Work, or see the world?

If you were given, out of the blue, a year (or maybe even two) where you can do one of those two things, what would you do?

It should be simple enough, right? There are only two choices, and all you have to do is pick one. But it’s not really as simple as that, is it? After all, you’re making a decision that will definitely have a huge impact on your future and your life. You’re basically being asked to pick between your livelihood and a desire to go to new places and encounter various experiences during your travels.

Work and Travel while Gaining Valuable Job Experience

So I can totally understand if you will take a long time to come up with an answer to that question. It’s not something that can be decided on a whim, after all.

TO WORK OR TO TRAVEL?

That is, indeed, the question.

There are still many people who have a lot of trouble reconciling the idea of simultaneously building up your resume and gaining job experience AND seeing the world through travelling. How can such a thing be possible? Or, the more appropriate question would be, does it even make sense?

Ask me this question three, four, five decades ago, and I’d probably say that no, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In fact, it sounds absolutely preposterous. You see, it was a matter of focusing on one thing at a time, and there are some things that you should give 100% of your attention to, and establishing a career is one of them.

That means you have to be solely concentrated on the task of getting as much work experience as you can, so you’ll be able to have a resume that will take you much higher in the career ladder you’re trying to climb.

On the other hand, if you choose to travel, this means you’d practically have no time for anything else other than soaking up new experiences: seeing new places, meeting new people, learning new languages and cultures, and just ‘living it up’. It’s something fun, so there won’t be any room for thoughts of working or gaining relevant job trainings and experiences.

But that scenario I just painted right there would be if you asked me that question back then. But that was then, and this is now, and so many things that seemed impossible and downright ridiculous back then are actually doable now. In fact, they’re even considered to be normal, as if that’s how things have been done all along.

So what, exactly, am I trying to say here? If you look around you, you will no doubt find people who, in the midst of travelling, are actually stocking up on work experience, gradually building a resume that will propel them to that higher career plane that they are aiming for.

Yes, it can be done. And you, too, can do it.

WHAT CAN YOU GAIN FROM TRAVELLING?

First things first, though, let us address that often-asked question: why travel?

People travel for a variety of reasons. There are some people who are outspoken in how they cannot stay in one place for too long, even if it’s home. They have to be constantly on the move, going from one place to another.

For them, they have a tendency to feel stifled when they stay in one place for, say, longer than a year or two. And so they pack up their bags and move on to the next destination on a list they have drawn up. Mobility? They’re all about that life.

But there are those who are more practical in their approach to travel. You’ve probably heard this before, or read it somewhere, but let me say it again: “travel broadens the mind”. It opens up new doors and ushers in new possibilities, so you’ll be wiser, smarter, more open-minded and accepting of things and circumstances, and definitely with higher levels of creativity and innovation.

Let’s try to go deeper into the reasons why you should make travel an integral part of your life.

Travel makes you a happier person. Can you think back on a time in your life when you were so fed up with everything, you just wanted to toss all caution into the wind and go somewhere – anywhere – far away?

You must have been really stressed, perhaps by having to deal with something heavy or repetitive that you were bored to tears, or you may have felt like you’re stuck in the same place for a long time, and you just wanted to have some movement. Whether it is boredom, stress, or simply a passion for new things and new experiences that spur you to start travelling, there is no doubt that you are doing it for your mental well-being.

Maybe the mere idea of putting distance between yourself and your old hunting grounds makes you excited, so it is with a great amount of anticipation that you look forward to what awaits you in your next destination.

Or you may be one of those sentimental people who like to make memories that they can reminisce from time to time in the future, deriving great pleasure and satisfaction in knowing that you have experienced this or that at least once before.

Travel is an excellent tool for building character. Can you remember what you were like before you went on your first trip out of state or even out of the country? Several trips abroad later, what do you think changed? And what changed for the better?

We gain knowledge from going to school and getting formal education, but our characters and personalities are more developed when we are exposed to various situations and circumstances, and what could be better than acquiring them through travelling?

