It’s easy to see the benefits of travel to your lifestyle, health and wellbeing. But how can travel help your career as well? Far from damaging your prospects, taking a travel career break offers many more advantages than you may realise. In this article we explain why it might just be the best career move you will ever make.
The career benefits of travel
Taking a break from your career to travel the world does not mean halting your progression. It is an enriching experience that can have tremendous benefits to your career in the long term.
Some of the career benefits of travel are obvious and immediate, while others are subtleties that will play out over a lifetime. Let’s begin.
You can learn new skills through travel
Perhaps the most visible benefit of travel is the chance to learn something new that you can apply to your career in the future.
Many people use the experience to learn a new language. It’s an invaluable opportunity to practice your linguistic skills with native speakers, and language classes are often more affordable in backpacking destinations. For example, when we stopped at Sucre in Bolivia, we met several people who were on an extended stay to take some of the world’s cheapest Spanish classes.
There are many other ways you can learn new skills on the road. Travellers can gain qualifications in cooking, scuba diving, hospitality, dancing – you name it. It doesn’t necessarily need to be an official certification, either; you might choose to take up a new hobby, like blogging or photography, that could open more career options later.
Travel makes you a more rounded employee
On a practical level travel enables you to learn new skills, but perhaps an even more powerful benefit is the broader journey of personal development.
While travelling, you have more time and space to develop and improve character attributes that can stagnate in an office environment. You are frequently put into unfamiliar situations that challenge you in new ways, and over time this will enhance all sorts of personal qualities.
Travel will give you thicker skin, bolster your confidence, improve your communication skills, and make you more calm and measured when facing adversity. These are characteristics that every employer values, regardless of the profession. Read our article on how travel will make you better at your job for more on this.
It sets you apart from the competition in a crowded field
At a time when the jobs market is becoming increasingly challenging, and the competition for roles more intense, employers look for the slightest edge that can set you apart as a candidate. The experience of travelling can give you an invaluable advantage over the competition.
Let’s say you’re applying for a job. You make it to interview, and you’re up against someone who has an almost identical education and employment background to yours, and a similar set of skills. If you articulate what you’ve learned from travel and how it relates to the job, you may be giving the recruiters that extra level they’re looking for.
For example, long-term travel makes you a better planner
Taking extended time off work to travel requires a huge amount of planning. There are a multitude of issues you need to sort before the adventure begins: living arrangements, belongings, vaccinations, bills, sabbatical agreements, insurance, identifying and buying gear – it’s almost endless.
And once you’re on the road, there is still constant planning to be done. Even if you’re the kind of traveller who likes to keep your options open, you still need to look ahead and make decisions. You will become accustomed to mapping out your movements around seasonality, events and other external factors. When it comes to transport and accommodation, you will soon learn to stay several steps ahead and book in advance.
These are skills that are easily translated back to a working environment. Most of the principles of travel planning can be applied to other forms of complex project management. This will prime you well for taking on greater managerial responsibilities further down the line.
…and you learn how to manage a budget
Unless you happen to be rich or you have received a windfall of some kind, long-term travel involves stringent financial management.
Before your trip begins, the process of saving money and planning travel finances is a great education in itself. It requires discipline and ruthless prioritisation. You learn how to set targets and to make decisions that will enable you to achieve those targets.
While you are travelling, the circumstances are different, but no less challenging. Once you’ve had to get by in Australia with 50 dollars a day to cover accommodation, transport, food and activities, managing tight project budgets will be a walk in the park.
For some insights on this, check out our guide to how to manage money when travelling.
You may learn to deal with crisis management
Travelling the world is an incredible, life-changing experience, but it’s not always a smooth one. It’s likely that at least once during a long trip, there will be a crisis situation you need to deal with. Unless you’re very lucky, things will go wrong at some point.
Maybe you’ll miss a big flight; perhaps you’ll have valuables stolen or lose your passport. It might not even be something that happens to you; it could be an incident that befalls an unfortunate companion who needs your help.
Having to confront a crisis and navigate it through your own decision-making is a passage of personal growth. Such incidents are never pleasant, but they’re an excellent preparation for handling big fallouts in a working environment later on.
Travel makes you more adaptable to change
When you move to a different place every few days or weeks, the environment around you is constantly changing. As you travel, you learn to adapt quickly to new circumstances.
