Hands up who has been on a Contiki and was curious but too shy (lest you seem insulting) to ask your Trip Manager (AKA 'TM') what it's ~really~ like? *raises hand*
Well, today is your lucky day because we’ve done the asking for you, getting the behind the scenes goss on one of the coolest jobs around: a Contiki Trip Manager!
It’s A Dream Job
First up, TMs Mikael Mendes and John Navarro, let us know that yep, it’s a pretty sweet gig. On average a TM can do between 10-15 trips a year depending on the length and destination. Some of the European ones are 55 days, so imagine three of those back to back? That’s half a year of work, so you need to love what you do.
“I think there’s something special about the collective experience you share with people from different backgrounds. For someone who loves to travel and enjoys the variety of life, it really is the perfect job.” John says.
"Those moments where you have the impulse to stop in the middle of your day on the job and appreciate the perfectness of it all. That you are lucky enough to be able to show people the world and share in some of the greatest experiences they (and even you) will ever have is so rewarding." - Mikael
The Good Parts
The best thing they said was the same as what every traveller who has done a Contiki says: the people. Mikael says TMs feel as much a connection to the group as everyone else does: “The best thing about being a TM is when your heart feels so full of happiness brought on by the people and places you get to see that it feels like it might burst from your chest.“
He continued, saying that he’s become a master at recognising ~that~ special moment for people: “That look on the face of a traveller who gets to see or experience something incredible for the first time in their life and knowing that that moment will forever change them is something so special to witness. You only ever see things for the first time once and to get to be around for so many of those moments for the people travelling with you is something indescribable…Getting a thank you or that special look of gratitude and appreciation at providing a traveller with a moment like that is almost unbeatable.“
"When you see someone step out of their comfort zone or conquer a fear and grow as a person, it makes it all worth it and reminds you why you love the job." - John
The Not So Good Parts
Of course, there are downsides to the sweet travel life. Being far from home and always on the road makes personal relationships a little harder, and it can get lonely Mikael says. “There’s a certain type of loneliness that sets in after a while of travelling and meeting groups on such a fast paced agenda. The thing with travelling is you love to share new experiences with people, but sadly once you connect with them, inevitably you must always say goodbye. It’s in that twilight zone between meeting new people and connecting with them that you feel a longing for friends and family who you never get to see until your season ends. Sometimes, in all the great things you do and see, you wish you could just teleport people in to share it with you.”
John also added that one of the toughest jobs of a TM can be creating the right environment for the group. “Sometimes it can hard to maintain a level of balance. Our travellers feed off of positive energy and that can be hard to maintain at times, especially when the days are packed. There are also many different personalities and reasons for travelling on any given trip so making sure you’re always keeping that in mind is important.” he says.
"There are lot of extra activities that TMs organise in their free time for the group. Not that we do it for recognition, but I’m not sure if people realise how much work goes into some of that planning and reorganising sometimes." - John
What You Don’t Realise They’re Doing Behind The Scenes
A TMs day starts WAY before everyone else’s and certainly doesn’t clock off at 5:30pm. While you’re catching Z’s, they’re already up preparing for the day ahead. Every TM has a different method, but all have the number one priority of making sure the group is happy and looked after. “When you wake up, your mind is already thinking about what the day will look like and what you have to confirm for the next few days. Each day, you’re prepping travellers on what to expect for that day and upcoming cities. Often, people don’t really know what to expect from lesser known cities, so you try to give them a sense of the city’s vibe and personality. You’re also constantly organising and confirming details to make sure the trip goes as smooth as possible.” John revealed.
While there is no ‘regular day’, Mikael added that people sometimes think they’re on holidays themselves and don’t realise how much organisation goes into making sure the days run smoothly. “We have a saying that if the travellers think you do no work at all then you’re doing your job perfectly.” he says.
“I think the biggest misconception is that the job is all fun and no work. The highlights reel is always on display, but it requires a lot of effort to be a successful TM “ - John
What Do They Do When They’re Not On A Trip?
You’re probably all wondering where TMs go when they’re not on the road, and we can confirm they do have actual addresses where they chill out between trips. John says he’s developed almost a ritual of sorts that involves taking a ‘me’ day of comfy couch time and Netflix. Besides reuniting with loved ones and “enjoying some of the joys of a normal life“, Mikael and John both said they used their holidays for well… MORE TRAVEL!
"I will also occasionally do some of my own travelling in between trips. The wealth of knowledge I’ve accrued from this role has made it possible to appreciate going on holiday and enjoying the best of Europe and the world with a gratitude for being able to be on the other end of my job for a bit. There will always be new places to see and visit and having time off allows me to do so!" - Mikael
So How Do You Become A Trip Manager?
Besides applying on the Contiki jobs page, there is no one rule. John, for example, already worked for Contiki in the Operations team (the wonderful people that make sure you have a roof over your head every night and are seeing the coolest sights). “During my time in Operations, I developed a desire to go on the road and learn more about that aspect of the business. Naturally, I was attracted to the travel lifestyle and thought of it as an amazing life experience opportunity” John explained.
Mikael, on the other hand, says it wasn’t something he thought about until after he finished university and searched for a job that fulfilled his wanderlust. “The only thing that occupied my mind was the desire to see the world and to travel Europe in particular, this promised land of possibilities and adventure that I’d always dreamed of, but I had to support myself so I turned to the only thing I knew would tick all the boxes, becoming a Trip Manager.”
The process of becoming a TM involves deep knowledge of the locations you go to, but also the right personality. “Some requirements were hinged upon being impressionable and likeable, which is scary when it all means there’s no one else that can do it for you” Mikael explained. But it all payed off and after a flight to London and back for an interview (Mikael is from Johannesburg) and “countless sleepless nights in preparation” and he was selected for training and the “odyssey officially began” as he puts it!
"If life is a collection of moments and your story an ever growing one, then this job makes it possible to leave an impression on people because your life and its moments, the very special ones, read like a novel that, like any classic, is re-readable without ever getting boring." - Mikael