  • Travel is great for building self-confidence. I used to be really afraid of going on overseas trips, thinking the language barrier will render me speechless when I arrive in a new country. It is a fear of many first-time travelers that they might get lost or something. I was one of them. That didn’t last long, though. Now, I have gained enough confidence that I don’t even hesitate to go on these overseas trips by myself.
  • Travel tests you and tells you a lot about yourself. No matter how much you’ve planned every single detail of your travels, there will still be that one or two things that won’t go as planned. You cannot do away with that unpredictability factor. Ask anybody who has travelled to different places and they’ll tell you that curveballs are nothing new when you are on the road. You’ll definitely be tested on how you’re able to cope with these curveballs and ride the wave, so to speak. In fact, if you ask some seasoned travelers, it is that degree of unpredictability that adds spice to the whole experience.
  • Travel reminds you that the whole world does not revolve around you. It’s a great eye-opener. After living in your comfort zone for most of your life, you’re suddenly out there, far from home, seeing the “other side” and experiencing firsthand how the “other half” lives. You meet new people. You hear new personal stories. You make new friends and nurture some of them long after you’ve moved on to the new place.

Travel is good for your health. A sound mind makes for a healthy body. Travelling can be exhausting and tiring, yes, but if you weigh that alongside the positive points that your mental well-being gets, you’re getting the better deal.

Travel takes you through a myriad of experiences, most of which you will undoubtedly realize to be very valuable in the future. After seeing all those new places, meeting all those new faces and experiencing new things, you are bound to have picked up a thing or two. Unknowingly, you’re gaining more knowledge, gaining new insights, and even acquiring new skills in the process. This is seen by many as one of the perks of travelling.

Travel makes you a more interesting person. Who would you get stuck in an elevator with? Somebody who has lived in the same neighborhood all his life or someone who has been to several different countries around the world. I tend to think you’ll go with the one who has traveled. This is because they will have something interesting to share. You will get to hear about all the different people of the world, how they live and in the process get to learn something new. Do some travelling and you will be this interesting person that everyone wants to be around.

If we’re going to sum it up, there are two main reasons why people travel. The first one is for pleasure and the second one is for knowledge acquisition. The great thing about living during these times is how these two can actually be combined.

Modern technology has certainly played a major role in making what used to be impossible possible. Modern air travel, for instance, cut down significantly the time and effort it would usually take for you to cross distances and even time zones. Technologies on connectivity now make it possible for you to work remotely, so you can still get some work done even if you’re crossing those timezones.

So many barriers are breaking down, one by one, and one of these barriers is the one standing between travel and a career.

WORKING AND TRAVELLING – CAN YOU DO BOTH AT THE SAME TIME?

In most cases, having international experience on your resume is sure to increase your likability as a potential job hire. It certainly elevates you and brings you a step or two higher than the other applicants for almost any position. More importantly, though, they will look at the type of international experience that you placed in there, specifically at the job skills and competencies that the experience has given you.

Let’s backtrack a bit in the previous section on the reasons why you should travel, and zero in on the last one, the one that talks about how travel helps you gain valuable experiences that can actually help you in your chosen field or career.

How is that possible, you ask?

You’ll be surprised to learn how travelling can actually help you gain valuable work or job experience. The various situations that you will be exposed to while you’re travelling in a foreign country and unfamiliar territory can teach you some skills that are “resume-worthy”.

During these travels, you are practically exposed to places and situations that help you develop your soft skill set, as well as the transferable skills that you will bring into the workplace.

So what skills are we talking about? Let’s get started, shall we?

Adaptability and Team-Building

Nothing screams “I can fit in anywhere!” than actually showing that you were able to do exactly that in the past. It is one thing to write in your resume that you are flexible and adaptable, and can work with other people within a team; it is another to provide proof of that claim.

Now imagine yourself being interviewed for a job that you really, really want, in a company that you really, really want to get into. Suddenly, the interviewer asks you to provide an example of a time that you had to work and interact with people who clearly share different thoughts and opinions with you.

Well, lucky you. It’s time to draw out the big guns and talk about the few months you spent in a non-English speaking country in Asia, where you were able to successfully complete a project with a team that is purely Asian (with you as the exception, of course), overcoming language, cultural and even psychological barriers you have with your teammates. Cite several situations where you were able to favorably negotiate with them. That is sure to earn you more points than simply saying “Oh, I can adapt very well.”

And do not forget how this gives you more brownie points in terms of your communication skills. It can’t be that easy to actually communicate, interact and even develop relationships with people who do not share your culture, much less your language. If you were able to do that in foreign soil, then there is no doubt that you will also be able to accomplish the same in the workplace.

Initiative and Leadership

Not everyone is brave enough to take on the challenge of travelling to strange places and coexist with practically alien people in unfamiliar settings. It’s a huge nod to your favor that you have taken the initiative to go out there, step out of your comfort zone and, in the process, learn a thing or two.

