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Dream travel job: voyage director

Roy Yates works as voyage director on Semester at Sea's Enrichment Voyages program.
Roy Yates

From the time he was 8, Roy Yates knew what he wanted to do for a career. That's when, on a family trip to Mallorca, the young Brit met a representative for Thomson Tour Operators, a man who was paid to travel for a living. Yates' fate was sealed and, when he was offered a position at Thomson more than a decade later, he shed tears of joy.

Today, a seasoned travel-industry veteran who has visited more than 100 countries, Yates finds himself in yet another enviable job position, this time as voyage director of Semester at Sea's Enrichment Voyages. As on other ships, the role requires a very likeable personality, as the voyage director becomes the personification of the entire voyage, greeting passengers, introducing entertainment acts, and coordinating social events. "You don't so much interview for the position as you do audition for it," Yates explains.

Traveling the world throwing parties sounds like quite the life. But it's not for everyone. Long hours (sometimes 15 hours a day) and lengthy periods away from home require a certain sort of character. Yates says that in his early years, it was difficult to maintain relationships due to being away for six or seven months at a time. (He resolved that issue, however, by marrying the chief purser on a ship he was working on.)

Other required traits are a sense of humor, good organization skills, and the ability to keep your cool, even in unusual situations. "People don't see the pressure," Yates says, then relates a string of unfortunate tales that occurred throughout his career, ranging from passengers getting arrested in foreign countries to revelers dying from jumping into empty swimming pools.

But for those who can handle the heat -- and who yearn to explore the tropics -- the job of voyage director offers a career full of adventure. To those who'd like to try it out, Yates has the following words of advice:

Do every job along the way. You don't start out as a voyage director; you work you way up the ranks. Some roles to try as you ascend up the letter are tour guide of shore excursions, show host, and activity coordinator. Understanding these positions will help you later when you're managing the people in these roles.

See a bit of the world first. Can you handle tough situations when you're on your own? How do you get by in a country where you don't speak the language? Prep yourself for the job ahead by traveling internationally in as many different situations as possible. And if your passport is stolen, consider making it a bullet point on your resume.

Wait tables. This is an experience everyone should have anyway, just so you can appreciate how much work your waitress actually does for that tip. You'll also walk away with valuable skills such as being tactful with even the most trying customers and working as a team. (If you don't make friends with the chefs, you're never going to get your food on time.)

There are numerous cruise lines you can apply to, but keep in mind that Enrichment Voyages are unique in the realm. "It's the most interesting program ever," says Yates, who has worked on numerous cruise lines. He raves about the program's on-ship offerings that, unlike other cruise ships where casinos and over-the-top shows fill the bill, classes and workshops are the main fare. "People come back year after year" for a reason, he says.

As Yates looks back over his colorful career, he has no regrets. "I've met so many people and visited so many places. If I drop down dead today," he says with a smile, "I can say I've had a great life."


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