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Being an Adventure Travel Guide: Part 2

Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I intended to write the second part about being an adventure travel guide before leaving on my latest trip (Exploring Utah's National Parks) but I'm glad I waited. Being in a spectacular place with a lovely and very diverse group of women reminded me both of how much I love guiding, how much work it is, and what qualities make for happy and successful guiding - at least for Adventures in Good Company. Different companies have different philosophies and non-adventure travel companies undoubtedly have different requirements. But here is what we think is important.
You don't need to be Xena to be an adventure travel guide

  1. Experience in the outdoors. Guiding is not the way to get experience, and going on trips where others are guiding is a good start but not enough. Having a base of personal outdoor experience, where you are responsible for yourself, is critical for developing both judgment and self-confidence.

    "Good judgment is the result of experience. Experience is the result of poor judgment". You want to gain experience when you aren't responsible for the safety of others. Which is not to say that you won't continue to gain experience as you guide, but you want to have a sufficient base that you have enough judgment to not put others at risk.

  2. A keen interest in others' stories. If you are more interested in telling your stories than in listening to other people tell their's, then look for the types of guiding that are one day adventures (e.g. river rafting or ziplining) or are more oriented towards didactic teaching. A guide who loves to be the center of attention can be very successful short term;  on longer trips, where group relationships are key to everyone enjoying themselves, the focus needs to be on group members. Interest in other people is not something you can fake for an extended period of time.

  3. Safety awareness. This is a particular challenge on adventure travel trips because adventure is not compatible with keeping people totally safe all the time. If you are hiking in the mountains, you need to know to avoid the predictable afternoon thunderstorm. But how about the unpredictable sleet storm that comes up? What have you brought with you to deal with emergencies and when do you turn back? Safety awareness is gained from experience, from talking to others, and from reading about others' mishaps.

  4. Patience. This is another quality that is impossible to fake over a long period of time. On adventure travel trips, many people are out of their comfort zone; even just meeting up with a group of unknown women can be an adventure. As a result, things that are obvious to you may not be obvious to them, timelines may not be clear, people go at different paces. Always keep in mind that everyone is truly doing the best job they can and your role is to figure out the support they need, not to become impatient.

  5. Organization and flexibility. It may seem like a paradox, but the more organized you are, the more flexible you can be. Guides need to have a clear timeline of the day in their mind; then if something comes up that is going to affect it, they can understand exactly how the whole day will be impacted. 

    Here's an example: Our plan is to arrive at point X at 6 pm. Some of the group wants to go on a side trail to an overlook and it will take about 45 minutes. If the day is clearly planned, then you know whether there are other aspects you can shorten to make it still possible to arrive at 6 pm. And if you are in touch with your groups' energy and needs, you can make a decision whether keeping to the 6 pm arrival time is more important than going to that overlook. 

  6. Being your own best critic. You need to be able to look at yourself clearly, without beating yourself up, and see what you are doing well and what you need to change. If you look to others for validation, you can easily make safety mistakes. For example, you may need to tell people they can't do something they really want to do, if you are clear that it is not safe. (One of the hardest things I ever did a s aguide was tell someone on my Kilimanjaro trip that she would not be allowed to try for the summit). You have to be OK with people being mad at you. At the same time, you have to know when you have made a mistake, even if no one else recognizes it as such. You have to thoroughly look at why it happened and what you need to do differently so it doesn't happen again. And you need to do this without beating yourself up about it.

  7. Good technical skills and experience in the activity you're guiding.Frequently people who want to be guides focus only on this aspect- and it is very important. But in some ways its the easiest part of becoming a guide because you can take classes and then work on developing your skills in different ways (when I was into rock climbing 15 years ago, I used to practice how to "escape a belay" in my bedroom).

Guiding is an endless opportunity to learn new things, meet a variety of fascinating people, and learn about yourself. It isn't for everyone, but for those with a passion for the outdoors, travel, and other people, its incredibly rewarding.

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