Business Class: How Travel Upgraded My Career

November 18, 2015

Eighteen months ago, my girlfriend and I both quit our lucrative, stable jobs in Colorado to travel the globe. This was not my idea (she runs the show), but it was the best decision I can ever remember.

We spent 10 months living among the Kiwis in sunny Nelson, New Zealand, we spent another six weeks doing the backpacker thing in Southeast Asia, and we rounded out our adventure with a dose of la vida real with the Paisas of Medellín. The line between dream and reality went as blurry as I’ve ever experienced, and there were moments when we wondered if we should even return to the U.S. Every day was paradise, and every moment was an adventure I’ll never forget. Eventually, we were drawn to our life together in Colorado and recently started anew in this breathtaking state known for eternal sunshine, bountiful adventure, and bold, relentless spirit. If you’re ever curious, bored, or simply click-happy, you can check out our travel blog.

“What did you learn?” is something a lot of people ask me. I think they’re expecting us to have some sort of Eat, Pray, Love manifesto. Unfortunately, I have no such white paper, but I did want to share something about careers and travel. Like any other major life event, long-term travel changes you, and this is especially true professionally. In my new role at COHN as Writer, I can say with absolute certainty that I’m more valuable to my team and our clients today because of travel. Here’s why:

Objectivity is my cheat code

Leaving everything behind and seeing it from afar presents a truly unique opportunity to view your life objectively. It’s like a cheat code that lets you access truth in real time. In business, we try like hell to access truth, leveraging tools like data and surveys and research to supplement our own perspective, but even these analytics are interpreted with bias and perspective. In fact, although our clients at COHN initially come to us for our branding expertise, they’re also hiring an objective partner who helps them find and reproduce the truth. In my role as Writer, objectivity helps me tell authentic, resonant stories for our clients.

The big picture reclaims center stage

Once you leave, all the small stuff in your life melts away. Those daily irritants that once headlined your life move to the periphery, and what remains is the stuff that matters most. As Carmen at Double-Barreled Travel says, “Travel widens our perspective, making us appreciate what we have in life. Travel shows us that we often worry about things that are insignificant.” Professionally, this recalibration keeps me focused on the big picture in everything I produce, and I refuse to let small obstacles get in the way of advancing the broader plan.

You’ll choose a career you want

I thought about my career a lot when we were traveling. (Truth be told, I thought about a lot, a lot. I’m a thinker.) During this detached downtime, I started noticing some pretty problematic patterns about my work history. For example, work used to always feel like an obligation to me. Another day, another dollar. Worse yet, I felt trapped and chained to a linear career path that controlled my every move. After a few months of freethinking, however, I began creating little “Never again will I…” and “Next time I want…” lists, and those lists became the new blueprint for my career. The end result? I’m doing what I love to do now, and that translates to higher quality work for my team at COHN and our clients.

Goodbye insecurity

Nowadays, it’s standard operating procedure for young professionals to “fake it until you make it.” But when you travel for long periods of time, that façade breaks down. Because you have nothing to prove professionally, you settle into and enjoy the person you truly are. Your strengths are your strengths, and your weaknesses are your weaknesses. David Livermore, an expert in the field of cultural intelligence, has written about the role travel has on becoming more self-aware: “Travel provides the opportunity to become aware of your own values and priorities. … Organizations want to hire professionals who are self-aware.” In this way, travel matured my confidence, and I now can assertively make decisions without the turmoil of insecurity.

Pragmatically speaking, these career upgrades won’t show up on a resume, and accounting for an 18-month gap when job searching is a challenge for anyone. There also is no business certification or degree that comes with long-term travel (to my knowledge), and you probably can’t draw a straight line between travel and earnings potential, either. Still, long-term travel changes you in the most unbelievable ways, including professionally, and I hope I’ve presented some compelling arguments for you to consider.

Besides, nobody travels the world specifically to advance his or her career; we do it for the adventure, romance, food, culture, and broad recklessness of travel. Being a better professional is just one of those lucky accidents.

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