There is so, so much to learn from travel. If you’re traveling independently on a small budget, then there are numerous soft skills that are going to get a serious workout — probably more in a week on the road than they’d get in a whole year in a company.
It seems risky — maybe crazy — to put your career on hold in today’s job market where, according to Newsweek, 40 percent of America’s unemployed are recent college graduates. But many millennials are taking time off, postponing their careers to travel.
And while some young people may choose travel over the dissatisfying realities of the job market, the truth is, travel can actually benefit your career — but you need to incorporate valuable experiences into your travel, keeping you on track with your career.
According to the 2015 Portrait of American Travelers, a yearly study by MMGY Global, millennials are significantly more interested in travel than previous generations. Forty-three percent said that they have traveled internationally in the past two years and 84 percent say that they will take the same number of vacations or more in the coming year.
Self-sufficiency and Independence
For many of us, a long-term trip is the first time when we really have to rely on ourselves and don’t have anyone to call for back-up when things get tough. Whether you’re dealing with a medical emergency in a country where you don’t speak the language (or even just a toothache, in my case!), deciding how to deal with a cancelled flight or just simply determining where you’re actually going to head to next, recognizing and improving your capacity for self-reliance will prepare you for every part of your future.
Many young Americans aren’t thinking about their career when they travel. Taking time off between college and career is often more about blowing off steam before the next great phase of life. But conscientious travel can give them an edge in the hiring process.
The world is getting smaller and nearly all jobs require you to work with people from different cultures. Living among these people as you travel abroad, talking with them and learning their stories and ways of life gives you a huge advantage at being able to deal with them successfully from a work point of view.
When you’re traveling, you’re the boss. At InterExchange they mention that you can’t just send a question “up the line” for a decision. Sometimes it’s the fun decision of which new kind of food to try, or a hard one like “should you take an expensive flight home for a relative’s funeral?”. Whatever the decisions are, you’ll be a lot better at making them after some extended traveling.
Suddenly, when you’re traveling, communicating is almost equivalent to survival! Being able to communicate with other people from different walks of life, cultures and languages is such an important skill in any work. When you’re traveling you practice this daily as you ask for directions, check in at a hostel or order a meal.
International travel is nice, but employers are most interested in experiences that get you in a professional work environment — like internships, residencies and fellowships. If the internship was done abroad, it’s seen as a nice bonus.
Bartering at a market, convincing a taxi driver to take you exactly where you want to go, talking your way out of a tricky situation: negotiating is a regular part of traveling life and it’s such a vital skill to develop. I was a hopeless negotiator when it came to money before I went traveling. Now I’m able to stand up for myself (and my wallet). Employers will love this!
Depending on where you go and what you do, long term travelers tend to develop a range of other hands-on and practical skills as well. In my case, I’ve become fluent in German and have a useful understanding of Japanese. I also spent several years teaching English to adults and children in various countries. It was the experience of teaching adults that helped land me some great consulting work once I settled back in at home.
There are plenty more skills you can acquire on the road. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service mentions that many travelers take part in volunteer programs and may learn skills in building, agriculture, teaching, personal care and more. You might also pick up other kinds of qualifications — first aid certificates and scuba diving spring to mind, or licenses to coach or lead outdoor activities. These too might prove handy tools for future employers.
In addition, the simple fact that you have proven yourself capable of getting to and around a foreign country can be attractive to an employer. If you’re applying for a job where travel is involved, your new boss will be pleased that you’ll be more than comfortable heading off to unusual places to do business. They will have confidence that you will be able to handle yourself appropriately.
You need only look at the numbers of would-be travelers who don’t survive their first week living abroad (I know a number of my colleagues teaching in Japan went home within the first month as they were too homesick) to realize that your ability to travel is truly an asset.
Traveling Might Become Your Career
Let me turn things around for a second. Say that you apply for a job and the employer actually would choose another candidate over you simply because you spent a year or two traveling while the other candidate was busy slaving away at their desk. Is this the kind of boss you want to work for? Won’t this be the sort of employer that doesn’t even allow you to take a week off for your honeymoon and you end up spending a honeymoon weekend in a nearby city instead of a honeymoon week in Vanuatu?
And here’s my final word for those scared to put their career on hold while they go traveling the world: maybe your career will end up quite differently to what you’re planning!
Remember that although you’re sure now that you want to end up CEO of a major company or head of marketing at a fashion brand, things are always open to change and you may well discover alternatives while traveling. That might mean you come home and end up in a different career, or you might never come home at all! Numerous people have headed off for a short trip and something’s happened to make them stay away — happily! — forever. So stop fretting about your resume and go book your ticket.