I’m saddened to hear about people who would love to travel more but are concerned about the impact taking an extended trip might have on their careers. You know that saying about regrets — I’m not sure all these people will get to seventy and say “I really wish I’d got one extra promotion”, but I bet a heap of them will think “I wish I’d traveled more”.

Life is too short to spend too much of it working. So to help persuade these trip-taking fence-sitters I’ve put together this list of reasons why travel is actually good for your resume.

Washington State Ferry - enjoy the ride
Riding the Ferry, Washington State © woodleywonderworks

Travel Develops Your Interpersonal Skills

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. These include:

Communication

When you’re traveling, communication is almost equivalent to survival.

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.

Negotiation

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!

Cross-cultural Understanding

The world is getting smaller and nearly all jobs require you to work with people from different cultures. Living amongst 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.

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.

Decision Making

When you’re traveling, you’re the boss. So 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.

Travelers at Seattle Airport, Washington
Travelers at Seattle Airport © Wonderlane

Travel Gives You Practical Skills

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: 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.

Do You Really Want an Employer Who Hates Travel?

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?

Traveling Might Become Your Career

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.

15 Responses

  1. Colleen Kaleda

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Travel hones all kinds of skills, especially volunteer-focused travel. I’ve organized and led overseas volunteer trips for nearly 10 years, and organized the post-work travel as well … resume-worthy stuff. I write about the challenge and adventure of it all on my blog Good Journeys. http://www.goodjourneys.wordpress.com

    Reply
  2. Two Travelaholics

    What I’m most hoping for is the part where an opportunity arises for travel to keep me away forever. =) I love your point that we’re not going to be old and wish we had gotten just one more promotion. Especially people like us who would rather have experiences through travel and adventure than climbing a corporate ladder.

    Reply
  3. Haters & Helpers « machitamonologue

    […] It’s good to know that literally every one has these same problems. I recently read a post I liked on NomadicMatt’s site, Everyone Says I’m Running Away and another one from vagabondish Why Travel Is Good for Your Resume. […]

    Reply
  4. Cynthia Ord

    I totally agree with this, especially for jobs within the tourism an travel industry … travel experience is a must! Recently I applied for a writing/online marketing position and they weren’t quite as understanding. Their reply to me: “A few quick questions… Where are you actually living right now and what are your plans for work and life in the near future? To cut to the chase, your CV seems to show that you move around a lot and that you change jobs fairly frequently. We are looking for someone who can commit to a good few years of work at least.”

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  5. Bill

    Amen to your article. I left a promising six-figure tech career for 10 years of romping around planet earth, and have just returned to the States after 2 continuous years in South America.

    Not convinced that extensive travel results in tremendous personal growth? Talk to people you haven’t seen in years. Do they seem one-dimensional now? Do they seem closed and boring now? Does the United States seem so boring now that you are planning your next trip before you’ve even unpacked from the last one? (yes, yes, and yes)

    Unfortunately in America all prospective employers see is a resume gap. Just because you have traveled and grown, doesn’t mean that the drooling corporate automaton now looking at your resume can appreciate that fact.

    My advise — do it anyways.

    Reply
  6. Amy

    This was wonderful – thank you. I’ve just spent two years traveling and teaching in Korea, and as I approach the time to leave and enter the work force back home I’ve been a little worried about how my experience will translate on my resume. The thing about not wanting to work for a boss who doesn’t like travel puts things into perspective nicely.
    Thank you again, it’s comforting to know there are people out there who really understand and see the true value in such an experience, there are other worthy pursuits in life apart from just a career.

    Reply
  7. Mike Hower

    Thanks for this post. I spent a year volunteering and living abroad in Bogota, Colombia. When I came home after my contract ended, I had was very fortunate to find a 6 month temp-to-hire job immediately – a few months back in an office and I was already planning my next trip – this time a 3 month backpacking trip through Europe. I got back a few months ago and I’m finding this time I’m having a much tougher time finding a permanent job – it’s so true that travel experience seems to only be valued by hiring managers who have, themselves traveled extensively. I find myself having job interviews and all they care about is the direct experience I’ve done in the role I am applying for – they don’t care that I am way more awesome than the other drones because I am 25 and have been to more countries than most people visit in a lifetime. There should be a professional social network like LinkedIn but for people who value travel – now there’s an idea…

    Reply
  8. MikesRoadTrip

    I know for me, travel has been my greatest educator, so this article resonates with me. I do think employers in the travel industry might find travel on a resume appealing, but not sure it would make a difference for anyone outside the industry. And, not all people in the travel industry have traveled. For example, I have been taking a poll for years now with innkeepers…I have found overwhelmingly that the folks who have traveled a lot and have little hospitality experience, run far better inns than those with lots of experience in the industry. In other words, if the innkeepers don’t travel the world and see how others are running their establishments, they will never learn best practices, etc. Okay, sorry, maybe a bit off topic. :-)

    Reply
  9. David

    I could not agree more than with you comments about negotiation skill. I have traveled all my life so far since late 1960’s We work to travel these days and find the world a great place to keep learning. The locals have the true culture of the country you happen to be in.

    Reply

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