Life as a Seasonal Guide - What Do We Do? The Top 5 Perks/Challenges of a Seasonal Lifestyle

Naturalist whale watch Maui

"Your life looks so cool, do you just travel all the time? How do you fund this? I'm so jealous!"

My life might look glamorous to those from the outside. Many people use social media to paint the best and most exciting version of themselves. I try and use it to highlight beautiful things I've seen, the positive feelings I'm having, or the people I'm meeting, and naturally skim over the lows and challenges I face internally. It's easy to overlook the day-to-day struggles when you're living in some of the most beautiful parts of the world.

I do get to travel and work in some pretty rad places, spending my weekends having fun, outdoor-oriented adventures. But seasonal guiding isn't all giggles and bubbles. There's a lot of mental willpower, hard work, and perseverance that goes into obtaining and planning these work experiences. There's a lot of car problems, challenging housing situations, and homesickness. There's even frequent internal questioning about my purpose/passions/goals. My poor mother...I've called her crying more times than I'd like to admit over the past three years!

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Whale watch guide San Juan Island

What is a seasonal guide?

So, what exactly is a seasonal guide, and what do we do? For anyone who's curious or not sure how I spend my time or what I do for work, I wanted to write up a brief summary. Essentially, seasonal guiding is based around following various tourist seasons around the globe, and as a bonus, is typically associated with warmer weather (but not always!). My seasonal jobs have been on Maui, San Juan Island, and in Kaikoura, New Zealand, but you can work seasonal tourist jobs pretty much anywhere around the globe in any field you like. The tourism industry is booming, and there's a definite need for staff for set times throughout the year. Some companies are looking for highly trained individuals in a certain sport or skill, like ski instructing or overnight sea kayak guiding, while others simply look for passionate folk who are willing to learn. "Seasonal life" offers a wonderful lifestyle for those who love to travel for longer periods of time and integrate themselves into a new area/culture, rather than just pass through. That's what's drawn me to it! I'd rather move somewhere new to experience that place instead of popping in, grabbing lunch at a restaurant, seeing the sights, and moving on. I find I really get to know the area and the locals by setting up base for a while, which typically means renting a room, buying a car, and getting a local bank account, and since I'm working, I'm making a source of income while I'm experiencing all of these new things.

Maui whale watch

Top 5 Challenges of Seasonal Life

  1. Constant search for housing - no nesting here! This part can be tricky, but luckily, a lot of companies that hire seasonal staff will help you find housing. Not always - I was on my own (with some guidance in Hawaii and New Zealand), but I find if you talk to as many people as possible in the community and stay positive, something turns up! You can't be picky, and you have to get creative with your decor to make it feel like home.
  2. Friendships and relationships on fast forward. You don't have the luxury of building a long history with the people you meet on your seasonal moves. You do make some tight connections, because you're forced to get to know each other quickly and intimately. I've actually found this leads to some of the most lasting friendships, but relationships sure are a challenge! Staying openminded about all of this is a struggle. 
  3. Little to no benefits. Unless you're really lucky, most seasonal jobs don't come with health insurance, retirement accounts, paid vacation, or any of the other nice perks of a full-time job. I'm about to turn 26, and am not looking forward to getting bumped off of my parent's health insurance. But, such is life! 
  4. Your busiest time of year is typically your friends' and family's free time. There's no three week Christmas vacation. This past Christmas was my first Christmas off in three years, as it's the one day of the year my current employer doesn't operate. The past couple of years I was guiding on snorkel and whale watch tours with happy holiday makers in Hawaii. It's hard being away from family during this time, for sure. Facetime doesn't cut it.
  5. Packing up and moving every six months. I've gotten really talented at eyeballing 50 pounds of crap all piled up in a suitcase, as I hate the anxiety of weighing my luggage at airport check-in. Do you know how many times I've been sprawled out on the floor with my mom and dad in the airport, rearranging and tucking away bits of luggage to make sure all of my suitcases fit the weight limit? It sucks. Also, you have to constantly get rid of items you accumulate, as there's simply no way to carry it all around with you. Lesson - don't accumulate things! Live minimally.
Dolphin Swim Guide Kaikoura
Whale Watch San Juan Island
Whale Watch Guide Maui
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Kaikoura Dolphine Encounter
Whale Watch Guide San Juan Island

Top 5 Perks of Seasonal Life

  1. You get to hit the "refresh" button just as things get stale. With a set contract, you know exactly when you're leaving, and you can have a fresh adventure just around the corner if you want it. That means you never really get bored. Your surroundings constantly change, and you keep meeting amazing people and seeing beautiful places. You definitely need an adventurous spirit to feel the benefits of this, though!
  2. You get to follow the sun/summer. Most tourists travel when the weather is good, which means most seasonal jobs are during the busy seasons of summer. I've been guiding on whale watch tours, "following the whales" (not really, but it sounds nice, I'm really following the whale seasons). That means winters on Maui, summers in Washington, and another summer in New Zealand. I haven't had a proper winter in 4 years now.
  3. It's not that difficult to convince friends/family to visit you. Who doesn't want to come visit you in your awesome new spot? There's a reason why there's a tourist job in that area - people want to come see it, and it's usually beautiful (with incredible marine life). People are usually begging you to let them visit. The more the merrier, I say!
  4. Low-cost lifestyle makes this obtainable. People ask me all the time how I afford it. Well, you can't live a luxurious life, that's for sure. I buy cheap cars. I don't eat out a lot. I spend a lot of nights in with friends. The hours tend to be long in this line of work, so you don't have a crazy amount of free time to go off and spend money. But I get to see beautiful things and adventure on my weekends. 
  5. Friendships formed all around the globe. I have amazing connections all around the world with people that I simply cannot wait to meet up with again. Since we've met at these seasonal jobs, we are like-minded in that we love to experience new places, be social, and explore. In the true spirit of traveling and camaraderie, I always try to host people when I can, as it's a nice way to give back to the travelers' community. I can't wait to visit people in their home countries, too!

For me, this is a pretty perfect way to lead a fulfilling life.

For right now, anyway. I will say this lifestyle is not for everyone. It is hard to be away from family. It's hard to do crazy long hours and go from busy season to busy season. But I've never felt so fulfilled. I can't imagine doing anything else right now. Have I convinced you to give this a try? Start googling seasonal jobs in a place you've always wanted to visit - there's nothing stopping you, but you, babe.

Cover photo courtesy of Sev Piper.