6 tips for becoming a cycling tour guide

Cycling Tour Guide

It’s officially the season for cycling tour guide recruitment and hiring.  All the major companies are accepting applications for guides and trip leaders for the 2014 season.

Cycling Tour GroupIf you dream of ditching your cubicle and getting paid to ride bikes for a living, working as a cycling tour guide can be a spectacular dream job.  However, there is a lot more to the job than riding your bike around Europe for the summer.  The top companies like Backroads, Trek Travel and Duvine want foreign language fluency, gourmet food and wine knowledge, mechanical skills, leadership skills and over-the-top customer service, all while having limitless energy and enthusiasm.  In other words, they demand perfection.

Here are 6 things to consider when interviewing or taking a job with one of the major tour companies.

1. Interview process

You will likely have at least one Skype interview before being invited to a group hiring interview.  Be prepared to be interviewed in whichever foreign language you speak, as well as your native language.  This is something you can’t fake.  Also, do your research on food and wine of the region of Europe you’re applying to work in.

If you  are lucky enough to be invited to a group hiring interview, realize that you will pay your own way to the interview location.  Whether you travel to their US office or a European office, be prepared to pay for your airfare, hotel, food, and all ground transportation to and from the interview.

The group interview itself is usually with 30-40 people and will include public speaking, bike mechanics and teamwork exercises, and role playing in various customer service situations.  There will likely be another interview in your non-native language as well.

2. The European tour season

If you are hired to work in Europe and you live in the US, there are good chances that you will be away from home from April through October.  If you have a family, this might present some difficulty.  The company should pay your airfare at the very beginning and very end of the season, but in the middle you will likely stay in local guide housing with other staff working in your same region.

3. Long working hours

Your work day will go well beyond the scheduled daily ride itinerary.  Before the actual tour starts, there will be days of prep at the warehouse, then days of driving to your tour location. During the actual tour, you will need to get up before breakfast to prep food, load vans, ride all day, unload vans, wash 10-20 bikes, be cheerful and engaging at dinner, and generally make sure every guest has the time of their lives, when all you really want to do is collapse into bed.  This will happen for 7-14 days in a row.

4.  Wages and Tips

In the industry, daily rates for first-year guides range from $75 – $150 per day while guiding a tour.   There is also an hourly rate for prep days, travel days, and training days.  Working 12-15 hour days like I described above, you can do the math.  Tips from tour guests can be a nice part of a guide’s compensation, though they are never guaranteed.

5.  You might not be cycling all the time

Even though you’re a cycling tour guide, you might not be riding every day.  Warehouse work, support van driving, luggage transfer, food shopping, sight seeing detours, and picnic preparation are all important behind-the-scenes parts of the job.  You will likely be working with one other guide, and can expect to alternate riding and van driving days  with them.

Cycling Tour Guide6.  It will all be awesome

None of the above is meant to discourage you, but meant to give you a very real, non-romantic portrait of what it’s like to be a guide.  It’s hard work, but also highly rewarding.  It’s Europe and you’re getting paid to tour there all summer! I’ve met some absolutely amazing and inspirational people that I’m still dear friends with, and have been to some equally splendid places in Europe.   It really can be a dream job for the right person.

Any guides care to share other tips?  Have further questions about being a guide?  Let’s chat in the comments!

5 Comment

  1. Chris says: Reply

    Ciao!

    Any idea what it takes to start a touring company? I am moving to southern Spain and thinking about doing it on my own.

  2. Felipe says: Reply

    Hello, how can I get your e mail to talk more about the tour guides? Thank you

    1. Coreen Mazzocchi says: Reply

      Hi Felipe, sorry I missed this comment. Is there some specific info you’d like to know about being a guide? Let me know any specific questions, and I can help answer them for you. Ciao.

  3. Sonya says: Reply

    Thank you so much for this, it is very helpful! The main question I have is whether there is any chance that a 19-year-old can work as a tour guide and whether there are any touring companies that have a shorter season. I have extensive experience in bike touring and I believe I have the passion and energy to lead trips, but I obviously haven’t had much life to gain a lot of experience working in the touring industry (or anywhere else for that matter. Most of the jobs I have worked have had at least some level of customer service involved, and I am proficient in the required skills listed in many of the applications, but I simply haven’t had years of experience in any field because I’ve been in school). What’s more, I’m in college right now, so the March-October season doesn’t exactly work for me. I realize that I have approximately 0 chance of getting a position with Trek Travel or DuVine or any of the other high end European tour companies, but I’m wondering if there might be some companies that have a shorter season or hire for less than full season contracts and might be less competitive. Or if you have any suggestions for other ways to gain experience leading bike tours.

    1. Coreen Mazzocchi says: Reply

      Hi Sonya, thanks so much for reading! Glad you have found this helpful. While this article was mostly aimed at getting a guiding job with one of the top companies, there are absolutely other companies that have fewer tours, shorter seasons, or hire guides on a contract basis for several tours per year. I actually found my first guiding job by sending exploratory emails to a dozen or so companies and just letting them know I was living in Italy, had a good grasp of the language, and had a passion for cycling. Every company is different however, some place a higher importance on customer service than the actual cycling aspect, so knowing your particular strengths could go a long way in finding a company that is a good fit. I would start by seeing if there are any tour companies based in the area where you are currently living, and get in touch with them. Perhaps they have an internship or need seasonal help? Then you can send out some broader inquiries as well. If you’d like to chat further, let me know, we can chat via email. Good luck!

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