Career break advice

Seven ways travelling will make you better at your job

Don’t assume that taking time out of your career to travel will make you a worse employee. It’s made me a much better one. Here’ how.

We’ve all rolled our eyes when someone spouts the old cliché of ‘finding yourself’ during travel. I cringe when I hear that phrase because I know, before I travelled, it stirred up middle-class-gap-year-student stereotypes or labels like ‘hippy’.

Perhaps it’s because of such traveller stereotypes that people worry what employers will think of them when they return from a long trip. The natural assumption – a myth I am about to debunk – is that having a gap on your CV or resume for travel is not a positive addition. How can you be career driven and ambitious if you’ve just taken a year out to ‘find yourself’? Or what happened to make you want to leave for a year? When I was looking for jobs after a travel career break, recruitment consultants even told me not to talk about it, or suggested ways I could “explain my year away”.

We don’t often talk about the practical ways that travel makes us more rounded and skilled individuals. It’s time we started building a narrative about why travelling is great for personal development and makes us better employees. Employers, listen up, because I’m talking to you too.

I didn’t realise the truth myself until I was back in an office and started to notice little changes to my approach. I’d been taken in by the myth too. If you look at it from the evidence available to employers, it’s easy to see why the typecast can be perpetuated.

Social media is a great platform for travellers to share their experiences. However, people use it to paint a picture of their best life. From an employer’s point of view, if they’re trying to work out what you’ve been doing during your travel career break and all they can see is drinks on the beach and you hanging out at cool places, they might just think it’s a glorified holiday. What’s so impressive about that? Why do you stand out over other people who are currently in jobs and have been hard at work?

What you don’t see on social media is the struggle and hard work that goes into travelling. The constant challenges and adaptation. We tell everyone about the good times on our trip, but we don’t post on Facebook about the days we just want to stay in and watch Netflix because it’s all getting a bit much. We never speak about how uncomfortable and challenging it is when we come across aggressive or rude people.

Travelling is drastically different from everyday, nine-to-five life. In this article I explore how that affects you as a person. Below I’ve listed seven ways I believe travelling will make you a better employee.

If you’re returning from a travel career break and looking for work, don’t be afraid to talk about your experience and how it has improved you. For each factor, I have detailed why it is important and how travel has a positive effect. You can use this to make a clear link between your experiences and your employee attributes on your CV or resume. And it will equip you to answer that “what about your career gap?” question in job interviews.

This article is also aimed at employers. I want you to think about what a career break actually means, and what that person is likely to bring to your organisation.

Getting the creative juices flowing at Belén Market, Iquitos, Peru
Getting the creative juices flowing at Belén Market, Iquitos, Peru

1.  You’ll be more creative

Why is this important?

I work in the field of marketing and communications, so I’m always helping people come up with new ideas. Being creative is a skill that employers like to see on a CV or resume because it means that the person can think for themselves. It’s a different way of saying that you can use your own initiative.

How did travelling make me more creative?

When you see the same things over and over again every day, it’s easy to get lost in that world and forget that there are other ways of doing things. Travelling fires up your senses because you’re constantly seeing new colours and patterns. You’re hearing new sounds, tasting new food and smelling new smells.

When you travel to new places it’s like being a child. You see everything for the first time and you’re constantly learning. It reignites your imagination and as a result, you become more creative in your approach to things like communication or problem-solving.

2.  You’ll be more calm

Why is this important?

Being calm will mean you are less stressed, which means you’ll generally be friendlier and healthier. If a colleague is calm in the workplace, it makes them more approachable and more likely to be included in teamwork or collaborative projects.

How did travelling make me more calm?

When I’m at home I get into routines for which side of the street I walk on. I have the same things for lunch, watch the same kind of TV programmes, listen to the same music. But when you’re moving to a new place every three days your routines are disrupted.

This was difficult for me to deal with at first. However, I learned how to accept it and be alright with it, which has made me calmer when I’m faced with change or challenge.

We met people from all over the world on our travel career break, which improved my networking skills
We met people from all over the world on our travel career break, which improved my networking skills

3.  You’ll be better at networking

Why is this important?

Everything in the world is becoming more collaborative and more competitive. The skill of networking allows you to build useful, mutually beneficial relationships with people who can help you achieve your goals, both personally and professionally.

How did travelling improve my networking skills?

During my one-year travel career break I met hundreds of new people. I’ve even shared bedrooms with them! (Don’t worry, dorms are legit.)

Before I went travelling I knew I needed to get better at networking – it was even one of my personal development goals at work – but I just didn’t want to do it. I didn’t enjoy it. When you travel there isn’t time to think or procrastinate. You just have to network. Being around new people and making fresh contacts is so much more natural to me now.

4.  You’ll be more confident

Why is this important?

Being confident is so important at work. I’m not talking about being cocky or arrogant, rather about having confidence in your ability to do your job, or to challenge people when you don’t think something is right.

This kind of confidence makes you a better teammate and a better leader. It also makes you more trustworthy, because people will understand that you will provide constructive criticism when it’s needed.

How did travelling improve my confidence?

Sharing a room with strangers meant that I needed to be comfortable with asking to switch the light off or keep the noise down, because I had paid to use that space as well. Small steps like this really improved my confidence as I was able to speak up when I thought behaviour was not acceptable.

Taking a career break to travel is a scary decision to make, and going through it has made me more confident in my decisions. I also think that living out of a backpack for a year has made me more confident in my appearance.

Travelling the world on a career break has made me a more calm and confident person
Travelling the world on a career break has made me a more calm and confident person

5.  You’ll be more comfortable with criticism

Why is this important?

Resilience is a quality that many employers look for according to a number of blogs I’ve read on the subject. (Here’s one by the New Zealand Government.) For me, this means that a person is able to learn and improve without taking everything personally. They are able to accept and provide quality, constructive feedback.

