Tell us a little about yourself and your experience as a tour guide.
I had previously been a walking tour guide in Edinburgh, Scotland, and had a blast doing it--you meet tons of people, you're out doors, and everyone pretty much has to pay constant attention to you. For someone with a love of history and background in standup comedy, it's a good profession. I was planning to leave Washington, DC for New York City but had a few months, and so fell into being a Segway tour guide. I had never ridden a Segway before but always wanted to, so it became a nice bucket list thing I also got paid for.
How does someone become a Segway tour guide?
In my case a friend put me in contact with an excellent Segway tour company in Washington called Capitol Segways. He introduced me to the managers, and we hit it off and started training. I think it helped that I already had tour guide experience, but suspect I would have been okay in any case--most of the other people working there at the time were college students earning money over the summer or in between classes, so the barrier to entry is not high. For someone interested in doing so, I think it's best to contact a tour company directly to see if they have an opening and what they need to do. In my case training was three-fold: script, Segway operation, and crowd control.
I've now worked as a tour guide in three different cities, and every company employs the same basic outline. They'll have points of interest you take tourists to, with a script of stories, historical facts, jokes, and suggestions. Then, as you get comfortable with your job, you do your own research, come up with your own jokes, and customize the experience to reflect your personality. So the first leg of training for me was just going on a lot of Segway tours until I knew the route and the history. The second part is getting comfortable both riding a Segway yourself (it's very fast--they're highly intuitive machines and most people can become proficient in about fifteen minutes) and also becoming knowledgeable enough to instruct tourists on how to ride them. The third part, and by far the most important, is crowd control. Learning how to shepherd tourists through a busy city full of traffic on wheeled, elevated platforms. What to do if someone falls off. How to deal with someone who is being problematic, and how to spot people who, for their own benefit, should not be allowed to start or continue a tour.
What is the pay like?
I don't recall what my hourly rate was, however I was pretty satisfied with it at the time (I was 28). We operated as freelance guides, so we didn't have health care, but we also had incredible flexibility over our schedules. It was a lot of fun at the time, and excellent income for someone in college or right out of it looking for fun life experiences. But I wouldn't recommend it for someone settling down and looking to buy a house or have a kid.
What are the best parts of being a Segway tour guide?
I made friends from all over the world, many of which I stay in contact with. Some people have since visited me in New York, where I now reside, and I became friends with a Dutch family that I've stayed with in Amsterdam. I think I even got a couple of dates out of it although I think I flubbed those on my own. If you're an extrovert, it's a really fun way to meet a lot of people in a variety of fields.
What are the biggest challenges in being a Segway tour guide?
The main part of being a Segway tour guide is not being charming, funny, or historically knowledgeable. 90% percent of the job is making sure that everyone on your tour comes back safe and healthy. That means that, while you can be having fun and chatting and zipping around with the wind flowing past you, you're also constantly looking for traffic, someone who might seem nervous (people scared to ride Segways ironically are the most dangerous people to ride them, because they become rigid and invite accidents). You can also do everything completely right on a tour and simply have someone injure themselves through human error--maybe someone isn't paying attention and clips a sidewalk and falls off. God forbid, someone could go into traffic. I felt a very, very high level of responsibility for the people on my tours, and that means you're also constantly stressed and nervous on their behalf.
Best advice you've ever received?
Other than debt and unplanned babies, you can't really make a bad career decision before you're thirty.
Any other helpful resources?
A lot of the jokes I talked about on my tour in Washington, DC wound up in my book, Laughter is Better Than Communism.
Read more about Andrew’s Segway adventures here.