Does living in Italy and getting paid to travel around Europe sound like a dream job to you? Well, as a freshly graduated college student who fell in love with Italy when studying abroad, it sounded like the perfect job for me! I’m going to explain how to become a travel guide in Europe.
Today, I’m talking all about my year living and working in Italy as a student travel guide. As someone who has always been passionate about traveling, I wholeheartedly believe that choosing to live and work in Italy after graduating is one of the best decisions I’ve made.
While most of my friends were settling into their 9-5 routines, I was busy traveling around Europe and exploring Italy. In fact, in my year working as a student travel guide, I actually got paid to visit over 10 countries and 20+ cities. Working as a student travel guide was such a rewarding experience, and is a huge reason why I was able to afford to travel so much!
That being said, working abroad wasn’t all pretty Instagrams and gelato-keep reading to learn more about this travel job, and see if working as a student travel guide is right for you!
How I Found The Job
Believe it or not, the job actually sort of fell into my lap while I was studying abroad in Florence, Italy. If you have ever studied abroad in Europe, you may remember meeting a few Americans, fresh out of college, working for student travel companies in your city. I headed on a couple of trips with the company I would later work for, and the tour guide I befriended would later become my boss! When the time came around to apply, my friend made sure to send me an application, and the rest is history.
Landing The Job
You don’t always have to know someone at a student travel company to get hired, however, it definitely helps. The job is very social, so having someone to vouch for your personality will definitely get your resume to the front of the applicant pile. If you are planning on studying abroad and think this job might be for you, then I highly recommend befriending a tour guide or two who you can use as references later.
If you don’t know anyone at a student travel company or haven’t studied abroad, then just be sure to put together a great application that shows how perfect of a fit you are for the job.
What are student travel companies looking for?
Student travel companies are looking for outgoing, social, motivated leaders who love traveling and are great at selling and putting themselves out there. On your application, you will want to highlight any involvements you had in college, and social groups you may have been a part of. On my application, I emphasized my love of travel, social media savvy, past work experience, and my involvement in a sorority in college. If you are serious about applying, you can read a bit more about what else these student travel companies are searching for here!
So what exactly does a student travel guide do?
While the travel aspect of the job is what immediately comes to mind for most people, the reality is that the job can be broken down into 3 main categories: sales, nightlife, and lastly, travel. I’m putting travel last because even though this is the reason most people dream about working for a travel company, you actually will only be traveling on weekends, and have many responsibilities during the week!
The most important part of the job is, surprisingly, sales! Most tour guides are paid on commission, meaning that you are paid based on how many trips you sell. The more trips you sell, the more money you’ll make, so this part of the job is paramount.
You’ll spend your weekdays trying to meet as many study abroad students (aka potential clients) as possible in the hopes that they will use your promo code to book a trip. This requires excellent social skills and social media know-how, as your primary way of reaching out to students is either in person or via Facebook.
During the beginning of each semester, you’ll pretty much be working around the clock. You’ll spend long days walking around handing out flyers, constantly messaging students on Facebook, meeting up with students in person, and being a brand ambassador 24/7.
This brings me to the second most important part of the job-nightlife. Many travel companies require you to attend at least 1 nightlife event each week, and oftentimes one every night during the first few weeks of the semester. After all, one of the best ways to meet study abroad students is out at the bars, and travel companies often work with local establishments to promote bars, clubs, and nightlife events while promoting their travel company at the same time.
If you love going out, then you will love this part of the job. To many travel guides it is a great way to extend those college years a bit. If you are like me, and prefer going out 1-2 times a month, this will quickly become one of your least favorite parts of the job.
Finally, the best part of the job-traveling! After working hard to sell as many trips as possible, you will finally be able to enjoy all of your hard work on the weekends. Many travel companies base who is going on a weekend trip on sales, so it is important to sell well during the week if you are hoping to go somewhere during the weekend. As a travel guide, you will be expected to help lead a group of around 50 study abroad students with another guide or two.
You will start out as an assistant guide-usually taking photos, counting to make sure the group is all there, making sure no one gets lost, and assisting the Lead guide.
Lead guides, which you may be promoted to at some point, are in charge of everything else-coordinating with the bus driver, making sure the group arrives at scheduled activities prepared and on time, leading walking tours, and dealing with any unexpected situations that may pop up. It can be quite a responsibility!
As a top seller in my company, I was traveling nearly every weekend-which was totally awesome but can also be very exhausting! Long overnight bus rides, late nights out with students in different countries, and tour guiding can be quite tiring, but getting to explore different places all the time was so worth it.
How much do student travel guides make?
This is a tough question to answer, as pay varies greatly between different companies, and often depends on your sales abilities.
Generally, tour guides have free accommodation, earn commission from sales, and may (or may not) be paid to lead or assistant guide on tours. Commission percentages, housing situations, and tour guide pay varies widely between companies, so it is hard to put together an exact number.
In my particular situation, my rent was covered as I lived in company housing, I had all of my expenses paid when on a trip, and I was also paid to be a lead guide (although I was not paid as an assistant guide).
My first semester, I pretty much broke even, however, during my second semester working I was able to save enough money to help fund a three month trip through Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. That being said, few tour guides make this much money-I was a top seller at a smaller company, whereas some larger travel companies are much more competitive.
If you are thinking about working as a student travel guide, then I highly recommend heading abroad with some savings-there is no way to know in advance if your company will have a successful semester or if you will consistently make sales. Make sure you have some money saved up in case you are struggling to earn enough for groceries, and you will definitely want to have enough saved up for a flight home.
The perks of the job
The main reason I wanted to work for student travel company was to travel, and travel I did! During my year working for a student travel company, I was able to visit over 10 countries and well over 20 cities around Europe-while getting paid. It was basically a dream come true. Here is a list of all the places I traveled with my company, many of which I visited more than once!
- Cinque Terre
- Elba Island
- San Gimignano
The pros and cons
While every person has a different experience working for a student travel company, I’m pretty sure that everyone can agree that there are definitely pros and cons to the job. While traveling around so much sounds like a dream come true, and in many ways it is, there are some pretty big downsides to the job as well.
My favorite parts of being a travel guide were being able to visit so many places without having to spend a dime, living in my favorite city, Florence, and the amazing friends I made while working. I also had some unforgettable life experiences made possible by working as a travel guide-like attending Oktoberfest, sleeping in a prison in Slovenia (it isn’t what it sounds like, I promise), and hiking in Cinque Terre nearly every weekend in the summertime.
Over time, repeating the same itineraries every trip can get a little boring, and my bed in Florence started sounding more and more appealing as I boarded yet another 6-hour bus ride to the Amalfi Coast. I also really had a difficult time keeping up with all of the nightlife events while I enjoy going out occasionally, mandatory nightlife was not much fun for me, and quickly became my least favorite part of the job.
Living with co-workers can also be problematic, but I was fortunate to work for a close-knit company and had great roommates throughout my time living in Italy. Working for an Italian company also took quite a bit of getting useful, and cultural differences (and not always getting paid on time) sometimes made work frustrating.
Overall, I had an amazing experience and would highly recommend looking into working for a student travel company to anyone interested in living and working in Europe while also getting paid. That being said, make sure you are clear on exactly what the job entails before applying-I know many people who have gotten the job only to quit within a few months because they severely underestimated exactly how much they would be working, are not outgoing or dislike sales, or couldn’t handle the often competitive work environment, lack of sleep, and nightlife requirements, among other reasons.
For a peek into life as a student travel company, check out these 26 signs that you worked for a student travel company in Europe.
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