One of the most common questions I faced when I quit my job to go travelling was “won’t that affect your career?” While the gap year has almost become a rite of passage in Australia, long-term travel is often relegated to the young, the slack and those who won’t grow up and “get a job”. Indeed, some people I met along the way told me they would love to travel long-term, but their career would suffer from a year or longer lapse in the resume.
I’d like to rebuff any of the myths that travelling will wreck your career.
When I left Australia for a two year journey around the world, I’d done so with the intention to re-evaluate what I wanted to do with my career. I wanted to use travel to clear my mind and determine what I would really like to do. For a long time I had been floating through jobs that didn’t particularly fulfill my creative passions. I needed to start listening to my heart.
Making a dramatic break from the daily grind wakes up senses you never knew you had. Taking a risk makes you take more risks. In essence, a fear of failure holds many of us back from achieving our dreams. By cutting myself off from work to reassess my future, I’d broken ingrained patterns of behaviour which challenged myself and my status quo.
It was hard. In two years of travel I had to let go of a lot of my hang-ups. I had to let go of control. Travel is unpredictable – trains break down, planes are delayed, hotels lose bookings. I had to learn to fail at things. Everything couldn’t be perfect all the time.
But do you know what happened in the process?
I had one of the most creatively productive years of my life. I had my first paid articles published. I edited a book manuscript that had been lying in a drawer for five years. I was a finalist in the Travel Photographer of the Year, New Talent. None of which would ever have happened back home working 9-5.
What travel did was give me time and space. While we often complain about not having enough time in the day, space is just as important in clearing the mind. Being in the vast natural environments of the world gave me clarity in my own self.
I learned many lessons from travel that have made me a better business woman:
- Flexibility: Where I used to be rigid in my thinking, now I’m much more easy-going about changes and feedback. I now embrace change and I’m open to new ideas, even if they’re the opposite of my own.
- Living with less: Travelling has taught me that I can live out of a backpack. I don’t need a lot of “things” in my life to be successful. This is so valuable for business as it teaches you to be satisfied with the things you have instead of always buying new technology, new gadgets, new furniture. Which in turn saves your business money.
- Budgeting: Saving money to travel developed my budgeting skills ten-fold. I now have better control of my finances because I don’t spend all my pay at once.
- Encouraging diversity: Being open to different cultures in the workplace can make you a better worker and all-round human being.
- People skills: When I was growing up, I was quite shy. Now I love networking. Why is that? Because years of staying in backpacker hostels makes you less afraid of talking to people you don’t know.
But if you’re going to use long-term travel as a career step, take on some projects to indicate that you haven’t just been sipping Mojitos at the pool:
- Volunteer: Use your career skills to give back to international communities by volunteering.
- Tackle a project: Start a creative project you’ve always wanted to do, like a blog, a book or an artwork.
- Develop your skills: Practice your current skills on a regular basis or train in new ones. I spent the two years working on my photography and writing to get it to a professional standard.
- Study: Take a long distance course online. Study a new language or something you’re passionate about. It doesn’t have to be expensive either – there are plenty of free and low cost courses online.
- Work: You might be lucky enough to work in an industry or organisation that allows you to work overseas. Freelancing is another great way to continue your career while having the flexibility to travel.
On returning to Australia, I am now freelancing and working part-time. I love the combination of time for artistic work and contributing to a community organisation. I feel well balanced, like I’m using all my talents and fulfilling my creative potential. And you know what? I didn’t have any problem getting a job after coming back home. In fact, in the case of my husband, he stepped off the plane, two days later had a job interview, and a week later a double promotion.
But if you’re still thinking that you can’t travel because of your career, think again. Some of the greatest innovators of our age travelled before changing the world. Experience and perspective is the most valuable career asset you will ever have, and it’s not always found behind a desk.