So you’ve read this post and you’re still interested in becoming a tour leader with AmeriCan Adventures. Now, before emailing me or any member of staff, here are what I think are the most frequently asked questions to help you get ready to apply and hopefully start the job.
On the job itself:
What does being a tour leader with American Adventures entail?
Being a tour leader means driving a 15 passenger van and trailer full of overseas visitors on 1-4 week itineraries around the United States from spring to late-summer. Along with driving, we lead, guide, organize activities, delegate camp set up and take down and make sure everyone has a safe and enjoyable journey. We mainly work tours for Trek America, Grand American Adventures and Intrepid Travel.
Can I take time off during the season? (May – September 30)
Short answer, no. If this is your first season and you’ve got a 2 week vacation to Costa Rica happening in June, or tickets to Burning Man in August, you will probably have to miss out. While of course we all have very important events every once in a while, you basically need to be available the length of the season in its entirety.
After your first season on the road you can request some time off if you have an important wedding or event, but it is not always guaranteed. Also, it should be something worthwhile as it could leave you with a large gap in your schedule. Additionally, any requests during August when we are the busiest are pretty unlikely granted. Of course, not everything is so black and white. When applying, discuss any commitments you are concerned about to see if something could work out.
How many hours do you work each week?
Legally, as a commercial driver we are allowed to work up to 70 hours in 8 days. Honestly though, sometimes the job seems like it requires more. Other times, you don’t feel like you’re really ‘working’ at all. As a tour leader, you are solely responsible for your group throughout the duration of the trip. Is someone breaking out in a rash and needs to get to Urgent Care? That nap you just laid down for will have to wait.
On the bright side, about 1-2 times per week you will have a “free day” from the group. This means your passengers have the entire day to explore on their own and you can just stay and bed and hibernate if you want to.
Overall, expect to lead a very busy lifestyle. Still, each person is different and requires more/less down time. We all have strategizes to manage our time, recharge and get enough rest. You’ll learn the basics of that in training.
How much money will I make?
After training for the duration of time on payroll, you get paid a weekly salary. This means each week of work you will get paid the same amount. If you happen to have an entire 7 days off, then you won’t be paid for that week. When this happens, (which isn’t often) you will be provided with accommodation.
Weekly salaries start somewhere around $575. Mine is around $660. (rough estimate, before taxes). At the same time, you will be provided with covered accommodation, a phone stipend of $10/week and extra daily stipends for running special trips. You can also earn commission on booking activities like horseback riding to helicopter flights (usually between $20-300 per activity).
Also, don’t forget about tips. For Trek America, it is suggested that each passenger provides the tour leader with $5-7/day of the tour. Let’s say you have a group of 10 pax on a 14 day trip. Realistically, you should make around $700. While these amounts can fluctuate a lot depending on the size of the group (4-13) and other factors, you can expect to be depositing a substantial amount of cash straight into your account on the final day of each tour. I probably averaged around $500/week in tips with full groups.
Overall, while you can make a good living doing this job (I tend to save thousands after working full seasons each year), it won’t happen instantly. It’s also not always consistent. Expect to invest some money into the position initially. Also, at the end of the day, if you’re choosing the job just for the money, it’s not for you.
How much driving is involved each day?
The itineraries we run are pretty jam packed so passengers can get the most out of their time. That, and the fact that the United States is very large and spread out, means driving makes up a big portion of the job.
Overall, you can expect to be driving on an average of 3 – 5 hours per day.
What do the itineraries look like?
To view many of the trips you will run, check out the Trek America website. Some of the most popular tours include the ‘Southern Sun’, ‘Western Wonder’ and ‘Atlantic Dream’. While you can run a tour anywhere in the U.S., and sometimes Canada, most involve destinations within the Southwest.
Here’s an article on my typical day as a tour leader.
What’s the most difficult aspect of the job?
For most people, the most difficult aspect of being a tour leader is exhaustion and the occasional difficult passenger(s). We do most trips with little time in between (a few days) and after a few months your body and patience can feel the lack of downtime. At the same time, we all get the occasional difficult group or passenger too. We all learn how to manage group dynamics and stay in charge so things don’t get out of control.
Some people also can’t deal with the stress or pressure of running a successful tour. It can be overwhelming and managing stress is very important. Without that, you could have a difficult time.