You may find that your plans fall through, so you need to think on your feet and make alternative arrangements. Or perhaps an aspect of an unfamiliar culture will take you by surprise. You come to expect the unexpected, and be ready for it. The ability to adapt to change in an unfamiliar environment is a huge advantage in a world that is becoming ever-more fast-paced.
As the working landscape continues to evolve, adaptability is an invaluable quality to carry through your career. Not just for short-term changes, but also for the bigger picture. Having a more open, fluid approach to your career will be advantageous in the long run, and will reduce the stress when unexpected changes happen.
Travel makes you question your work–life balance
It’s so easy to get stuck in a cycle of over-working and self-sabotage. Lisa and I were both guilty of this before we took a travel career break. We spent too many hours in the office and on business trips, and many more hours at home worrying about things going on at work. In Lisa’s case, this was compounded an arduously long commute every day.
I’m sure this will sound familiar to a lot of people reading. Somehow, we convince ourselves that expending huge amounts of energy on a job, and little on the things we love outside of work, is the thing to do. It’s a vicious cycle, too – when you put in all those extra hours, people come to expect it of you.
A long travel break pulls you back from a scenario likes this and allows you to reevaluate. It makes you appreciate time for yourself and time for the people you love in a way that’s impossible when you’re stuck in that cycle. This can only lead to positive change.
But how will this benefit your career? The fact is, overworking doesn’t lead to anywhere good, and will just result in burnout eventually. When you take more control and find a better balance, it improves all aspects of your life, including your career.
You will be happier and more productive. You will have more energy at the office and at home. And you will have more time to think about the things you really want from your working life – perhaps there is a different direction you could take that you were completely blind to before.
For a real-life example of how travel can bring about better work–life balance, read our interview with a higher education professional whose six-month career break helped her to overcome burnout.
You may discover a completely new path
It’s possible, and actually very common, that taking an extended break to travel will set you in a completely new career direction. Stepping away from your working environment not only enables you evaluate your balance in life; it can also help you to understand what really makes you happy.
You might return home feeling reinvigorated, with a new set of skills and a plan to start your own business. Or perhaps you will try getting into a different line of work altogether, something you feel more passionate about. Even if you go back into the same job you were doing before, you might approach it very differently and develop your role in a way you weren’t expecting.
Travelling gives you a better understanding of your personal motivations, and ultimately more clarity on what you want from your career.
For inspiration, read our interview with a corporate communications professional who found a new direction after a travel break.
You learn to let go of responsibility
Does this sound familiar? You’re in charge of a project at work. You feel like it couldn’t possibly be delivered if you weren’t around. There’s no way anyone else would have the right set of skills and knowledge. What would happen to your precious project if you leave to go travelling?
The simple truth is that nobody is irreplaceable.
When you step out of your role and allow other people the opportunity to take on the responsibility, you soon realise that you’re not so indispensable after all. This isn’t a bad thing. You can be proud that you have built something that can be handed on to other capable people. And it means that others will have a chance to take on something new and show what they can do.
Stepping back into a role after extended time away, you will have a new perspective and be able to observe how things have been done in your absence. This makes you more self-aware and cognisant of other people’s abilities, and shapes you to be a future leader rather than a micro-manager.
Career breaks are being seen in a more positive light by employers
The idea of taking extended time out of work to travel hasn’t always been seen as a positive by employers. Times are changing, however, and a growing number of businesses are not only recognising the benefits of career gaps, but implementing policies to encourage them.
Many industry-leading companies now allow employees to take sabbaticals to pursue personal development opportunities such as travel. It’s also becoming more common in small to medium-sized businesses. Coupled with this, there is a rise in programmes such as ‘returnships’ to support people in getting back into work after a career break.
As more business leaders embrace the growing travel career break trend, it is not only being understood as a legitimate career decision, but also as a highly beneficial experience when it comes to developing relevant skills.
Taking a career break to travel should not be seen as a blip or a step backwards. Embrace the opportunities it creates, and it can take you in a direction you never thought possible.
More career break resources
Ready to get started? See our six-step guide to taking a travel career break and round-the-world travel planning guide. You can also read more of our career gapper interviews to discover the inspiration stories of other people who have taken time off work to travel.
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