When people travel, it’s usually to take a break from the humdrum of everyday life, especially from the monotony of work. Indeed, a lot of people consider travel as the very antithesis of work.
But the two are not always contradictory. In fact, there are a lot of skills you can pick up or hone while on the road that can actually help you be more productive in the workplace and enhance your career opportunities.
Here are seven essential career skills you learn and develop from traveling.
1. Planning and organization
These days, people rarely travel without posting pictures of the places they’ve been to and how much fun they had while on the road. Social media is bursting at the seams with photos of people sipping daiquiri cocktails on tropical white sandy beaches, backpacking through jungle trails, visiting museums, and of course, striking touristy poses at famous landmarks like ‘holding up’ the Leaning Tower of Pisa, ‘crossing’ Abbey Road à la the Beatles, ‘pinching’ the tip of the Eiffel Tower, or ‘meditating’ at the Taj Mahal.
What you don’t see are the lengthy and exhausting preparations they undertake beforehand. You don’t see photos of them debating over what destinations to include in their itinerary, picking the clothes to bring from among dozens laid out on their beds, or meticulously weighing their suitcases to make sure these do not exceed the weight limit for checked baggage. Because other people find these boring, unremarkable, and not worth seeing. But these also happen to be the most important parts of traveling.
The truth is, the vast majority of trips require considerable planning and organization in advance. It’s tedious work, stressful even, and certainly unphotogenic. But it’s key to a safe and successful travel.
Prudent planning ahead of your trip is crucial to help you make the most of your time on the road. It helps you put together the perfect itinerary that offers you the best possible experience while ensuring that your time, money, and effort are spent efficiently. It also allows you to prepare for unforeseen challenges and circumstances.
Planning and organizing your trip encompasses thoroughly researching all the information you need to make the right decisions. It incorporates efficient time management and competent budgeting to maximize your time on the road and get your money’s worth in the process. It involves knowing how to prioritize tasks and options – from destinations, schedules, to modes of transportation – to help you make the most of your journey. It also includes being attentive even to the smallest of details to ensure that nothing is overlooked.
The more you travel, the more you become adept at planning and organizing. All the hours you spend on putting together itineraries, poring over travel magazines and blogs to find the perfect destinations, scouring hotel and airline websites for the best deals, deciding on tour options, researching visa requirements, choosing what to pack and how, and figuring out everything from time zones to currency exchange rates to bus routes help develop your planning and organization skills. You learn effective research, prudent budgeting, and efficient time management, among others.
Developing your planning and organization skills is not only crucial in ensuring safe and successful travels. It also impacts all other areas of your life, particularly your career.
The implications of your expertise in planning and organization to your career are practically limitless. To start with, these skills allow you to prioritize your tasks to ensure that the most important ones are completed first, manage your time efficiently to carry out your responsibilities, and ensure the quality of your work through attention to detail.
Beyond your own workload, planning and organizing skills enable you to help your organization devise systems and strategies to achieve its objectives, ensure there is sufficient resources to carry out said systems and strategies, and set milestones and deadlines to measure progress and keep the organization on track to meet its long term-goals.
2. Creativity and problem-solving
Your mind is bounded by the familiar. When confronted by the usual problems, you can readily come up with the usual solutions. When confronted by the unusual, however, conventional thinking fails you. You struggle to make sense of the problem at hand, and find it more difficult to think of novel and different solutions in response.
Habitual patterns of thinking are efficient when it comes to volunteering conventional solutions to problems. But this efficiency comes at the cost of creativity. Because it focuses only on the more familiar but limited thoughts, accustomed cognition can stifle new ideas and stymy innovation.
Creativity is the brain’s ability to piece together stored information in extraordinary ways to come up with novel and imaginative solutions in response to challenges encountered.
Creativity is more of a skill than a talent. And like other skills, it can be developed and enhanced, but often not through traditional modes of learning. Creativity may be fostered by opening the mind, making it more receptive to new perspectives and possibilities, and more willing to explore, experiment, and take risks.
Travel, by its nature, opens the mind and thus fosters creativity. When you move to a different location, you not only gain physical distance from your familiar surroundings and routine life. You also gain psychological distance, granting your brain some respite from its customary and constrained way of thinking.