How often do you see friends or family?
If you’re talking about your tour leader family, you’ll see them pretty often especially during the busiest months of summer. As for friends and family at home, that depends on where you live.
If you happen to have a tour which goes through your hometown, great! Bring your group to your parents’ house or have your friends join your group for a night on the town. As for taking off time (see #1) or having a reliable schedule to plan meet-ups, that’s more difficult. Luckily, you’ll run into other tour leaders often at campsites and in hotels so you won’t feel so isolated.
What if I make a mistake?
Everybody makes mistakes! It’s your job to figure out how to make the most of a situation or play damage control. At the end of the day, things happen and everyone in the office understands that. If you’re really in a pinch, we have an emergency line where someone can help you figure out what to do when something goes wrong.
Paying attention during training and asking co-workers for advice on the road is the best way to avoid unneccasary mishaps.
On your co-workers:
What are most tour leaders like?
Most tour leaders are outgoing, nature-loving, travelers who don’t like being constrained to the 9-5. Of course, we are all different and there is not one specific type. Some like the outdoors more than others. Some are better at history than others. We all have strengths and weaknesses in this role.
More specifically, but not always, most tour leaders are between the ages of 25-35, have lead unique lifestyles, love to have a good time and have strong personalities. This sure can lead to great parties and constant travel buddies. We don’t mind moving around all the time and we tend to be charismatic people-persons. At the same time, having a lot of strong personalities working together can lead to some entertaining situations, especially during training.
How often will I see co-workers?
This was touched on a bit above. During training, you’ll make some great friends which you’ll want to see and keep in touch with for the rest of the seasons. Some people you’ll see often, others, maybe never!
During the busiest months of June, July and August, you can always count on seeing other tour leaders at campsites and hotels in the most popular places around the U.S. (Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, New Orleans, D.C.). There are a lot of us and if you don’t know the leader, don’t fret, go introduce yourself and you’ll most likely have a new friend.
When we are in-between trips at one of our bases, Santa Rosa, CA or Wharton, NJ, you will stay in the leader house. This is leader accommodation with shared rooms and communal spaces.
What is the average length of time someone works as a tour leader?
Unfortunately, there are many leaders who only work one season. I personally think this is a mistake, especially if you excelled and enjoyed the job. For one, there is a lot of effort (and sometimes money) put into uprooting your life, going through training and getting on the road. You’re sacrificing a lot of time and effort. Additionally, the learning curve is a drastic one. You’ll learn so much in your first season that it almost feels like a waste to not give your second season a try. Simply put, each season gets easier and each season you grow and learn how to run better tours.
Many successful leaders work a few seasons before finding other sources of non-seasonal income. A handful, like my boyfriend, have been on the road for 4-6 years+ and also guide in Alaska for one summer– the holy grail of tour leading. There are also a handful of “lifers” who say that it’s their last season every season, but always seem to be pulled back!
What are the training dates?
There are typically 3-4 training groups per year with 10-20 people in each. These numbers vary from year to year. This coming year, the training dates are estimated as follows: 1. early-April, 2. mid-May, 3. late-May, 4. mid-June.
Your availability and the date you submit your application will determine which training group you are invited to attend. When you leave for training, you should have all your bags packed for the summer and all your lose-ends tied up.
What is training like?
Training is an intense, immersive introduction to the job. Expect to be camping with your fellow trainees for accommodation. During the first week you’ll attend class each day to learn about safety, rules, laws and everything else you might need to know. The second two weeks will be on the road where each day a different trainee will take the role as ‘leader of the day’. The rest of the group will act as passengers and be expected to study material during the drive. This will act as a mock tour where you get to see the logistics of running a trip first hand.
During the fourth week of training you will be back in the classroom to learn more about commercial driving, how to be a successful leader and any other info that has been left out.
While it’s hard and tiring work, training is a fun experience you’ll never forget. Your fellow trainees will also probably become some of your best friends within the company.
After training, when would I start work?
Many times, leaders will be told what their first trip is during the last week of training. Often, these leaders will have a few days to prepare and will get on the road right away. Other times, there can be a gap or break of a handful of days between training and your first trip. This all depends on scheduling and time of year.
Are there ways for growth as a tour leader?
