in Nashville to dance to “Wagon Wheel” and the next we are around a campfire making smores.
When your morning consists of graffiting something while wearing tie-die, I think it fits in ‘best summer jobs’ category
A normal day on the road to me is all about making it seem as abnormal as possible for my passengers. Executing something special or unique for those 13 sleepy faces sitting in the van behind me is my focus.
And while of course I enjoy the fun activities, sometimes I enjoy the creativity involved in thinking of them more. When there’s no paper in the van nearby, I’ve been known to have my upper thigh covered in scribbled notes pertaining to supplies I need to buy or activities I need to plan.
Getting Back to the Actual Office is More like Coming Home
Each coast has its own home base where we go to get supplies and prepare for trips. Getting to either of them always feels like taking a deep breath. It has usually been a few weeks since being there and there’s always someone to reunite with (aka an entire office of outlandish people who work behind the scenes). Like a mini-family reunion, I don’t know of any other office people get this excited to have to go to.
When your boss has a birthday party, everyone in town is invited.
We chat, we vent, we do work from the couch, we have a booze cart on Friday afternoons. It’s pretty great.
For this reason, the company has been consistently ranked as one of the U.S.’s best adventure and travel jobs by Outside Magazine.
Everyday Brings the Chance to Give Someone the Best Day of Their Life
What really makes this one of the best summer jobs is that you are part of making someone’s most memorable summer. And with some of the places we visit, people have been dreaming of seeing them their entire lives. Pressure much?
At the Grand Canyon I walk everyone to the ledge blindfolded. While they stand there, not sure if one step might be too far, I read them a quote by Theodore Roosevelt. Then, at the count of three, they take off their blindfolds to witness the canyon in their entire line of sight.
“The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled through-out the wide world… Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every
Americanperson should see.”
Making them tear up is enough to make me forget about all the times they took too long at McDonald’s or didn’t remember to put the mayo in the cooler, again.
Why this continuosly happens, I’ll never know.
Other times the most surprising activities can become the most memorable ones. After seeing the granite castles of Yosemite and also flying in a helicopter over the canyon, one person remarked her favorite experience of the trip was when I threw a nighttime glow stick party on the Colorado River.
Another time I had an entire van of 20 year old British females cry in excitement over seeing Micheal Jackson’s small childhood home in run-down and graffiti covered Gary, Indiana. I didn’t see that one coming, in fact I didn’t even know they were big MJ fans.
I am the Captain of my own Pirate Ship
This one might be lost on you, but if you happened to read the article, The Art of Tour Guiding, you’d understand. Even though the writer is a tour guide in Australia, he exemplifies the job better than I could ever imagine to put into words. (The angry comments also make me happy too). But in case you don’t have the time to read it, I’ll summarize.
Once we leave the main office, we are out there on our own. We meet our group and from there on out, we decide how things are going to go. We run our own ship of organized chaos and of censored adventure. And with the right white lies, words of encouragement and forced bonding, the trip can feel more like leading a once in a lifetime expedition through uncharted territory than a vanilla drive through Nevada.
Making snowmen at the Grand Canyon when the clouds were inhibiting our view
A good tour guide can damage control a bad situation. A great tour guide can turn a disaster into someone’s most memorable and enjoyable part of the trip.
My Happiness is Important too
Obviously if you’re going to have one of the best summer jobs of your life, you’re going to enjoy it. But what makes this the case is that there is a direct correlation between how much fun I’m having and how much fun my passengers are having.
Happy passengers also mean good reviews, happy bosses, happy everyone. It’s a great circle.
There is also some strange aspect of human nature which makes a passenger want to imitate their leader. This all means if I want to visit all the whiskey distilleries in Kentucky, well then, usually the passengers do too.
This also comes in regards to the day to day logistics. If I want to have healthy food for dinner, I make sure we cook it. If I can’t wait to get to New Orleans, well, they will be even more excited than before.
This win-win (within restraints) situation is one of the best smaller aspects of the job. And sure, there are loads of times I have to listen to Ariana Grande on repeat or drive through horrible L.A. traffic for someone to be underwhelmed by Hollywood Boulevard, well that’s just part of the job too.
There is a Inexplicable Bond Between Tour Leaders
There’s no greater feeling on the road than pulling into a campsite and seeing a few other shiny silver vans scattered around. Good thing the cooler is full of beer because I know exactly what I’ll be doing after camp is set up!
When you have such a unique job as this, the bond between your co-workers is stronger than anywhere else. Tour leaders vent to each other, cry with each other and laugh with each other. Sure, maybe we don’t see each other all the time, but when we do we make it memorable.
We also travel with each other when the season is over. I’ve seen co-workers in every one of my trips I’ve taken this year– Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina and soon in Colorado.
When I was hired, I thought I was just getting one of the best summer jobs out there, but it turns out I also got an entire family to come along with it.
Interested in having one of the best summer jobs in the world?
There is still time to apply for the summer season for AmeriCan Adventures. The last hiring event will be held on April 15th in San Francisco. Start dates will either be in late May or late June. Questions? Feel free to email me at [email protected]. Just make sure to mention me in your application!