10 questions with a Contiki Tour Guide

Published November 26th, 2012

Ever wondered what life as a Contiki tour guide would be like? Well according to James Nugent, it really is as cool as it sounds! A tour guide with Contiki for six seasons now, James has travelled all around the world with his job including the USA, Canada and Europe. For the 2013/2014 touring season James now finds himself in Asia operating small group adventures spanning Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. So where does a Contiki Tour Guide like to travel when he’s not working? Here James answers 10 of our travel questions.


How many countries have you travelled to in total?

At last count it was 48 countries.


If you could narrow it down, what would be your top three?

Canada, Spain and Croatia.


Contiki Guide James Nugent in Banff Contiki Guide James Nugent admiring the view in Banff, Canada

How long have you been working for Contiki?

This is my sixth season with Contiki. I started out working behind a desk in the Sydney office before becoming a tour manager. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to lead tours through Canada, the US and Europe before heading across to Asia where I’m now based.


What made you want to work in the travel business?

Growing up I wanted to do two things – be a sports journo and a tour manager. I worked as a sports journo straight after leaving uni which left working in the travel business! I’d actually wanted to work for Contiki since I was about 14. My sister got a job with the company and not long afterwards I started working with them too and now here I am!


Best part of your job?

Easy – it would be that I’m constantly meeting new and interesting people. Also being part of an experience that changes the way people look at life, such as seeing someone’s face when they first lay eyes on something like the Eiffel Tower is pretty cool.


Worst part?

Being away from family and friends and missing important moments in their lives.


Craziest moment on tour?

I had an experience during my first year as a tour manager that still gives me goose bumps when I think about it. I had a girl on tour who, by her own admission, was still going through an awkward stage of changing from a teenager into a young woman. She had bad skin and braces and was very shy. I’d organised a talent show one night when we were at a farm-stay. She wanted to sing but was really nervous so I put her down as the last act and told her she could pull out at any stage and no one would have to know. She went on to sing two songs and had all 50 or so people in the room in tears. She ended up getting a full scholarship to the Juilliard School in New York.


James at the John Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic James at the John Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic

Favourite city to stay in? 

My favourite city in Europe to hang out in when I’m not on tour is Berlin. When I’m with a group its Barcelona. I find that in Barcelona within one or two days there are so many ‘wow’ moments, it’s always a highlight for passengers.


Favourite food?

 I’d be a happy man if I could eat tapas every day! I was in Spain for a month at the end of last season and never got sick of tapas. Also seafood of any description.


Favourite of Contiki’s Asian destinations?

Where I am right now – Hoi An in Vietnam. Everything that’s great about Vietnam can be found right here – culture, history, great people, great food, a thriving local market, beautiful beaches and scenery all in one little city. It’s sleepy during the day but comes alive at night. You really feel like you’re on holiday in this place!


Lauren Burvill

Australian born but London based, I'm a sucker for big cities and small tropical islands. When travelling, I like eating like a local, dressing like a local, but staying in 5 star style. Have a travel story to share? Tweet me @laurenburvill.