WHAT’S IT LIKE…leading adventure tours in Alaska?
My summer was insanely fun and it was because of my job.
I love saying that and I love that it is true.
I spent Summer 2015 as a Tour Director for a company that leads tours in several parts of Alaska. My official title was Safari Leader, which may overstate it a bit, but regardless I had the awesome pleasure of leading groups of guests from all over the world to experience different parts of Alaska from boating with feeding humpbacks in the Kenai Peninsula to watching grizzlies in Denali National Park. The company offers several different types of tours, so I went on a variety of them, each up to nine days in length.
My job very basically was to travel along on the tour composed of 6 to 18 people and make sure it went smoothly–and when there are bumps in the travel road, as there always are, that the guests are as unaffected by the bump as possible. Now, because I worked for an incredible tour company, I was not only hired to go along on all tours with the guests, but actually trained to guide several of the hikes and canoe trips as well. Quite a challenge, as you are changing locations every few days for weeks at a time, but COMPLETELY AMAZING.
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The Positives: Working as a Tour Director is different for every company. I was so lucky to spend my time not only going river rafting, hiking and flying, but also guiding a lot!! One day I would canoe a lagoon filled with chunks of glacial ice, harbor seals and otters and the next I took guests on half-day hikes up through bear country. Who can say that??? Just so awesome. Some of my coolest days in nature to date were this summer–including the day I watched 21 humpbacks bubble-net feeding from off a boat 100 feet away!!!
My job was especially fun because by being with guests for their entire trip, you actually get to know each and every one of them quite well. It is so incredible to build that relationship with people who start out as total strangers, then gradually establish friendships through shared new experiences.
The Negatives: Being a Tour Director for any company in my experience is a job with LONG HOURS. Your day starts before the guests start arriving at breakfast, checking that everything is ready for the guests to have an incredible day, then it ends after the guests have finished dinner, often after an evening activity. People can be so great, they become like family very quickly. There are very few times that you are not with the guests, so you need to stay “on” for well over 14 hours a day. However, so much of the time you are following along with other guides for a specific activity that you often feel like a guest as well.
Being in VERY remote locations also made it difficult to lead at times because there is no phone service or no internet, making it hard to accommodate guest requests or alter future arrangements to their liking.
Also, as with all other Tour Director jobs, I was gone from Adam a bunch. For example, a nine day trip is actually around 11 days away from home when you include travel to the place where you meet your guests the day before and the day after the trip that you are traveling back home. Luckily, there were usually several days in between each trip to play with friends before back to “work.” No biggie!
Housing, Transportation and Money: Transportation to and from Alaska was the responsbility of the worker, but housing and food were provided by the tour company for a small stipend. While on tour, I stayed in staff accomodations in some places, in the same hotel as guests at other times. Adam and I were given a permanent tent to live in at one of the lodges owned by the adventure tour company, so I spent my off time living there.
I was paid a daily rate along with tips from the guests at the end of each tour. Because the cost of living is limited to a tiny housing/food charge and I was on tour most of the summer, I had almost no time to spend money–I saved nearly everything I earned for those four months!
How Did We Find It? After a bit of research, Adam and I realized summer season in Alaska sounded like just the kind of adventure that we wanted to be part of, so we researched on tripadvisor.com the highest rated activities in the state and found some companies with great reputations. We then went to their websites and looked at Employment pages, found a couple that fit and filled out the online application, including photos and resumes.
In the end, the hardest part of the whole experience may have been saying goodbye to the guests. I was pretty bad at it, in fact. I would give last minute hugs, then run into a corner. After a week spent in sometimes rough conditions with people finding their personal limits, then passing them–sharing massive personal victories and watching some people’s dream vacation unfold, it is SUPER hard to let them just leave. My guests became my friends. So, when it came time to let them go, I decided to never, ever say goodbye. I always said, “See You Later!” To all the people I met this summer, I really hope it’s true. And thank you for letting me be part of your vacation.
Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are my own and do not express the opinions of others or my employer. Also, this is an article about my experience working for one employer and will probably vary for others during different times, with different people and with different companies. Use your head.