There is a lot of upside to the career of tour directing. Visiting wonderful places and meeting interesting people probably are at the top of the list. Add to that staying in hotels where staff members are eager to please you and your group, as well as dining in wonderful restaurants. The list goes on and on. This is really a great job.
New TDs tend to come from the ranks of young adults (pre-family, pre-mortgage) and older adults (post-child-raising, post other career). Adults in the middle tend to be immersed in other careers and for many, having a family. Life gets in the way of freedom to travel, even if travel is work.
Yet there are other reasons for starting a career as a tour director and then dropping out. Burnout likely is at the top of the list of reasons. It is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing.
One TD reports that the shortage of personal time is a problem:
During the busy season, I would sometimes have only two days off in an entire month. I would come in from a weeklong tour, and within a day turn around and leave for another one. I was home so little that it was a real pain getting and keeping a place to live. You also definitely sacrifice some of your social life when you travel that much.
Another TD laments the disconnect she feels from friends:
I was out of town so often that I ended up losing my network of friends back home. People will only call so often, and when you’re never home they tend to stop calling altogether. Also, guiding tours around the country is a pretty exciting job, especially to someone who’s filing insurance claims or answering phones all day long. As a result, I found that when I came home and wanted to talk about my travels, people really didn’t want to hear about it (except for my mom, of course).
Where does the burnout come from? To start with, TDs on tour work 7 days a week, Sundays, holidays, and ever day in between, often 15 hours a day. There may be "down" days while staying an extra day at a particular location, yet there are no "off" days while on tour. In addition, tour operators schedule their best TDs as tightly as possible. The TO wants to maximize use of this asset during the limited tour season, and assigns enough tours to keep the TD more than busy. Sometimes there is one day between the end of one tour and the beginning of another; sometimes there is only a few hours’ break.
In addition to the full days of work, TDs have pre-tour and post-tour paperwork to handle, which needs to be addressed whether or not a new tour is beginning. To handle back-to-backs, TDs use time on one tour to initiate or finish work on another tour. It is difficult and stressful to change mental focus like that.
It is difficult for TDs with such a full calendar to attend to the rest of their lives, even to the mundane task of doing their laundry, much less pay their bills, and visit with friends and family. A TD keeps many mental balls in the air simultaneously during each tour, and not having much of a break between tours makes it difficult to maintain the necessary level of attention to detail and concentration over a multi-month period. Travel itself is stressful, changing locations daily, solving problems, living out of a suitcase. Some TDs tire of this and back away from this career field.
Others remain in the travel and tourism industry, yet change their jobs completely so as to stay situation in a particular area.