Gary Arndt of the the Everything-Everywhere blog put up a nice post recently called All I really need to know I learned from traveling around the world. It’s a play on the bestselling book about the wisdom gained in kindergarten, with some great quotes on living simply, being observant, keeping your cool, and walking in others’ shoes. These are principles I tried to live by before I ever took a plane across an ocean, but being a long-term traveler sure honed them for me.
Word traveler + genius
I say in all seriousness that I gained more true knowledge in my first year-long trip around the world than I gained in four years of college. At a fraction of the price. It wasn’t just the life lessons and daily problem-solving practice. My brain also swelled with history that became more than dates and names, geography lessons that would stick with me instead of just remaining in my gray matter long enough to ace an exam. My most frustrating subject in university—macro economics—suddenly started making sense. I discovered the dark side of charities, the impact of microfinance, the perils of protectionism, and the challenges facing environmentalists. Every day I saw the false correlation between money and happiness. (Poverty sucks badly, but making enough to get by leads to a pretty decent life.)
One frequent fear you hear from Americans who’ve been brainwashed about the importance of a career path (usually by much older people who work in Human Relations or Recruiting) is the fear of a “gap in the resume.” Somehow, by taking a break from the treadmill for a few months or a year, you will be cast from the labor pool, never to return.
That’s bunk. For every person I’ve heard from who has struggled to get a good job upon returning, I”ve heard from a dozen who have either jumped right back in where they left off or have started doing something else they enjoy more. Then there are those who make their own career on the other side of the world somewhere instead—the old rat race started looking less attractive.
Part of it is timing, of course. It’s been tough to get a job the last two years in the U.S. and Europe no matter what. You would have been better off staying on the road. When things start improving, like they are in the U.S. right now, you won’t be at a disadvantage compared to the people who have been pounding the virtual pavement in a job search. They’ve got a gap too, but your gap is far more interesting.
Sure, you need to frame your experience the right way on your resume/c.v. after your travels and you’ll have better luck with a more open-minded hiring manager. But the truth is that what bosses want most are the skills that budget travel forces you to master: adaptability, problem-solving ability, creativity, the ability to learn a new task quickly, getting along well with others. Managers want people who can meet goals. They want people who aren’t lazy. They want people who can get from point A to point Z of a project without someone having to instruct them the whole way on how to get there.
When it comes to all these attributes, long-term travelers have the desk jockeys beat by a factor of 12. So when you return from your life-changing journey, you’ll probably know if you want to go back to the same field you were in or not. If you do want to, put on that nice suit you had custom made in Bangkok or Hoi An and stride into interviews with your newfound confidence and knowledge. That person on the other side of the desk wants someone like you, so don’t sell yourself short.
Everything you need to know you learned while traveling around the world.