When I met a friend at a recently opened beer garden last month, I wound up having my patience tested by a new acquaintance. You know the type – the photographer so obsessed with his own work, he can’t fathom anyone being less than enraptured with it. The guy who, in defending the corporate whitewashing of the world, decides to explain how time works to you, every word dripping with condescension. The guy whose arrogance knows so few bounds, he would probably never admit to not knowing something.
So imagine my surprise when he returned from the bar to catch our friend asking me about my travel plans and said, “Round-the-world? What does that mean?”
I blinked, shocked that not only did he ask a question about another human being, but that the question he chose would have such an obvious answer. It means you go around the world. Make a complete circumnavigation of the globe. Magellan-style, though perhaps without the weeks on a ship and threat of scurvy.
That unlikely question rammed home to me what foreign concepts long-term travel and career breaks are in the U.S. Had this gentleman been able to sustain a conversation about someone else for more than five seconds, he probably would have gone on to question what such a thing would do to my career.
How can you leave the professional world for an extended time and not suffer for it?
In actuality, there are several ways my taking a step back from the 9-to-5 daily grind will make me a more attractive employee. It’s all about skill development. Being able to travel long-term requires a very specific combination of qualities.
You can’t live a life constantly on the move without being completely organized. Without strong organization skills, I would never be able to plan and execute a trip of this caliber. There are so many moving pieces to fit together: where I’ll eat and sleep, what I’ll do, how I’ll get from point A to point B, when I’ll make reservations and buy tickets for the next stop, whether I need visas or any other special paperwork… The list goes on and on. I’ll also be working on the road, both for myself and for freelance clients, which adds another layer of responsibility. Undertaking this kind of project requires as much if not more organizational ability than a “normal” job.
Naturally, embarking on a RTW trip as a semi-broke twenty-something isn’t possible without a high level of financial awareness. I’ve had to meticulously stick to a budget to save up enough money for my travels, and I’ll continue honing that ability on the road. Having such a personal investment in that financial management has given me the motivation to truly learn how to create and implement a budget, which every company needs.
The budgeting skills outlined above are, of course, underlined by a diligent nature. Sticking to a personal budget requires a very precise focus. Staying motivated to pursuing goals is a personality trait that no business can instill in its employees after they’re hired. It’s something we as individuals need to bring to the table ourselves.
One of the most important traits of any traveler is the ability to adapt. Things change and go wrong all the time while traveling, and it’s critically important to stay flexible. Miss your train? Know how to change your ticket and get on the next one. Lose your passport? Find the nearest embassy and be prepared to stay put for a little while as you wait for a new one. The ability to cope with things gone wrong is important in any work environment.
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is one of the corporate world’s favorite buzzwords at the moment. It’s really just a 21st-century pop psychology label for people skills. And what better way is there to develop your people skills than to spend 12 months interacting with hundreds of people from all over the world? In places where I experience a language barrier, I’ll have to become very good at reading body language and finding creative ways to communicate. Patience, compassion, open-mindedness, plain ol’ likability…whatever component of EQ an employer might want in a new hire, chances are I’ll have covered it on my RTW.
And this is just one slice of the RTW career development pie. By spending the next year focusing on my writing and developing this site, there are a lot more job-specific skills I’ll be honing during my travels. But even if I didn’t plan to work on the road, these five skill sets will make me a valuable asset to any company, and detailing them on my resume and cover letters will make reentering the workforce after my trip far easier than you might expect.