How to Earn $50 an Hour as a Tour Guide in Your Own Town

You can use your knowledge of your home turf to help travelers have a great visit while earning yourself extra cash -- say, $50 to $75 an hour. Here's how to get started.

One travel downside is that it’s easy to miss hidden jewels — you know, those off-the-beaten-path historical sites and kid-friendly amusements.

That’s why your out-of-town family or friends likely turn to you for advice before they visit your area. Sure, it’s fun to help loved ones find often-overlooked sites and activities, but why stop there?

You can turn your knowledge about your town into extra cash as a tour guide for other visitors.

Carolyn Stevenson has been successful doing just that — crafting tours of her hometown, Miami, to meet her clients’ interests.

“It’s gratifying to be able to educate people, and also to show them something they didn’t know before and to see that look in their eyes,” she told Money Talks News. “Like, ‘Oh wow! That’s so cool!'”

Tour guides are paid well, too — Stevenson earns $50 to $75 an hour.

Of course, she is lucky to live in an area that has a continuous stream of visitors from around the world. But if you’re in a smaller city, don’t despair. Smaller cities are perhaps even more in need of such guides because less tourist information may be available, which makes do-it-yourself tours more difficult.

Create themed itineraries

You don’t need to adhere strictly to any one theme, but thinking of touring by themes will help you prepare for different types of travelers. So for instance, consider activities or destinations that are:

Kid-friendly: Where would you take your kids or grandkids in your town? Water parks, children’s museums, tours by horse-drawn carriage, amphibious vehicles and double-decker buses are often good bets. Are you home to a Legoland theme park, a deer park or a beach with seals? Think like a kid.

Historical: Are you in a city of monuments, old gold mines or antebellum mansions? If there are many sites to choose from, become an expert on the ones that offer the most value to travelers. Also learn those sites’ business hours, discount ticket days and when they are overcrowded.

Nightlife-centric: If seeing your city from the top of the tallest building is a must-do, learn all the details and best times to go. If that experience is overrated, think about what you can recommend for a view that tourists might not think of — a rooftop restaurant, Ferris wheel or park on a hill, perhaps. Whether the iconic cultural experience in your town is punk-band concerts, opera or off-broadway shows, get up to speed on the best venues, who they cater to and how to get cheap tickets. If there’s a unique watering hole that is off the beaten path, be sure to have that in your back pocket for travelers who want a truly local experience.

Outdoorsy: If your city’s climate and amenities lend themselves to sports or outdoor activities, know the best venues to recommend. Where are rental bikes located? Is there a place to kayak or an especially scenic hike? Is there a scenic ferry ride or day trip to a good winery?

Gourmet: Every city and region has its specialties. If it’s pulled pork, dim sum or pizza, know the most iconic spots — but also where locals go. Some travelers will want the T-shirt from a famous restaurant, while others are looking for the most authentic food. Find out the time and place for your town’s best farmers market, too.

Offbeat: Think about things that you can point out to people along the way that are just plain original to your town. Is it home to the world’s largest ball of yarn? A haunted house? A gum wall? The last stand of Bonnie and Clyde? These things may not make a tour unto themselves, but they are a good way to help spice up the trip for visitors.

Then, work on your gift of gab.

“You have to get used to having a group and holding their interest, and be able to know when to be quiet, when to talk,” advised Carolyn Stevenson.

Build your business

So you’ve got the knowledge, enthusiasm and time to become a private tour guide. You could advertise and market yourself, or use a site like one of these to connect with clients:

  • Rent a Local Friend: It costs $100 per year to become part of this website, which describes itself as “a community of people who love to travel and be in touch with different cultures.” Once your application to become a “Local Friend” is accepted, you can create a profile and market it to travelers.
  • ToursByLocals: This is the website Carolyn Stevenson uses to find customers. If you are accepted by it, you will receive free training, marketing and payment processing, among other benefits. There are no upfront costs. Instead, the website takes a percentage of your tour booking fees. That percentage is set when your application is accepted, according to the site’s tour guide agreement.
  • Vayable: This site is for “independent people who create unique experiences to share with others.” Known as “Vayable Insiders,” these people include tour guides as well as taxi drivers, teachers, chefs, writers, farmers and dancers, for example. Insiders offer cultural, educational and recreational experiences to travelers. Vayable receives a 25 percent commission that comes out of fees paid by travelers to its Insiders, according to the site’s terms of use.

What great activities and places do you share with out-of-town visitors? Share with us in comment below or on our Facebook page.

Nancy Dunham
Nancy Dunham @NancyDWrites

Nancy Dunham is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, D.C., metro area.


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