I can’t believe it’s been a whole month since I’ve started officially running trips as a tour leader. So much has happened since I first set off for tour leader training but I struggle to find words at all on how to describe this whirlwind of an experience.
I do have to admit, though, that I haven’t been as rigorous with my camera for the whole season… which means that there’s a serious lack of photos coming up. What can I say? I’ve been so busy planning and organizing that when I do get some time to myself, I don’t exactly reach for the camera. Or the blog, which is why this summer has been so lacking in posts.
So far, I’ve finished running 3 trips and am currently running my 4th.
I feel extremely grateful that I’ve had this opportunity to travel so much of the U.S. as part of my job. There’s no way I could’ve been to so many places in such a short amount of time in such a low-budget way! At the same time, I would like to go back to many of these places since the time we get in each place isn’t more than a day or two.
Tour Leader Life
As a tour leader, I’m responsible for all the aspects of making a trip run smoothly. That includes teaching the passengers how to live a camp life (setting up tents, cooking, etc), monitoring the status of the food we keep in coolers and dry boxes, finalizing the itinerary (which campsites, what to do along the way), giving little talks on background of certain places, and driving the van (which can be up to 8 hours a day!).
Although we do have a headquarters and managers who are there for you if you run into a bit of trouble, be it your van breaking down or a lost passport, a majority of what we do is completely autonomous from any supervisor. That means we’re in full control of how a trip goes.
Much of our job is also managing group dynamics. When you put 13 random people into a van for 2+ weeks, things are going to happen. If you’re really lucky, a trip will feel like you’re on a planned road trip with 13 of your friends—these are the best case scenarios and the best fun I’ve ever had. If you’re lucky, a trip will feel like a job—you’re managing all aspects and standing back a bit from really being part of the group. If you’re unlucky, a trip can be a mess of a reality show—when people dislike each other and there is a lot of drama every single day. This season, I’ve experienced all three kinds of trips.
The trips themselves pass by quickly while at the same time, each day feels like an eternity. You love your passengers and then you hate them. You’re on top of the world, gazing at the most beautiful sunrise you’ve ever experience; 5 hours later, you’re sitting on the bathroom floor, trying to gather your strength to continue on.
One of the best feelings in the world is running into another tour leader. Even better is when you run into a leader you’ve met before. When you’re on the road, it’s simultaneously lonely and overwhelmingly social at times. But in terms of being with people that understand the chaos that is your life… you rarely get to see those people. So, when you do end up in the same campsite as another leader… it’s a party. Instant friendship. Tour leaders are some of the best people I’ve ever met and most are on a similar wavelength.
The days as a tour leader are really strange; sometimes I feel like I’m operating in an alternate reality compared to the rest of the world. It’s a weird thing, being a tour leader. Weird for the friendship dynamic you form with your passengers, weird for yourself as a person… just weird.
Sometimes I wake up and have no clue where I am, the only constant being that I’m either sleeping in the van or outside on my hammock. I feel like traveling 4-8 hours to a different city does take a toll on your body not just in terms of time zone but in terms of place whiplash or something!
Even weirder is the friendship you form with your passengers. I’m completely myself because it’s hard pretending to be something else when you’re basically with these 13 people 24/7… but at the same time, I’m a filtered version of myself… because there are company policies and feelings that need to be kept in a certain condition.
Despite all that, I’m not as stressed as I thought I would be! My first trip was probably my most stressful because I gave it 150%. Since then, I’ve learned that giving so much of yourself into a trip basically guarantees burnout; you need to learn how to take care of yourself first in order to run a trip smoothly for your passengers.
Days like today remind me how good I have it and how weird I have it. Today is a free day, which allows me to prepare for the next few days of the trip while enjoying some peace and quiet to myself. After yesterday, a sunset cruise in the San Francisco Bay and drinks out afterwards, it’s a much needed period of time to myself. I’m currently chilling on a king-sized bed in a hotel in the middle of San Francisco watching Netflix and catching up with my fellow bloggers. Does that not sound surreal to you?
I’m loving it
Despite all the ups and downs, I’m completely loving it so far. Compared to other people, I’m not as stressed or as worried about running a trip. It’s been pretty natural after I nailed my first one and all subsequent trips have been a blast (knock on wood). Although it’s probably not exactly what my parents pictured for a job, if all goes well, I’m probably going to be coming back for a few more years. What other job allows you to travel paid for 6 months and allow another 6 months to pursue whatever you wish?
Oops, did I forget to tell you guys that I got a nose piercing? Well, I did!
What would you be interested to know about tour leading? Help me narrow it down!