This mental break enables you to think outside the box – to look at the things you are usually immersed in in a different and detached perspective. It allows you to approach the usual problems in ways you have not tried before, which often leads to creative breakthroughs to obstacles you have been struggling to overcome.
With travel comes new stimuli – new sights, sounds, smells, sensations, and otherwise – that spark different synapses in your brain, enlivening the mind and enabling more creative thinking. You are exposed to varied ways of thinking and living. You learn new ideas, perspectives, and philosophies. You realize that a single thing may have multiple meanings, and that one problem can have many solutions.
Moreover, when you travel, you are confronted with unique challenges that you would not normally encounter at home. Navigating your way back to your hotel through a maze of unfamiliar streets, figuring out bus routes and schedules in a foreign city, struggling to understand and be understood across a language barrier, and making sense of unusual cultural customs – unique problems demand unique solutions. Because conventional thinking comes up short, your brain is forced to move beyond its familiar confines and consider unorthodox solutions.
Creativity, with its important implications for problem-solving, is a skill sought after in the workplace, where dealing with challenges and obstacles to accomplish goals is par for the course. Creative thinking enables you to consider an organizational problem through different perspectives, and generate innovative potential solutions in response. It allows you to recognize that a problem can lead to an opportunity, and that mistakes can lead to progress.
Besides, the new insights and perspectives you pick up from your sojourns may breathe new life into your organization, or take it to an altogether different path.
The practical applications of your creativity in the workplace are far-reaching, from generating new working methods to streamline company operations, formulating creative plans of actions to eliminate bottlenecks in production, coming up with novel product ideas, to putting together imaginative marketing campaigns.
3. Time management
Most trips take only a few days or so, while some last for weeks, months, or even years. But regardless of the duration of each trip, the point is, travel on the whole is a temporary affair. You travel to a new place and stay there for only so long before you either go back home or move on to your next destination. Because you only have a limited time, the onus is on you to spend it wisely to get the most out of it.
Efficient time management is crucial to a successful travel. When you know how to make effective use of your time, you have more control of your trip, allowing you to ensure your comfort along the way and minimize your stress and anxiety. You guarantee that you make the most of your travel, and get your money’s worth in the process.
Prudent time management while traveling relies largely on planning ahead for your journey and putting together the perfect schedule. Of course, in every trip you want to see more and get more done. But with only so much time on your hands, you have to strike a balance between being realistic and maximizing your experience on the road.
Crafting the perfect schedule is no easy feat, especially if you are a novice traveler and are only planning for your first excursion. You might find it difficult to choose between destinations, particularly if all seem equally deserving of a visit or two. But given the time constraint, you cannot visit them all, so you must decide where to go and when.
Trying to cram too many destinations in your itinerary when you know you have very limited time to spend is only setting yourself up for failure. If your overloaded schedule doesn’t leave you overwhelmed, you risk deriving only partial experience from each destination.
Putting in too few, on the other hand, is likely to cause you to miss out on important experiences and leave you disappointed and wanting.
Besides, it’s not only the destinations you have to consider. You have to take into account the journey as well, which in most circumstances, actually takes up the bulk of your time. You have to factor in the time you spend on flights, bus and train rides, etc.
Then you also need to take into consideration the time you spend eating, sleeping, and other miscellaneous activities, not to mention allowing for unforeseen circumstances and emergencies. Planning for all these ensure that you don’t go hungry, exhausted, or too stressed while on your journey.
Though you don’t need to control every second and every minute of your time, the point is, efficient time management when traveling is not that easy. You have to make difficult choices. You have to make sacrifices.
But all these efforts are worth it. You are building your time management skill, which is indispensable in all areas of your life, particularly in your career.
In your workplace, knowing how to manage your time efficiently means you stay on top of your tasks. You are more productive and less susceptible to procrastination. You can prioritize important and urgent tasks, meet deadlines, ensure the quality of your work, and reduce work-related stress.
Overall, with efficient time management, you can achieve a perfect work-life balance where you can constantly meet the demands of your work while living a more wholesome life.
