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Saturday, 05 February 2011

Become A Trip Leader!

Written by Nate Marcus
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written by Nate Marcus


Can you be paid to travel to different countries - to trek the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu, practice yoga and meditation in India, and board down sand dunes in Argentina? What about getting paid to scuba-dive with sharks, see the sun rise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and live with Tibetan families?

It’s not a dream, but a reality for international trip leaders who work for companies that organize summer trips and gap semesters. As a trip leader I’ve been paid to do every one of the experiences listed above and many more.

At present I have led 12 trips over six summers and six semesters and worked for four different trip companies. As part of my job I have gotten to:

…patrol the beach at night collecting turtle eggs in Costa Rica…

…hostel hop on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua…

…tour the Mayan ruins of Copan and teach English in Honduras…

…learn Spanish and hike volcanoes in Guatemala…

…camp with gauchos and search for Eva Peron’s grave in Argentina…

…shower under an Amazonian waterfall in Ecuador…

…practice yoga and meditation in Peru…

…climb over the Pyrenees and dance Flamenco in Spain…

…smell the burning ghats in India…

…sit cross-legged at a Buddhist retreat and trek the Himalayas in Nepal…

…and learn about children’s issues in Cambodia.

A trip leader - alternatively called “group leader,” “instructor,” or “international educator” - is different than a guide. It would be fair to expect a guide to know about the history and culture of a place, or to have experience in a geographical area. As a trip leader I‘ve been to places where I’ve had neither. A trip leader may at times act as a guide, but essentially it is but one of the roles that a trip leader may play. Contracted guides are called “guides,” “experts” or “in-country coordinators.”

An international trip leader, rather, is someone who accompanies students or adults to another countries (or meets them there) and takes responsibility for the participants and the details of the program on behalf of the parent organization.

The details of the trip leader’s role depend on the program he or she is leading and the expectations of the company he or she works for. Typically a trip leader wears many hats. There are logistical details to take of. He or she must ensure program quality control; take care of emergencies that may arise; budget appropriately and account for every expenditure; and communicate with the home office back in the States. There is also the teacher role: a trip leader will be called on to guide group dynamics and instruct students on how to travel safely abroad. A trip leader acts as a disciplinarian, and may have to send students home (many gap semesters and summer programs have no-drug, no-alcohol and sometimes no-relationship policies). The rule-breaking scenarios and their consequences can consume a lot of energy, while “teachable moments” are commonplace and wonderful ways to impart knowledge onto curious minds. And there is also a mentor role - trip leaders have a special opportunity to get to intimately know the students and share advice, warm words and a more mature perspective.

Here are the various types of programs you may find. Gap-semester trips (and possibly some summer trips) are a hybrid combination of each.

Language Learning -

typically require that the leader speak the language proficiently. You may be doing the teaching, either formally or in dynamic activities such as scavenger hunts or games, or students may be enrolled in formal classes that you do not teach. Some programs like those with Putney Student Travels ( include a language pledge according to which students promise to speak only the target language for their entire 5-week trip.

Community Service -

are hands-on volunteer-oriented trips during which participants are typically living with and working in a smaller community. Weekends may be used for sight-seeing excursions. One of the additional responsibilities of the leader on these trips is to keep moral in the group high, and excite and motivate students with their volunteer work.

Cultural Exploration -

think: beach, cafes, skiing. Cultural exploration trips are fun fun fun. Travel for travel’s sake!

Outdoor Adventure -

are extremely active, typically learning to surf, bike, trek, kayak and the like. Leaders should love the outdoors. Leaders may have to already possess certain skills.

Overland -

involve taking participants on van rides around North America or to other countries. These trips require that trip leaders have a good driving record, which may mean no more than one infraction within a certain period of time.

Academic Enrichment -

take a more academic slant to travel and may take structured classes while abroad. They may learn creative writing or photography, biology or environmental science. These trips are at times accredited. You may be asked to teach one or more courses, in which case you can expect a higher compensation compared to other forms of trip leading.


Some companies looking for trip leaders include:

International summer teen tours:

360 Student Travel


All About Visiting Earth


Academic Treks


Global Routes


Global Works


Lifeworks International


Putney Student Travel


Rustic Pathways


Travel for Teens


Where There Be Dragons


Gap-semesters for students 17 and up:

Carpe Diem International Education

( - Africa, Australia, India, Latin America, Southeast Asia

Global Routes

( - Africa, Latin America


( - China, Greece, India, Morocco

LEAPNow (Lifelong Educational Alternative Programs)

( - India, Latin America

Thinking Beyond Borders

( - 8-month trip that goes to Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Where There Be Dragons

( - China, Himalayas, India, Latin America, Mekong region, West Africa

Happy Trip Leading!

Read 2917 times Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012