How Travel Can Improve Your Career Skills
Parlay Vacay spoke to professionals in various fields to discover the ways in which travel has helped them develop valuable career skills
By Chelsea La Near
The first time I left the country, I went to France for a university exchange program with no intention of returning until I completed the year. I attended college fairly close to my hometown, so this was going to be a big trip for me to say the least. Within my first week, my wallet, with over 200 Euros inside, was stolen out of my purse. In a phone call with my mother in an attempt to manage the situation, I was told to come home and that perhaps international travel was too much for me.
But I wasn't giving up so easily. With plenty of support, I solved the problem and stayed put. I made new local and international friends. I learned a language. I passed my classes (barely) lectured in that language. I traveled, often alone, to other European countries.
I had a million other mishaps before returning home a very different person: more confident, more aware of who I was and what I was capable of, and as a result, more courageous. I knew exponentially more than before about how the world worked. I was better able to manage complex situations. I was a far better listener and communicator. Many more travels later, I continue to build upon these skills in my professional life.
Travel has a way of quickly building the kinds of skills that often only experience can teach. Of course, there are plenty of other experiences that can contribute to such growth. But if you're an employer, you can be fairly certain that a candidate with extensive travel and international experience will have a solid grasp on the following skills:
1. Adaptability The ability to adapt to change may be the most advantageous quality a person can have in our fast-paced, dynamic world. Travel teaches adaptability by regularly placing us into unfamiliar and often unexpected situations to make sense of. We learn to be hyper-aware of our surroundings and to think quickly to resolve problems. Paul Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh explains that when our brain reacts and devises solutions to novel challenges, it grows branch-like extensions, called dendrites, that play an important role in the transmission of information between different regions of the brain, increasing mental resilience.
2. Creativity - Closely related to adaptability, creativity is hard to define, and even harder to measure. Yet the skill is highly sought after for its potential to drive valuable innovations. One study found a significant correlation between the amount of time a fashion designer had spent abroad and their creative output, as defined and judged by a professional panel. In fact, multiple studies have proven that international and multicultural experiences facilitate our cognitive flexibility - or the ability to recognize multiple solutions to a problem. In broadening our horizons and exposing us to new perspectives, travel gives us the knowledge and capacity to think differently and approach tasks with a more creative outlook. Travel promotes curiosity, exploration, and playfulness, all of which benefit creativity.
3. Communication and Interpersonal Skills "People" skills are highly valued in the job market, and for good reason - they are absolutely crucial to success in so many professions. Travel requires that you communicate with multiple people from different backgrounds on a daily basis. With each interaction, you become better at embracing these differences, improving your empathy and understanding of others in the process. You learn to negotiate, whether with travel partners or locals. You learn to ask for help and trust in the help you receive. In navigating interactions in different languages, you hone not just your listening and clarifying skills, but also your patience.
4. Courage Forbes has labeled courage a defining characteristic of great leaders. There are multiple ways that travel develops this skill, the first being that travel builds confidence. Navigating the systems of a new country, communicating in a new language or environment, and defying cultural barriers to build meaningful connections are just some of the obstacles that feel empowering to overcome. The more obstacles we tackle, the more confident we are. And the more confident we are, the more likely we are to trust our decisions and take risks, to embrace the unfamiliar, and try. The second way travel develops our courage is that when we venture to new environments, we are placing ourselves in a vulnerable position, and as author Brené Brown would attest, "you can't get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability."
5. Compassion - Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” When we travel, we experience the kindness, the connections, and the struggles that makes us all human, from wherever we started in life to wherever we go. Observing and honoring this humanity in everyone is critical to the success of our increasingly globalized world.
Check out these first-person accounts of how travel has improved career skills to inspire your next trip abroad!
Sarah, Client Success Manager (Seattle)
"I traveled to Bangladesh for a service trip to an orphanage when I was in high school. The generosity, hospitality, and love I saw during that trip- to say it opened my eyes to the value of travel is an understatement. I went on to study abroad during college, live abroad in multiple countries, and gain life-changing experiences as a result. One of the key takeaways from my travels is the value of communication. In crossing language barriers and conveying/ understanding different viewpoints, travel has enhanced my empathy and understanding for others. As a client manager, my travel experiences have helped me better perceive clients’ needs and communicate strategies for a successful partnership."
Sydney, Yoga studio owner (Lyon, France)
"My first trip abroad was with a pal to London when I was 19. I drank too much at Heathrow (when in Rome right?) just before the train to London and upon arrival, it took me about 20 minutes for me to lose my wallet... my poor parents (who’ve never left the south) nearly died but gathered their wits and wired me money that I used to travel onto Italy for a summer where I worked on an organic farm (WWOOF). That first experience abroad taught me that I was a total idiot but it also taught me how to find a sol