What does this say about you? It says that you are the type to take action…that you do not follow the safe road simply because it is what the majority takes. And that, when you make a decision, you go through with it and see it to the end. You are showing that you are the type to actually make things happen.

This basically puts you in a favorable light, highlighting your potential as a good leader.

Independence and Determination

Companies favor employees that can work well with other people, but they also value employees that can demonstrate a certain level of independence. And what could possibly be better in training you to become independent than going travelling?

If you are travelling to a foreign country to work there for an extended period, you’re basically going to immerse yourself in an unfamiliar territory, where you won’t have your parents to coddle you, or your friends to turn to for help. Especially during the first few days and weeks, you’re on your own. For the first time in your life, you’d have to be entirely self-reliant. This skill will definitely make you stand out.

Planning skills

You cannot expect to travel and be completely random about it. Some level of planning is required, and the amount of planning that you do when you travel will hone your planning skills that will translate favorably to your career.

What planning do you usually do when you travel? For starters, you’re probably going to come up with an itinerary for the duration of your travel period.

Do not forget budgeting. Travelling does not come cheap, no matter how much those travel bloggers and budget travel “pundits” preach about how you can see the world for just a few grand. It will cost money, and this is often limited, so you’ll have to plan on how to stretch the limited budget that you have for your travel period.

Travel is clearly one of the most effective ways for you to practice your planning and budgeting skills, and these will definitely come in handy when you start to get serious about establishing your career.

Decision-making skills

This goes hand in hand with your planning skills. In order to come up with the best decision, you’d have to have a good plan first. The plan, depending on how meticulous and detailed it is, will have an impact on how informed your decision will be.

Being adaptable also reflects very well on your decision-making skills. When thrown a curveball, you have to adapt quickly, which means you have to make decisions fast.

This demonstrates quick thinking, showing you can still come up with an informed decision even if you did not have a prior plan for it, and you did not have a lot of time to go over the specifics. This high level discretion is what many companies look for in supervisory and managerial positions.

Now, How Can You Make This Happen?

Unless you have a job that actually pays you to travel the world, you’ll probably be wondering how you can combine these two and ultimately build a stable and even lucrative career. Right after high school, many take a year (they call it “gap year”), which they will typically spend travelling abroad, either touring, volunteering, or taking on various jobs.

Even those in the middle of studying, some students may also opt to have a gap year, and it definitely helps if their university or college has a gap year program, making it easier for them to take advantage of such an opportunity.

And it’s not limited to students, because even if you are already working, you may also choose to take a year off, calling it a “sabbatical”, and the most common way that this is spent is through travelling. Is one year too long? Some companies allow their employees to take extended vacations, where they can use up the leaves due them, for a couple of months or maybe even as long as six months.

Aside from these gap years or sabbaticals and taking extended vacation leaves, you may try one other route: taking part in a “work and travel program”.

Ever Heard of Work and Travel Programs?

Work and travel programs are, as the phrase implies, exchange programs where you can travel abroad to live and work, allowing you to learn a new language and culture, or learn a new environment apart from what you’re familiar with.

There are a great number of these programs offered for students and practically anyone who wants to experience working overseas, combining work and their love for travel, while using it as a tool or “launching pad” for greater things, career-wise.

And it goes the other way, too. There are also work and travel programs that provide opportunities for foreigners to travel to the United States and work there. One of the more popularly known ones is the Summer Work Travel Program (J-1 Work Travel Visa), where foreign college and university students from abroad can do culture- and idea-sharing with people in the US through “temporary work and travel opportunities” for up to 12 months.

The U.S. Department of State designates sponsors for the J-1 Work Travel Visa, and an example of a designated sponsor is InterExchange. InterExchange has, among its list of offerings, the Work & Travel USA program, which sponsors foreigners who want an “unforgettable cultural experience in the US as they explore, work, earn money and boost their resume”.

Depending on the program specifics, the work and travel programs have specific guidelines or criteria that interested participants or applicants have to meet. If you are interested in any of these programs, you have to make sure you meet the criteria, you submit all the necessary documentary requirements, and you can afford the fees involved (no, they’re not free).

So will you, or will you not?

You can probably give me a list of ways to acquire skills and job experience that will make your resume – and you – stand out. Now you can add another one to that list.

Travel is definitely a great way to gain valuable skills and experience, for both your personal and professional life, and when you take into account how it also whets your appetite for adventure and excitement and panders to your sense of fun, then you are setting yourself up for one of the best experiences in your life!

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