If there’s one thing we’ve learned in our years of blogging, it’s that a financially successful travel blog relies on a variety of income sources. As bloggers, we’re really entrepreneurs who create written and visual content and find creative ways to make ends meet based on that content. Sometimes, our blog becomes a portfolio for other work, or opens up opportunities for travel-related jobs. This is definitely the case for Christine and Adam from the adventure work and travel blog Fins to Spurs.
As part of our ongoing Jobs for Travel Bloggers series, we sat down with Christine and Adam to learn more about how they got into work as adventure travel tour directors. Below, you’ll learn how you can follow in their footsteps, and can even use Fins to Spurs as a resource in looking for adventure travel work for yourself!
How did you both get started working as adventure travel guides?
Adam and I left our jobs working on scuba diving boats in Hawaii to work and travel around the world beginning in Central America with our first gig guiding horseback tours. We continued by taking any job we could find to keep our trip going. We cleaned, cooked, taught, photographed, and danced our way through some fantastic places.
Over time, we started noticing that we wanted to not just visit new towns, but to explore and push ourselves into more and more extraordinary situations. Our passion was not only seeing new places, but learning and doing new things too! The jobs where we got to work with locals and take visitors on trips that included things like horseback riding, hiking and being in the ocean were our absolute favorites and we wanted more!
We believe there is so much amazing value in pushing yourself physically and mentally while you travel, making your trip to each place a real accomplishment! And guiding continually pushed us to learn more about new places and activities too!
Do you typically work together or separately?
Though we have done both, in our experience, it often works really well if Adam and I can work for the same company, but take individual positions. For example, last year we worked for one company where Adam was leading people kayaking while I was a photographer. Many companies like having a couple that works well together because they can share housing and similar hours, helping you become more integrated into the company.
Can you each start by telling us about a recent tour guide gig that you really enjoyed? How did you find the opportunity, how long did it last, and what type of work did it involve?
Adam: Last year, we worked with a company called Asia Outdoors that we want to go back to someday soon. They run day tours based around rock climbing and yoga in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. We found them through a simple internet search for adventure companies in Vietnam and we emailed them to ask if they would like some help. We only got to spend a few weeks with them, but we were inspired. The company is bringing in sustainable tourism with an incentive for preservation to an island that most visitors would skip. They introduce visitors through adventure sports to undeveloped jungle areas of Vietnam that have amazing vistas and are insanely gorgeous. What a group!
Christine: This year, we are guiding our third summer season at Alaska Wildland Adventures as week-long expedition tour leaders. We found the job on a seasonal job website, and it lasts around 4 months. We guide small groups to several different locations, take them hiking, kayaking, canoeing and rafting all over the Kenai Peninsula area. The wildlife is insane! Whales, bears, harbor seal pups hauled out on ice chunks…incredible!
How do you connect with new tour companies as you travel? What are some resources for finding these jobs?
Years ago, it seemed like there were only two jobs for Americans to work and travel: teach English and teach English. Things have changed! There are so many ways to work and travel. We have connected with adventure tour companies using all sorts of methods including seasonal work websites, hostel boards, and directly contacting companies by email. We have even used Trip Advisor!
Find a location that you want to visit and Trip Advisor the best things to do and what companies are taking people there. Great reviews often indicate a great company! We have a list on the Fins to Spurs site of companies and job search sites that we use to find openings as well as a list of current jobs openings that we think are pretty great!
What length are most of your tour guide gigs? Do companies mind that you continue to travel rather than sticking around long term?
Working as an adventure tour leader is often seasonal or short-term (3-6 months), but not always. One reason is that work visas can be for only a few months or a year, so it is expected for guides to come and go. Also, more guides are needed during peak seasons like summer, especially when you are working with animals that are only around for a few months per year. Having employees rotating every few months can be fantastic for some companies because it keeps employees excited for their jobs, very fresh and working hard! Some companies certainly prefer employees who want to stay for over a year (which is great!), but we look specifically for short-term positions right now.
What types of skills did you learn, prior to becoming adventure tour guides, and how did you learn them?
