Living the Dream as a Freelance Tour Guide

Guiding Tibetan monks in Riga, Latvia.

Why do you love to travel?

It simply makes me happy. One of my first childhood memories is about “having a big journey” and discovering a new part of the world (which actually was walking just a little bit further away from the playground than allowed). I feel the same “butterflies in the tummy” every time I travel to a new place.

How did you become a Freelance Tour Guide?

I got familiar with the tourism industry during my student years when I worked part-time at legendary Friendly Fun Frank’s Hostel in Riga. As a receptionist, one of my duties was to greet every customer personally – tell about the city, inform them about what to do, organise different activities for them. After a while I realised how much I enjoy being their “local guide” and decided to become a real one. In addition to my Art studies at the Art Academy of Latvia I took Tour Guiding courses and step by step it all merged together – hostelling experience, academic art background and an education in professional tourism (being a member of Association of Professional Guides of Latvia). So becoming a freelancer was a natural transition for me.

How many languages do you speak? Is it important to be able to speak lots of languages in your industry?

My mother tongue is Latvian. I speak English and Russian fluently, I have a basic knowledge of German, and a passion for Portuguese (learning it properly is on my wish-list). I can also say “Thank you” and some random phrases in about 26 different languages. Speaking different languages is very important – sometimes even just one word can open the door to better communication. And being able to communicate effectively is an essential ingredient of tour guiding.

Guiding children from a Montesori kindergarten—the tourists of the future!

How much research do you need to do before you start to give a tour?

Actually the research never ends. The first “level” involves building up a basic knowledge about the place/object/destination that the tour is going to be about. You could compare it to writing a thesis – it takes that much effort! And apart from writing it, you have to memorise all the important content. Sounds easy? Besides generic research, you need personal anecdotes, insiders’ stories to humanise the facts – interesting information can come from anywhere and at any time; any “random” conversation can become a part of the big research.

What is the most rewarding part about being a tour guide? Can you give an example/tell a story?

The rewarding part lies in the smile and joy of those who you have taken on a tour. Imagine – you are a facilitator of happiness! It is quite a satisfactory feeling! A short city walking tour or a long trip to another country can become a lifetime memory for someone. If at the end someone comes up to you and says that they had an amazing experience, it means you’ve done a good job. Yes, that is a very special feeling. Receiving good feedback is very important to everyone and as a tour guide you get it directly and immediately (though, remember: where there is sunshine, there is little rain sometimes too). In tourism you meet some amazing and interesting people who can even change your life.

What has been your favourite tour to lead so far?

I’m lucky to do many different tours and they all are my favourite while I’m doing them! Walking tours in Riga, adventure tours behind the Arctic Circle, exploratory tours in Russia, and nature tours in Norway… any tour which has become that “lifetime experience” for someone is my favourite. It can be a bit challenging to switch from one to another as they are all so different, but that also keeps the tour guiding life interesting and exciting.

On the Norway Fjord Explorer with tour company, Scanbalt Experience.

Is it ever stressful? What is the most frustrating part about your job?

Well, the challenge is what makes it fun! Dealing with such a diverse range of situations on a daily basis certainly keeps you on your toes. It is good to be prepared and always try to think “one step ahead”. When it comes to travel arrangements for large groups of people, double-check and double-check again. It is also good to network and maintain contacts that can help in case of emergency (reliable colleagues, friends).

Why did you choose to be freelance rather than find a steady job?

As Nelly Furtado would sing, “I’m like a bird”. Being a freelancer requires self-motivation but it gives you a lot of freedom. You are the boss of yourself. When can I have my next holiday? Any time I want! But… it also means you have to be well-organised to take that holiday, because planning your freelancer’s work life goes hand in hand with planning your personal life too – one always depends on the other and anything can change at the drop of a hand in the freelance world (hmmm…shall I go for a holiday to Rome or take that work offer in Lapland?)

Do you have any advice for people who think they’d like to work in the tourism industry?

Actually this has happened before, twice to be precise. Some random young people have found me on the internet and asked for advice. Eventually we met and talked about life. Very nice young people I must say! So if you are a nice person, then yes – go for it. If you are grumpy and hate other people – skip it. Doesn’t matter what your background is, tourism is the industry where the personality is essential. All the rest you can build up with a time.

Lucy: I would add that you are a very nice ‘young person’ as well, Zane!

What are your future plans?

Working hard and finding joy in what you already like to do ultimately leads to good things, that is my belief. So far I have truly enjoyed all the sweet and bitter parts of tourism and am looking forward to new adventures!

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A big thank you to Zane.

Photos from her Tours/Sightseeing Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tourguidezane/timeline

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