There’s a magic to guiding adventure travel tours that lures many an outdoor lover to the mountains, coasts and deserts to lead like-minded travellers in search of the solace that only nature provides.
“Growing up in a town outside the city, my childhood recreational activities consisted of walking and running in the mountains, these activities filled me with life” says specialist trek guide, Yaritza Frinchanso who regularly guides our Inca Trail treks.
“When I was a child people asked me - what will you study when you are an adult? I answered – “if there would be a job to hike and show my mountains, I would be the best.”
Decades later Yaritza achieved her dream and is one of a handful of female guides paving the way for young women after them.
“I believe that women are more persuasive when leading a group, thanks to the fact that we are more empathetic and sensitive, which allows us to better understand the needs that visitors have and that often makes it difficult for them to express. This also helps us appreciate and show small details that mostly go unnoticed.“
Guiding has long been a predominantly male career that has in more recent times seen more females take the path less travelled. Female outdoor adventure guides now make up 37% of the outdoor guide community in Australia and changes are slowly being made globally.
“When I started as a mountain guide it was a 95/5 male to female ratio and now it is 75/25” says Happyness Kipingu, one of our guides on Mt Kilimanjaro treks in Tanzania.
Dawa Yangin (known as Karki to her friends) regularly guides treks in the Annapurna and Everest regions and has trekking in her blood. Her grandfather was the first trekking guide in the Khumbu region and she is constantly inspired by the connections and interactions with people from different countries that guiding brings. Despite her trekking heritage she has also experienced some challenges due to gender.
“I was the only female guide when there were 35 male guides when I started working with the company. Now, we are three female guides, “says Yangin proudly of the changes slowly being made in the region.
“Obviously, there are some challenges to become a female guide in the context of conservative Nepalese society. Females are supposed to be involved in motherhood and family and compelled to stay home taking care for their children.”
Pham Thi Huong leads guests on our adventures in Vietnam and sees female guides as a unique option for guests looking for an authentic travel connection.
“In Vietnam, female guides bring a different level of human interaction. We are perceived differently by the clients and by the local communities. There is often more trust, and a deeper relationship,” says Pham Thi.
“Exchanging stories, talking not only about the country but about daily life in general seems more natural for women. However, balancing professional and family lives is the hardest. Vietnam is a society where women are still very much in charge of childcare and housework.
“I am lucky to receive help from my mother but it is a permanent challenge to be able to focus on my job with travellers and to dedicate time for my family as well.“
In Peru, Yaritza recognizes the equality in capability but not in opportunity and the changes that have been implemented along the way.
“Thanks to the inclusion policies of travel agencies, many female guides can work doing what they like, without putting stereotypes to the work, this makes the guests who visit my city happy,” says Yaritza.
“Most colleagues are happy to be able to work competitively with female guides, considering that we both have many qualities and abilities to effectively carry out the activity of Tour Guides, although often we do not have the same opportunities.”
American born New Zealand resident, Ange Sexton, is now a guide in New Zealand with World Expeditions. She discovered her love of guiding and outdoor life in Colorado, then Australia, before making her way to the land of the long white cloud where she is now based.
“I always take the approach of not making it a “thing” when it’s two female guides, I just carry on with quiet confidence, steadiness, and the skills I know I have to deliver a product I always hope inspires them (guests) to keep adventuring.” Says Ange who was the only female guide on the Larapinta Trail the season she started her Australasian guiding career.
“We have this unique ability to enable people to accomplish and experience adventure with support that can be subtle as well as hands on, I love that balance. You do sometimes get a sense from clients at the start wondering if these two chicks will be able to lift an e-bike or reverse a trailer, it doesn’t take long before they realise we are not only capable of these things but do it well.
“I like to think we bring a shift in thinking for anyone that feels women are not capable of doing the “strong man” side of the job. I never want this to be communicated bluntly but simply by doing my job and demonstrating we are more than capable of delivering an amazing product despite (or because of) our gender.”
The opportunities for women seeking an outdoor life guiding within nature are increasing. Universities now offer courses in Outdoor Education and Outdoor Leadership and bachelors in Outdoor Recreation and Environmental Studies. All agree that becoming a guide takes more than just a piece of paper, it takes a passion and determination in the face of adversity.
“You should have strong determination and dedication for the job, good language skills, medical training certificates, physical fitness and knowledge and information about trekking routes, flora fauna, and the ability to adapt with the guests, local people,” advises Yangpin.
“Having personal experience and a love for the outdoors is great but it really is only one part of the role,” agrees Ange.
“Recognising if you have that passion to share the outdoors with people from all different walks of life and varying capabilities is a big part of it too. If those two things are things you can bring together as a passion, that’s an amazing start.
“Next would be to research the style of guiding you want to pursue and the activity that suits you most. From there you can contact a few operators in the areas you’d be interested working in to see what qualifications and experience they like you to have as an entry level guide.”
Whatever your path to guiding, the rewards are always tenfold.
“I learn every day from different people and different cultures. I share incredible moments with them and make lots of friends. Being a tour guide makes my life more colourful and adds some meaning to it,” says Pham Thi.
“I love my job because I love the life it allows me to live.”