What is it really like to be a trip leader? And how do you become one?
It should be clear by now that trip leading is an active, exciting
lifestyle that is the antithesis to an office job. However there are
give-and-takes and tensions inherent - it is certainly not for
- You're not in it for the money! Your stipend varies greatly
depending on experience, education and time spent with the same
company. Veteran trip leaders will see their salaries capped
eventually. Tour leaders of adults can expect tips; trip leaders of
students should not. Your expenses will be covered - accommodations,
food, transportation, and activities - such as retreats, language
classes, homestays, adventure activities, and weekend excursions. Your
flight to the country and back home is typically covered as well.
Health insurance is another matter: it’s more likely you will receive
some form of travel insurance, or a type of health insurance that is
only good for treatment outside of the U.S.
- You’ll be independent… sort of. While shredding your material
possessions can be a relief, you will need something to do and
somewhere to go on off-periods. This is a plus as well as a challenge
that comes with being a trip leader. Think ahead as to where you can
hang your hat between trips.
- You’re at peace with being ´juggled.´ Trips may or may not run at
the last minute depending on student enrollment. Matching up
leadership teams can be a long process that leaves you out of the know
for long stretches.
For me, these are slight obstacles when I consider the many, many
positives associated with this job. Liberation from an office!
Exciting activities! An opportunity to mentor youth! Seeing the world!
Sharing my day with a co-leader! Having fun! Every day becomes a new
Before you apply, make sure you have these qualities that most tour
companies are looking for.
* Experience with this age group. Good leaders establish an intimate
but responsible rapport with students.
* Experience abroad. The more intimately you know a place, the better
the case for you to lead a trip there.
* Language skills. Most trips to Latin America demand a decent command
of the Spanish language. To places like India, where English is a
common medium, Hindi may not be a requirement.
* A minimum age. Advertised minimum ages may be around 21 for high
school programs and 25 for college-aged programs. For gap semester
companies, the average age advertised is typically 26 to 29.
* Flexibility. A lot can change in the field. In an interview and on
an application, be sure to talk up any job in which you have had to be
* Maturity and responsibility, especially in emergencies. If you have
first aid, CPR, or wilderness first aid training, they are a plus and
for most companies a requirement after being hired.
* References. Up to three people who will be called to vouch for the
If you don’t have these things, or if you’re not yet 21, there are
many things you can do that will push your eventual application to the
front of the line:
…Become a camp counselor, RA, teacher. Think positions with
responsibility. A simple internet search will reveal many summer camps
that take counselors who are under 21.
…Volunteer abroad. Picking a region where many programs lead trips
will give you an opportunity to talk up your experience in the region
…Learn a language. Language skills are a plus and sometimes mandatory
- enroll in a language school abroad and practice by staying with a
host family. Take advantage of any semester study abroad programs your
high school or college offers.
…Save a life. First Aid and CPR certification and Wilderness First Aid
are looked upon favorably, as is trekking and outdoor experience.
…Apply anyway! Some companies will accept younger applicants who are
otherwise qualified as “Trip Leader Interns,” “Assistant Trip
Leaders,“ or “Staffs-In-Training” (S.I.T.s). You may be unpaid or you
may be paid less, though your expenses will still be covered. This
gentle foot-in-the-door will help you learn the ropes and build
confidence in a leadership role. Lifeworks, for instance, advertises
it takes staff-in-training as young as 19.
Happy Trip Leading!
You can contact the author at NateMarcus [at] gmail.com