One thing I love about this job is that I am constantly challenged. Every trip teaches me something new. Sometimes this will be how to deal with people and group dynamics, other times it will be expanding on my knowledge on wildlife, history and cities.
After being able to successfully guide within certain brands, you may be asked to guide for more demanding clientele. Working with more mature passengers gives you an opportunity to really share your knowledge and experience around the U.S. Also, trips with older passengers can be very rewarding. Someone in their 50s appreciates a hard-day’s work much more than someone right out of high school.
Once you’ve gotten tired of the road, there are typically positions available in the office in either Santa Rosa, CA or Wharton, NJ. These can range from managerial, developmental or in purchasing. Occasionally, tour leaders will also become training assistants and/or work in sales for a short stint in the UK.
What do most leaders do during the off-season? (winter)
Most everyone embarks on some sort of international travel at some point during their off-season. It’s not uncommon to meet up with other leaders wherever you are in the world either. Some people travel for months, and others for a couple of weeks.
Many leaders have other seasonal jobs, but not everyone. It is quite popular for leaders to work in ski resorts around the U.S. during the winter.
Once spring roles around everyone ties up what they are doing and heads back to work!
Can I request to work during the off-season?
Only a handful of leaders work through winter, due to demand. If you happened to be a successful leader in your first year, you can request to work in winter but it is not extremely likely. If you want to work winters after becoming proficient at the job, it is usually possible.
What if I’ve never camped before?
That’s okay! There are many successful guides who have never camped before this job. Regardless, you must enjoy the outdoors and be excited about making it part of your lifestyle.
What if I’m not completely confident in every aspect of the job?
None of us are perfect at everything. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. During training you’ll be able to work on these and throughout the season there will always be someone to help you out as long as you ask. Basically, as long as you can lead a safe tour for passengers, everything else can be learned or worked on.
What do I do with all my possessions?
Each season, we pack a couple bags and head to either the west or east coast office to begin work. Everything that I own which I don’t see myself using or needing I leave at my parents’ house. During the season I don’t pay rent anywhere. I also don’t have a car, which also makes things easy.
While some people continue to pay rent while working, it is not common and will make saving money more difficult. Other people keep their cars at home, let a friend borrow it for the months they are gone or pay for long-term parking.
As for the stuff I’ve brought on the road, I keep it organized in the back of the van into a makeshift closet. I also have another box of things which I keep in the trailer.
On the application process:
When should I apply?
If you know it’s for you, as soon as possible! Here are the steps:
- Fill out an application at AmeriCanAdventures.com/work-for-us after November 1st, 2017. Additionally, you can sign up to this mailing list for a special link to apply one week early.
- Mention me, Jessica Wray, in your application. If you do, I also don’t mind answering any questions you may have via email throughout the process. (Please title it: Working for American Adventures).
- Prepare for a Skype interview somewhere down the line, most likely in winter.
- Attend a hiring event to meet office staff in person, get a better feel of the job and if it is right for you, and raise your chances of being admitted to training. (Dates and locations to come).
- If you’ve passed all those steps, you may be asked to attend a 1 month paid training. This includes in the classroom learning and a two week training trip. This is not for the faint of heart and should be taken by serious applicants only. Once admitted, begin studying a list of assigned topics to prepare.
- Pack up your belongings, tie up any loose ends and head to training in Northern California sometime in spring.
- From then on, prepare to be fully immersed in the best and craziest job of your life until the summer ends.
How should I prepare for the interview?
Be yourself, be friendly, be engaging and don’t be shy! AmeriCan Adventures wants confident, enthusiastic people so your priority should be showing that. Additionally, prepare some questions in advance to ask the interviewer if you have time. Showing that you’re invested will help.
Additionally, what are your strengths which could pertain to this job? What might your weaknesses be? What are some of your biggest accomplishments that you could relate to helping you in this role? Brainstorming on any of these topics never hurts during an interview.
Should I go to a hiring event?
If you have the funds and availability to travel to a hiring event, you definitely should. These are held in locations around the U.S. where you get to know more about the job, meet staff and engage in a few activities. While of course it might not be possible for you to go, you should do everything you can within reason to get there. It can only be a benefit.
More Questions about being a tour leader with AmeriCan Adventures?
Email me at [email protected] and make sure to mention my name on your application.