Travel is not just a great way to learn about new languages, cultures and history; your experiences on the road can also help you advance your career.
Traveling is one of the best forms of education. Not only will you learn about languages, cultures and history — you’ll also learn about yourself.
But what about your career? How can travel benefit you professionally? (Click here to tweet this question.)
As it turns out, a lot.
Over the past six years of working seasonal jobs and traveling the world, I’ve learned more than I could’ve ever imagined. Though some of the lessons (such as how to cross a street in Cairo without becoming road kill) are quite specific, many can also be applied to other areas of life.
Here are seven important lessons I’ve learned from traveling — and how you can apply those learnings to your career:
1. Catch the next bus
I can’t tell you how many buses I’ve missed. Either I’ve been running (okay, trotting, if I have my backpack on) after them, or worse, they’ve been full and I’ve watched the doors close. Most of the time, there’s nothing left to do but sit down, buy a Fanta and wait for the next bus.
Career takeaway: Despite how close you may be, you’ll miss opportunities. Maybe you weren’t in the right place, or maybe you just didn’t get it this time. That’s okay. Just make sure you’re preparing yourself for the opportunity when it comes along again. (Because missing two buses in a row is NOT fun — I speak from experience.)
2. Act like you belong
The best way to avoid getting ripped off while traveling is to act like you belong. Nobody will mess with a local. Of course, this is difficult in many places, but you can still learn a few words of the local language, familiarize yourself with the city’s layout and learn some cultural norms before you go. This will help you avoid sticking out like a sore thumb — and earn you more respect from the locals.
Career takeaway: If you’re in a new job or career, make it seem like you belong. Learn the lingo, hang out where your peers do and read up on industry news. The sooner you start, the sooner you really will belong!
3. Don’t be swayed by glitz
The fancy restaurants and hotels on the main street always have the highest prices, but often not the highest quality food or authentic experience. Some of my favorite travel experiences have been eating at holes in the wall with dirt floors and no signs. What these places lack in glitz, they make up for in authenticity and personal connection.
Career takeaway: Just because a company is big and famous doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you. At a smaller company, you may have the opportunity to learn more and have greater responsibility. Though a big company isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s important to explore all your options.
4. Just start speaking
The absolute best way to learn a new language is to just start speaking it. Being scared to make a mistake won’t get you anywhere. Speaking up and getting over your embarrassment will.
Career takeaway: If you’re asked to take on a project you’re not quite ready for, say yes. You’ll figure it out along the way. Sure, you’ll make mistakes, but how else are you going to learn?
5. Remember to smile
Conversations are rarely started and friendships rarely created with a frown. I’ve been in several situations where the only method of communication was hand gestures or facial expressions — and it’s been a smile that’s gotten me through.
Career takeaway: Don’t let work drama get you down. Be positive, and reflect that attitude with a smile. Though complaining at work can seem like a quick way to bond with your coworkers, you’ll build longer lasting relationships with both peers and superiors by being the smiley one.
6. Do things that scare you
I cried the first time I went scuba diving. I cried the entire time I first tried paragliding. I’m not a brave person, but I’ve done some brave things that have made for some of the most exciting travel experiences of my life.
Career takeaway: It’s not easy to approach your boss with a new idea or to take that career leap you’ve been dreaming of. In fact, it’s terrifying. But conquering your fears is the only way to grow.
7. Never stop learning
I travel for food, wine and pretty sights — but most of all, I travel to learn. The challenges I face teach me about myself. The people I meet teach me about the world. The situations I witness teach me about gratitude. Though I’ve been traveling for a while and have seen a lot, I never forget that my sole purpose is to continue my education.
Career takeaway: No matter how long you’ve been doing something, you can and should continue to learn. Ask someone in a different department to teach you what they do, attend an online class or try learning a new skill. If you’ve maxed out your resources, then maybe it’s time to look for a new position.
Have you learned any career lessons in unexpected places?
Susan Shain has been working seasonal jobs and traveling the world since 2008. If you want to infuse more adventure into your life and career,sign up for one of her free travel coaching consultations.