While standing at the top of Africa’s highest mountain, Jebel Toubkal, it was impossible to avoid tears of pride when the group under my leadership achieved their dream.
It was hard to hold back my emotions when I admired the unreal spectacle of the Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland alongside the people who came to the “Land of Fire and Ice” with me. I was thanking the universe for being the leader of adventure travels. Such moments are worth living for.
Exactly – moments. Because although such moments remain in memory forever, leading a group is a daily, arduous effort. You cannot take a day off while on an expedition. You need to be focused all the time, ready for unexpected challenges, solve conflicts between people, and listen to their complaints. You have to be prepared for almost sleepless nights and, at the same time, burst with energy. Working as a travel leader is not a bed of roses.
What is Being a Travel Leader All About?
First, let me explain who, in fact, is a travel leader. Or, more precisely, what does being a travel leader mean in the company I work for.
A travel leader is a person who guides a group of participants during adventurous journeys. But being a leader means much more than being a regular guide. Among many duties, the more essential are:
- Promoting journeys via social media, live webinars, and travel lectures.
- Keeping contact with participants before, during, and after the travel.
- Substantive preparation before departure — i.e., knowledge of the expedition, information about the places visited and interesting facts.
- Facilitating the journey’s schedule, tracking the weather conditions, etc.
- Providing a proactive, positive atmosphere during the journey.
- Collecting opinions and feedbacks from participants after the travel.
As you can see, this position requires a set of soft and hard skills, as well as some specific personal features.
Unsurprisingly, group management is essential for a leader’s skill set. I can’t imagine a person in that position without proper knowledge of managing people’s expectations, needs, problems and conflicts. Experience is also essential, but you gain it with time.
You have to know and understand the psychological concept of developing a team known as the FSNP. In short, each group of strangers participating in an event or project is dynamic. People start building relationships in more or less predictable ways, falling under one of four stages – Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. As a travel leader, you have to identify at which stage of the group formation process you are. With this knowledge, you can predict potential problems and prevent them.
Everyone is different. This truism is of particular importance in the work of a travel leader. Before the journey, you never know who you will travel with. People have different expectations about the upcoming adventure. Believe it or not, many of them sign up for travel without reading the details. It’s a bit frustrating when someone with a poor condition chooses a challenging 7-day trip to Lofoten in Norway, where the whole group sleeps in tents and does everyday 20-kilometer hikes.
As a travel leader, you have to deal with people like that. Motivate them and inspire, but also be patient, listen to their complaints and find solutions to make their adventure unforgettable while not slowing down other participants who knew what they signed up for.
Before, during and after travel, you have to prove that it’s an exquisite adventure. In our company, we do it mainly through social media profiles. Each leader is a personal brand, and our actions aim to acquire and retain customers.
Curiosity About the World
Curiosity about the world manifests itself in an interest in what we do not know. It requires empathy and a willingness to understand other people, cultures, countries, and value systems. This is what, in my opinion, distinguishes travelers from tourists.
As a travel leader, you need to be aware that not everything will always go your way. You often deal with stressful situations on your way, and you are responsible for solving them.
Willingness to Learn
You must be ready to acquire new knowledge. It relates to three spheres: expanding leadership competencies, language skills and knowledge about travel destinations.
Last but not least, you have to be in good shape! Adventure trips are not sitting by the pool and sipping drinks. It’s challenging trekking, kayaking, mountain climbing and many other physical activities.
Lights and Shadows
After this long introduction, I’ll jump to what it’s all about, so the lights and shadows of being a leader of adventurous travels. Let’s start with what’s beautiful about it.
Light: The New, Inspiring Filter Bubble
I will begin with something not obvious.
Probably you know a famous quote by John Donne “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future”. The people surrounding you have a tremendous influence on who you are.
The most fantastic value of being a leader of adventurous travels is your new filter bubble. Your colleagues-leaders are not average representatives of the society. They are made of different mettle. As I mentioned before, to become a travel leader, you have to be proactive, full of positive energy, ready for challenges, open-minded, and curious about the world. That’s how they are. And that’s what shapes you.
When I started my journey as a travel leader, I was not aware of that amazing “side effect”. But after some quarterly meetings with my colleagues (we are over 70 in our company), following each other on social media, and getting into true friendships, I realized that it changed me. This new filter bubble winged me up like nothing ever before.
I have noticed amazing progress that I achieve every day in almost every area of my life. I have improved my ability to establish interpersonal relationships, have more energy to act, got rid of procrastination tendencies, regularly play sports and fulfill myself professionally.
Light: You Can Travel the World and Get Paid for It
Ok, that’s pretty evident — the creme de la creme of being the travel leader. You can travel to places you’ve always dreamed of, explore them and get paid for it.
Without becoming a travel leader, it would be more challenging to see the indescribable volcano in Iceland. I don’t know if I would decide to climb the highest mountain in North Africa if I would not get a journey to Morocco. Exploring the magical Azores and Caucas Mountains were probably the most pleasant way of earning money in my life.
It is a light of incredible power. Despite the challenges that arise along this winding road, I always conclude that it was all worth it.
Shadow: It’s a Job. A Challenging Job.
During the trip you lead, you are at work 24 hours a day. And it’s a very intensive job. I would say the most intensive job I’ve ever had. And I even worked in a sawmill once, so I know what I’m talking about.
Whether you are tired, sleepy, or just don’t feel like it, you cannot show it to your participants. You are here for them. For many of them, this journey is a dream come true, for which they saved money and had to take a vacation.
In an ideal world, all participants would be understanding, informed and aware of what awaits them. The problem is that we don’t live in a perfect world. Don’t get me wrong. Most of the participants of my expeditions are nice people. You can even make friends with some of them. But there are also those who are eternally dissatisfied. They create real or imaginary problems, and it’s up to you to solve them.
During each trip that I lead, I give 120%. I sleep five hours a day, manage the budget, follow the weather to plan the next day of the program, contact drivers and subcontractors, maintain a positive relationship with participants and between them and animate their free time.
I must admit that after each such trip, I am terribly tired. I am emotionally and physically drained and need 2-3 days to recover.
Shadow: Bad Things Happen.
Unexpected difficulties happen during each trip. Some of them are relatively easy to deal with — delayed flights, bad weather, an injured participant or a flat tire. The real challenge begins when you face an unexpected, severe and stressful problem. Believe me, they happen more frequently than you think.
At our quarterly travel leaders meetings, we always share our difficult cases. We do this as a warning and to reflect on what to do if such a problem happens again. I will not reveal the sometimes ridiculous and terrifying cases of my friends, but I’ll share one of mine.
While in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik, I walked around the city with a group. The participants had different paces, so I told the faster ones to go to the next point.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, one of my participants in his forties sat down on the stairs, said he was feeling unwell and passed out. When I saw it, it chilled my heart. His wife screamed in panic. I ran to them and checked if he was breathing. Then I asked two passers-by — Icelanders — to call an ambulance.
The fainted participant regained consciousness but, after a few seconds, passed out again. After five minutes, the ambulance arrived and paramedics took him to the hospital.
In the end, everything turned out well. After a few hours, he was released from the hospital, but no one could say why he passed out twice. The good thing is that the whole situation happened in Reykjavik, the largest city in Iceland. It would be much more stressful if he passed out somewhere remote.
When I consider the shadows and lights of leading adventurous travels, one thing is certain: It is definitely worth it. This is a job unlike any other. Both demanding and exhausting, at the same time endlessly rewarding.
This is not a job for everyone. But if, while reading this article, your heart pounded because you feel that it is for you, then don’t hesitate. The most beautiful adventure of your life awaits you.