We’re 7 months into our trip around the world, and during that time, we’ve spent a lot of time (1) bemoaning wasting our 20’s and not utilising some of the travel options open to us then as single, responsibility free adults and (2) being asked by potentially more responsible adults than us whether we’re worried about our future and job prospects when we return to ‘real life’.
Let’s start with the first point. When I was in my 20’s I spent so much time thinking about my university studies, and getting a good job, and then getting a better job – and although I’d always wanted to travel, it seemed like something I could do later. But (until now), later never came, and responsibilities mounted up.
Since we’ve been away, we’ve seen so many people in that 20’s age group for whom travelling to places like NZ and Australia is seen as a standard rite of passage, spending two years working and travelling. I can’t think of a better thing to do when you’re at an age where you haven’t yet committed to a mortgage, where the world is quite literally your oyster; and you can properly formulate what you’d like to do with your life via on the ground experience (perhaps vs. a structured graduate scheme). We both wished that we’d done it, and look on enviously as these people apply seamlessly for their visa’s, vs. the lengthy processes we’d have to go through to stay in some of the same locations.
As for the second point, people often seem shocked that we’ve left stable, established lives and careers to travel round the world, and wonder if we’re risking it all by what we’re doing. Maybe we are, and maybe our plans to work and live flexibly are pie in the sky, but in a new remote-friendly world of working, we’re convinced we can make it a success; and if not, that applying for jobs in a new country will also be relatively straightforward, because of that very experience we’ve left behind.
So, what does travelling add in terms of your employability? Should it be what you choose as a graduate vs. applying for that formalised graduate scheme? Should more people do what we have and take mid-career breaks in favour of finding new direction and invigoration in their working lives? I’d argue yes on both counts, for the following reasons:
You become an adept planner:
There’s a huge difference between simply going abroad on holiday, and travelling for a long period of time. Assuming you’re not able to dip into the bank of mum and dad anymore, travelling most likely involves keeping to a strict budget, working out the best way to traverse a country and get the most out of it, and living in circumstances most likely unfamiliar from those you are used to.
Particularly in countries very culturally different from your own, the pure logistics of getting from A to B require you to be a lot more on the ball than the sleepy commute most of us have. Add travelling with a baby into that mix and you’ve got some honed multi-tasking planners on your hands who can somehow juggle a little one with luggage, multiple forms of transport and somehow give their baby a routine of food, sleep and play amongst all of the travelling madness.
Travellers can be flexible and adaptable:
Despite all of the adept planning mentioned above, things inevitably go wrong, and to ensure you don’t go stark raving mad at transport systems that don’t run when they should, shops that don’t open when they say they will, and cancellations left right and centre, you have to be adaptable with your days, weeks and months. Travelling instils a sense of calm into these scenarios, a knowledge that somehow ‘it will all work out’, and a confidence in your skills to problem solve as you go. Put that into a workplace scenario and you’re onto a winner.
You develop a sense of empathy with lives different to your own:
The reality for most of us, is that we live in our own little life bubble, one that exists of people who have very similar life scenarios to our own, similar backgrounds, similar outlooks, and ways of doing things.
In business, it helps greatly to be able to think from the perspective of someone outside that bubble. Customers who may have very different priorities and drivers to those which you assume. Travelling in different countries enables you to do just that. We’ve been in tiny towns where people have never left, and have no desire to visit any other countries, we’ve been in vast metropolis which make London look staid at times, and we’ve talked to people along the way (often via some kind of sign language when common tongue isn’t available).
You realise quickly that basic human qualities are similar wherever you are, but how people see their own lives and what they aspire to is vastly different.
Travelling constantly places you outside your comfort zone:
When you’re younger, this may be about learning to travel on your own, and summon the courage to navigate countries without the aid of friends or family, and meet new people. In our scenario, we’re doing a lot of things that people with a young baby would never dream of, and we have thrown away a lot of the luxuries we’d normally rely on in those scenarios to live a pretty basic life as we go. In both scenarios, each day throws you a different set of challenges and you quickly learn to embrace that constant variance.
As employees, most of us are likely to fall into routines and ways of doing things, and learning to challenge these and our own perceptions can only be a positive in terms of doing a better job.
You gain a bit of humility, and a realisation that it’s not ‘all about you’:
We were all guilty of leaving university believing that the world owed us a living. It’s part of the arrogance of youth, and for our generation a sense of entitlement that an educated group of people grew up with.
I’d argue the same happens later in your career, “I’m worth x and deserve y”, because careers become about the next step, the level of achievement that a job title and a pay rise indicates. Travelling at our age in particular questions many of those assumptions, and makes you realise that work and life can be made up of so many different variables and priorities, and your perception of your value is put firmly in place by seeing so many different ways that people choose to live their lives.
An ex-traveller has a focus on what they want out of life and their career:
The odds are that someone who has had the opportunity to travel, and fulfil their ambitions to see the world, is someone that has now made the decision about where they want to be, and what they want to do in their life and career, with purpose and focus. If they’re applying to work at your company, they’re doing it with that experience behind them, and they’re primed to be committed and loyal to you.
Ultimately, they might just be an interesting person to have around:
When I’ve hired people previously, a huge part of the decision-making process is simply, ‘will they fit in?’, ‘can I see myself working with them every day?’, ‘will they bring something to the company that other employees don’t?’
People who’ve seen the world bring a wide-eyed curiosity, and their own set of experiences to the company that just might make them that bit more interesting to have around. By no means is that a criticism of those who haven’t travelled – each to their own on their aspiration to do so, and not everyone has the means to make it happen. But, if someone has managed to find the budget (again, not bank of mum and dad), plan the trip, and made it happen, that practical, can-do attitude can only be a positive when it comes to a new employee.
So, that’s my argument. Maybe, as someone currently travelling and working around the world, I’m wholly biased on that front, but why not interview that next person with ‘took a year out to travel’ on their CV and see for yourself?