Just like most people, before becoming guides, Adam and I had a wealth of random skills. We both were professional scuba divers, taking people on guided tours underwater for several years. We both are passionate about animals and nature, so we love learning and sharing information about natural history. I have worked in restaurants since I was in high school, so those experiences have helped with customer service skills, dealing with money and working in kitchens.
A big part of guiding is understanding the areas you are taking your guests to and the plants and animals that live in that ecosystem. Adam absolutely loves history, so explaining the areas he travels to is one of his favorite parts of the job. We had both traveled internationally and learned the essentials of getting into and out of tough situations where you are completely lost and unable to speak the language. Learning to be flexible and communicate well with people using more than your words helps a lot for these kinds of jobs!
Does your blog help you with finding new jobs? How so?
We are really proud to share work and travel jobs regularly on our site, through our social media and in our newsletter. Working as a seasonal guide, you are ALWAYS on the hunt for the next big adventure that you want to be a part of…so while we are looking for jobs to share with our readers and friends, we definitely find ones that Adam and I apply to also!
Have you led any particularly difficult guests you’d be willing to share a story about?
Adam and I have been very lucky to have awesome guests worldwide. But I remember a time where I had a difficult situation on a boat where I was working. The boat would take 40 people out for 9 days at a time, visiting different places each day. Guests had their own cabins and would eat all of their meals on the boat. One night, we were sitting at anchor, everyone was asleep except the nightwatch person. From my cabin, I could hear all this yelling and banging on a door down the hall from my room. I looked outside my cabin and one of the guests was standing at her own door with a HUGE kitchen knife, screaming at her husband. Apparently, she and her husband had a pretty big argument (and bottle of whiskey). She ran to the galley and grabbed one of our knifes and came back to her cabin to find her husband had locked her out. We were in the middle of the ocean, so the Captain had to come out and calm her down..then lock her in an empty cabin until we could escort her off the vessel the next day. They were super nice people, but the situation was bit…challenging?
How do you manage the work balance of keeping up with your travel blog and guiding?
The work balance is interesting because guiding takes us to amazing places that we then want to blog about. Many of our favorite places in the world we would never have known about or visited if our jobs hadn’t sent us there! As far as getting the stories on the page, we set a lot of realistic deadlines and try so very hard to keep them.
But…there is never enough time in the day to get everything done. We have so many stories and ideas we want to share, but haven’t had a chance to get on the site yet. We write and work on our site as much as possible, and end up working either our guide jobs or the travel blog job every single day. Luckily, no complaints here–we love our jobs!
What sort of additional skills (beyond the physical skills of hiking, climbing, rafting etc.) have you picked up through tour guiding?
Working as an adventure tour guide, you learn a lot more about people and places than the actual skill of the sport. You spend tons of time speaking with your guests about their lives and it is fascinating. People are incredible. Then, in our experience, you are never only guiding. You are also often asked to cook, clean, camp, spend time on boats, and haul a lot of luggage. Additionally, this job requires you to do a lot of things that you’ve only learned once while guests are watching you on short notice because you never know what to expect—there’s a lot of risk taking, making each day different from the last! We feel we are now more patient people, we’ve picked up strong language skills, and we are simply more confident to try new things because ultimately things tend to turn out ok as long as you stay calm and smile.
What’s one piece of advice you can offer to someone who would like to become an adventure travel tour guide?
Our advice to people who want to get into guiding is to just get started. Our backgrounds are not particularly athletic, we simply wanted to try one thing, then when that went well, we tried another. If you are interested, find some activity that you already like or would like to learn and contact companies directly to see if they need any help. Do not underestimate your abilities, you are more qualified than you think.
There are fantastic expedition and adventure companies that do most of their hiring from within, so your first season you may be working at the front desk or cleaning, but in your free time you are doing all of the awesome trips and learning how it all works and how to lead them! Listen and learn as much as people will teach you—guiding doesn’t always pay much but you get free classes, certifications and often gear which will help you later on down the road. Once you have spent a few months doing activities that often do not require big certifications like leading hikes, kayaking, biking, or snorkeling, you will see what you like and if you want to continue.
Check out and follow along with Christine and Adam’s adventures – and as adventure travel tour directors – on their blog, Fins to Spurs.
Read more in past Jobs for Travel Bloggers posts: