A Month as a Tour Leader

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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.

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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.

A photo posted by Michelle W (@mishfishh13) on

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. 12006249_10153625991864704_4383052377596725958_n

Alternate Reality

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.

A photo posted by Michelle W (@mishfishh13) on

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?

A photo posted by Michelle W (@mishfishh13) on

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!

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What would you be interested to know about tour leading? Help me narrow it down!

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  • The Lady Errant

    Wow, happy to hear it’s going well! Haha, some aspects of it sound like teaching. . .except I didn’t have to live 24/7 with my students, ew. I’d love to hear some stories – and see whatever photos you have! These look great. And nice, a job that’s six months on and six months off sounds amazing :)

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Haha yeah. I never thought that I would be in anything close to a parental role… but here I am. Hopefully everything’s been going well on your end! Just realized after a quick hop over to your blog that you won’t be blogging anymore! :(

      • The Lady Errant

        Oh, I’ll still be blogging! Just at a different place, starting next month. It’s pretty much ready now but might as well wait until after the honeymoon :)

        • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

          HONEYMOON! Belated congratulations btw. Are you guys in anywhere exotic? :D

          • The Lady Errant

            Aw, thanks :) We went to Iceland! And it was so amazing we’re already planning on going back next year if we can. We’re in Germany now, planning on heading down to Croatia, assuming the refugee situation doesn’t make things crazy down there over the next few weeks.

          • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

            Omggg I need to make my way to Iceland! What an awesome trek for a Honeymoon. I heard Croatia is BEAUTIFUL. Hoping to see photos soon :)

  • http://lanivcox.wordpress.com/ Lani

    It sounds like you found your niche! I’m very happy that you’re happy and pleased to have an update in my reader. But I want to know the juicy bits, like have you had sex with any of your van passengers? Hahahahhahahaa.

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Thanks Lani :) I love knowing that there are still people out there despite the dust the blog’s collected. And hahahahahahah ;)

  • http://www.crumbsinthebed.com/ Kerri

    Yes! It’s nice to see you back around these parts, and Anna too! Damn this is a good week for my favourite bloggers to be back in Blog-Town.

    What a summer you are having! I, of course, would love to hear more about your summer. Saying that, you could probably write about dog poo and I’d still read it!

    I hope the rest of the trips go as well as the first, but, the big question is… what are the plans for the 6 months off?!?!

    Also, nose ring = win.

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I know! I just noticed that Anna sprung up a post around the same time :) It’s good to know that her situation is getting better.

      I need to figure my 6 months out!! There is so much to do and so much to see! For one, I definitely want to get back to traveling. Question is—revisit some old friends in Europe or head somewhere totally different?!

      • http://www.crumbsinthebed.com/ Kerri

        Absolutely! I’m so happy to hear that her sister is doing so well :) All the best to her!

        Haha, so much choice! But if you happen to be in Belgium, let me know!

        • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

          I would never dream of visiting Belgium without visiting you! Haha. Will do :)

  • http://adventitiousviolet.com/ Camila @ AdventitiousViolet

    Wow sounds like such a crazy life experience! And not going to lie, please let me know how I could book a trip with you, you’d probably be the best tour leader!x

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Awww, thanks Camila that means a lot :))

  • http://www.twofeet-oneworld.com/ Jessi @2feet1world

    Yay, welcome back and WOW it sounds like you’re having an amazing experience! I’m sure it’s a toughie, but where’s your favourite place so far – and do you think it would be different if you weren’t seeing it as a tour leader? Also yes, more of your crazy stories please – I’m sure there are loads on the road! What’s the most bizarre thing a passenger has said/done? Have you visited any crazy/amazing small towns?

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Hahah thanks for all the suggestions! I DEFINITELY have a lot of stories for all those :)

  • http://www.clemandmarcella.wordpress.com/ Marcella ~ WhatAWonderfulWorld

    Heeeeey you! Happy to see a post from you, and even happier to hear about what a great time you’ve been having :D And oh my, 6 months off!!!! What are you going to do?

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Haha, I’m still trying to decide! There’s so much that’s out there and I want to get back on the road again :)

  • http://agirlandhertravels.com/ Polly

    SO INTERESTING. I had no idea this was even a job option until I read you had taken it – so cool. I’m glad you’re liking it!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Haha, I know right?! So happy that I landed it :) Hope you’ve been doing well, Polly!