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I have worked in the tour guide business in Egypt for one year and consider it to be one of the greatest memories of my life. Packing your bags and moving oversees may seem like a big step, however, things fall nicely into place once you get your boots on the ground.
I was based in Cairo and shared a spacious apartment with a French woman who worked for the Coca Cola Company downtown. Though the tour guide business in Egypt demands long and irregular hours, life was pleasant along the river Nile and I met some fascinating and wonderful people. The tour guide trade opens the door to new people and cultures, making this a fantastic long or short-term working abroad experience.
The best part about a tour guide career is that no two days are exactly alike. This type of work is ideal for those who thrive on the adrenaline of the unexpected and can make friends easily under pressure. My day could usurp morning, noon, and night with guided tours and often required long waits at the airport for incoming tour group clients. The first step is to meet and greet the guests, get them through customs and assist them at the hotel for check-in.
My college undergrad was in Criminal Justice; however, I took eighteen units of Hospitality Management and some tour guide classes. I also speak, read and write fluent German and have learned basic conversational Egyptian Arabic. Bilingual skills are necessary for foreign tour guide services, however, becoming a multi-lingual guide will increase your job prospects and send you to the front of the line.
My tour groups were usually about fifteen to thirty visitors, and on a few occasions, I had only one small party traveling together. My clients received a written outline of their itinerary from the main office and they could expect a three to four hour tour of Cairo each day. The main events were always The Egyptian Museum, The Great Pyramid, Sphinx, Solar Boat Museum, and a drop-off at the Khan el-Khalili souk for a self-guided tour through the shops. In addition to the standard points of interests in the city, my clients were able to book additional sightseeing with me for extended tours such as a day trip to Alexandria, an excursion to Dashur, or a special night out on the town aboard a Nile dinner cruise ship.
Although being a tour guide appears to be a very structured line of work, it has its elements of surprise that requires some quick thinking on your feet. I would give my cell phone number to my clients and urged them to call me if they had any travel difficulties, would like to arrange something special, or if they needed some fast facts on adjusting to life in Egypt.
To connect well and establish an instant rapport with foreign travelers, it is essential to possess a high level of people skills. Though the pressure could be intense dealing with late drivers, combative clients or juggling last minute reservations, I kept going with a smile because I knew I was appreciated and applauded by the majority of my guests.
No matter how hot and bothered some of my clients would be, I always remembered that they might have had to save their money for years to take a fabulous trip to Egypt, and my pride and joy was making their Cairo experience a pleasant one.
The academic side for training in this exciting field does not communicate the hard work and energy that the tour guide business requires. It may not be brain surgery, but it does require a quick and sharp mind to problem solve for each unique individual on the tour and spin a lot of wheels to keep the group activities interesting and entertaining.
At the end of the tour in Cairo, most of my clients would be moving on to Luxor or Aswan to board a Nile cruise ship, then perhaps spend a few days on the beaches at The Red Sea. However, this is not goodbye as they will return to Cairo for the final one or two days of their itinerary.
My clients were briefed on the proper etiquette for tipping in Egypt, which was approximately fifteen Egyptian pounds per person, per day. I knew I was not going to get rich working as a tour guide in Cairo, however the base pay was decent and the tips were excellent.
The bonus to the job was having some free time in Egypt and exploring the country from top to bottom on my own. I was given drastically reduced hotel rates, low airfare and train tickets, and was able to see Egypt at my own pace with two five-day vacations over the year.
My best advice to someone considering a tour guide position abroad is to choose a country that interests you and let your passion for travel lead the way. In addition, get the best education you can and get busy with one or more foreign languages. I got started in this line of work from hearing a friend rave about her tour guide job in New York City and decided to make it happen for myself in my beloved Egypt.
Since I left my job in Cairo, life has become more complicated with ties to the United States. This confirms that my timing was right to chase the dream, board the plane, and create some priceless memories overseas. If you are feeling the pull to do something different with your life, I say now is the time to make it happen.