This shows willingness to learn and improve, but it is also a brilliant quality when working with different types of people in different situations.

How did travelling make me more comfortable with criticism?

This quality goes hand-in-hand with being more confident. I spent a lot of time hearing different views while travelling, and I have learned to respect other people’s opinions more. I realised that not all criticism is personal, and actually a lot of it is based on the other person’s perceptions.

It’s my responsibility to change those perceptions by helping people understand what I’m choosing to do and why. I also want to be challenged in order to learn and grow, so I will start to put myself out there more and embrace the criticism (as long as it’s constructive!).

6.  You’ll understand your motivations and frustrations

Why is this important?

Self-awareness is crucial if you plan to enjoy your work and be a recommended employee. Understanding your values behind your motivations and frustrations allows you to avoid the frustrations at work, and do more of the stuff that motivates you. It ultimately makes you a better decision-maker.  

How did travelling help me understand my motivations and frustrations?

When you travel you are taken out of your comfort zone every day. I began to understand patterns in what I was getting excited about and what frustrated me, and because I wasn’t working constantly I had time to reflect on this and take actions that provided me with more motivation.

It helped that I travelled with my partner, as we had a lot of honest conversations when we were having good or bad days about why they were happening. We wanted to understand each other better, but also make sure that we were both getting the experience we wanted from our travel career break.

Travelling has enabled me to reflect and better understand what makes me happy in my career
Travelling has enabled me to reflect and better understand what makes me happy in my career

7.  You’ll be clearer about what you want from your career

Why is this important?

Before I went travelling, I had a sense of entitlement at work. I always thought I should be in the room, be given more responsibilities, be given more opportunities or pay rises or promotions. Since I let go of this, I instantly became happier at work.

Knowing that you are where you want to be, and in a role you want to do, will help you plan at work because you’ll stop getting involved in things you shouldn’t and you’ll stop getting stressed about things that are above your pay grade. On the flip side, if you know that you aren’t where you want to be, you can start to change that.

How did travel help me know what I want from my career?

We spent a year on the road, so I had lots of time to think and reflect on what I’d done in my life. Taking time out of the office to meet new people and experience new cultures showed me a different way of living.

This helped me understand that, although I am career-driven and I do have ambitions, I don’t need to have everything all at once. In fact, it’s probably better that I don’t! And it’s nobody’s job to hand me the promotions or pay rises on a plate, it’s something I have to plan and work for.

Understanding your personal development from travel

There will be hundreds of different skills that you will learn from travelling. It’s useful to contextualise your learning, especially if you’re looking to go back into work afterwards. I would recommend asking yourself some questions while you are travelling about what you are learning, why that’s important and how it can be applied in a professional or personal setting.

If you’re considering taking a career break to travel, you might find my article on six steps to making it a reality helpful.

Do you have any skills you learned from travelling? Or any development areas that you overcame? Share your stories in the comments below to help others understand the practical benefits of taking a career break to travel.

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It’s time we started talking about why travel is great for personal development. Here's how a travel career break has made me better at my job.

25 comments

  1. Perfect! This article is true in so many ways! I love how you express how we only tend to show the good and fun times we had during travelling but there are so many hardship. There were so many times when I am just dying to go home to my own bed and chill all day long. As much as i love travelling, some times i would just want to stay home and watch tv all day.

  2. I agree with this all so completely. The important part is to articulate all of this well. Luckily, your post did such a great job laying it all out any career capper should be able to take your key points and add their own touch for interviews.

    thank you for sharing!

  3. I took almost a year off from work and returned recently. I had to explain to every employer about my time off. I just made it seem more than just traveling. I made it out that I had been running a business and learning about cultures. Building and running a travel blog and all the social media platforms is hard work.

  4. Agree with all the points you have shared on how traveling can make one better at work and have experienced all of them myself! Thanks for organizing these thoughts so clearly. I feel traveling makes one more accepting of diversity and open to newer perspectives too! Traveling definitely is an intangible way of developing skills.

  5. This is an amazing read. By narrating your own story and how travel has helped you grow as an individual, you also set the foundations for an absolute truth that needs to start being taken seriously by employers all over the world: that people need personal time to put things straight inside and get back to work with much more energy and willingness. Here in Greece it will be very very long before such theories can even be discussed but, hopefully, other places in the world are ready to acknowledge travel as a means to improve one’s personality and professional competence.

  6. Agreed with so many points. Travelling makes you so much better, and not only at your job, but also in many other things. I’m glad to hear that travel improved your networking skills – I’m still waiting for that one to happen to me 🙂 While I travel, I don’t have any communication/networking issues, but things are different for me when it’s professional networking. Thanks for the great article!

  7. Totally second your opinions. I felt myself more confident and clear about my goals in life. Absolutely, traveling is a must have in life to become a better human and know this world closely. Good work.

  8. I love this post! So accurate! I have never left or delayed a career due to travel but I totally agree on the benefits that travelling has on your work ethic and resiliancy. Great post!

  9. I’m still a student for now but I’ve spent months overseas participating in different months-long programs under different visa. Now, I felt a lot more confident whenever I talk to anybody. I would say, traveling is the best way to turn a teenager into a grown-up.

  10. What a great post! Completely agree with your points. Travelling is great to boost your confidence level and if you are travelling with someone, you definitely learn so much about the person.

  11. This is such an interesting article. Great to see how travel can make us better employees, I’m certainly richer for it and i struggle with people that don’t have a yearning for discovery.

  12. I’ve never really thought about relating how travel has made me a better person, to my job. Reading this article really makes one put things into perspective on how traveling really does make you a better employee! Thanks for sharing!

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