Given the political climate, many things about being a tour guide need to be clarified, especially in the countries where Young Pioneer operates as a woman. Nevertheless, there is intrigue, concern and often judgement which, for the most part, is grounded in genuine interest. So here is the truth about being a female tour guide in unique places, from the middle east to west Africa and every weird and wacky place.
Journey to become a tour guide
The most common question I get asked is, “how did you become a tour guide” later followed by “, are they hiring?”. The first question often stumps me because I am unsure of a traditional path to becoming one. However, after some reflection, I have tried at least to put down some thoughts in my personal opinion on the qualities that it takes:
- A genuine intrigue about the world and all it has to offer. The emphasis is genuine because pursuing this line of work would be impossible if you were doing it for anything other than that. This is often hard to distinguish in a world where people push boundaries to be insta famous.
- Love of people and conversations. This job requires a lot of talking, not only to locals but people who join you on tour. Although, as humans, we all have our values and opinions. Therefore, open-mindedness and the ability to take on new ideas is essential.
- Good at goodbye. While this comes with the territory, it always takes work. It is part of the job I struggle with the most due to the bonds that are formed on tour. You have to have to be equally comfortable alone and with people. You will experience both at their extremes.
- Luck, pure and simple. It is a highly competitive job, and there are many more competent people than me, but sometimes it is the right place, time, and person in a conversation. Luck!
Personal journey to becoming a female guide.
This is where luck comes in.
The journey to be a tour guide was long, I may have dreamed it up years beforehand, but once finding out, it was quick and concise. Right away, I accepted, knowing full well I had just been given an opportunity that was once in a lifetime, one I would never forgive myself for not taking.
Of course, it came with challenges; not only was leaving behind family, friends, and a guy difficult, but getting them to understand my choice felt like a Mt Everest expedition. It was fought with deep concern, for this I can not blame them. Telling people who care for you that you would be leading tours in places such as Mali, Iraq and Syria, to name a few, given their reputation, was hard for many to accept. But, overall, the main argument against it was that I was a female and the challenges this fact would present me.
However, this argument alone was a driving force to take the job and go beyond the parameters of what is expected. I knew if I could do it, anyone could, especially women. While travelling to these regions is dominated mainly by men, I felt a sense of beauty being a female working in the industry. By being there, I could open up the door for more to venture down untraditional paths.
I am forever grateful that being a female working for Young Pioneer tours was never a handicap because I know trying to get your foot in the door at the best of times is hard. Much of the work as a guide challenges gender roles, especially in regions where women have historically (and present-day) lacked equality and a voice.
What I have learnt being a tour guide
A lot. Despite my age, I have had many jobs in my life, and being a tour guide is one of the most intense, life-changing jobs. You spend every waking hour trying to be “on”, make tough decisions, get your heart broken repeatedly with goodbyes, and sleep becomes a fantasy. But for all the downs, the highs triumph against them all. The small magical pockets of time when you’re floating in an air balloon on top of Luxor or swimming in the Mesopotamian marshes are the times all the sacrifices become worth it.
Honestly, the opportunity to travel the world and to places I once never dared to set foot in has taught me a lot, and in a short time, I have learnt a lot not only about the world, religions, cultures, and food but myself. My lessons to date:
- Take time to listen to everyone’s story. Throughout my journey people opening up to me has been my greatest gift. I have heard stories and met people I would likely walk past on the street. Yet, they have taught me so much, and despite the regions we visit and the despair around it has given me hope in humanity.
- We need very little to be happy. I have met people who have suffered tremendously and endured more than one should ever have to. They have taught me happiness can’t be found in possessions but in small things. A good conversation over tea, giving more than receiving, the knowledge that you have people who care about you.
- Always be yourself. When you are around new people, it is easy to morph yourself into who you think they want. But trying to act tough, less emotional, older and wiser can only last so long. You do yourself a disservice when you try to be anything other than you are.
- Ask questions. Starting the job, I thought being the guide meant I should know it all, but I didn’t. However, once I let go of the ego and let my curiosity take over, I could understand and embrace greater.
- While there is time, tell people how you really feel. I have yet to meet someone in the region young pioneer operates in who hasn’t been affected by war and loss. Their stories have highlighted the fragility of life and the importance of reminding people you care about your open and honest feelings while you can.
- The importance of smiling. When language is a barrier, a lovely warm smile is often the spark for a beautiful interaction.
- Anything is possible. This is the greatest lesson of all.
I would love to see you on tour, to find out more check out our tours – here.