There are some people who can travel without ever needing to worry about how much it will cost them. But for the vast majority of people, travel, especially abroad, can become very expensive, very quickly. Because of this, many give up the opportunity to travel altogether so as not to overstrain their finances. Most of those who do travel, however, do so on a limited budget, and the goal has always been to make the most of it.
After all, when traveling, it’s not only your time that you learn to spend wisely. You also learn to manage your finances competently. Travel is an exceptional opportunity to develop your budgeting skills. On the road, you learn how to spend your money in the most effective and efficient way without ending up missing out on significant experiences.
With only so much money to spend, you learn to be more prudent and meticulous when preparing for your trips. You understand the value of planning ahead for your expenses. You search for and consider financial advice offered by credible people who have been to the places you are heading.
When putting together your itinerary, you become more discerning of your destinations. You learn to steer clear of so-called tourist traps, and instead prioritize less costly destinations that will give you a more meaningful experience.
You learn not to immediately buy into flight and hotel deals and discounts without first conducting your own research to determine whether these can really save you money. You master the fundamentals of currency exchange rates and know where to find the money changers that give you the best value for your money.
You learn how stretch your budget to make it last long enough for the entire trip, while making sure that you do not forgo too much comfort and so end up being miserable. You know what economical accommodations to stay in, cheap transportation modes to take, and where and what to eat, all without sacrificing too much convenience and risking your health and safety.
On the road, you recognize the importance of keeping track of your expenses and committing to your budget. You learn to put in the time and thought to all of your purchases, from supplies to souvenirs, to make sure you are not squandering money.
You know where to shop for the best prices. You learn not to spend needlessly on expensive items sold on popular shops when you can buy such items for cheaper prices at lesser known stores. You improve, too, your haggling or bargaining skills.
Beyond minimizing costs, saving money, and sticking to your budget, you also learn how to earn supplementary income during your trips. You know what part-time jobs and side hustles can net you extra cash to help sustain your journeys. Eventually, you also learn how to make a living out of travel itself!
Your budgeting skills enhanced by travel can be brought to bear in your workplace, where the importance of budgeting cannot be downplayed, and where the survival of the organization hinges on successful financial management.
Your effective budgeting skills can help your organization minimize costs and keep track of spending, improve profits, increase returns on investments, project and plan for future expenditures, anticipate incoming revenue, ensure there is sufficient monetary resources to sustain initiatives toward growth and development, and make other prudent financial decisions to achieve the organization’s goals.
5. Cultural competence
Many people spend the entirety of their lives living within a so-called cultural bubble, surrounded by other people who share the same looks, language, social customs, religious affiliation, and even political inclination.
Such a bubble, however, distorts their perception of reality. It leads them to believe that everyone looks, thinks, and acts like them, and forget that other people, perspectives, and philosophies exist, too.
So when they sally out of their bubble, they are shocked by how wide the world truly is, how many people there really are, and how many ways of thinking and living other than their own actually exist. They struggle to make sense of this diversity, and tend to react with hostility towards everything that is foreign.
One way to move out of such a bubble – and so move out of the narrow-mindedness it breeds – is to travel. When you travel, especially abroad, you are likely to meet many more people than you would at home. And the people you encounter are far more diverse, encompassing different ethnicities, cultures, religions, and whatnot.
The differences might shock you initially, especially if you are traveling for the first time. But the more you travel, the more you learn to appreciate the diversity. You gain a deeper understanding of foreign peoples and their cultures, and learn to respect the differences. In doing so, you also become more cognizant of your own culture and even get to see it from new perspectives.
These immersive experiences – and the insights you derive – challenge your assumptions and dispel your biases, freeing you from callous and ethnocentric judgement of other cultures. You realize that there are different ways to interpret the world, and that being different does not mean being wrong.
The longer you travel and the more you immerse yourself in foreign cultures, the more you learn how to interact with people across cultural divides. You learn how to build meaningful relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. You learn how to be culturally competent.
Cultural competence is the ability to effectively communicate, interact, and engage with people across cultures to address common problems and accomplish shared goals.
Developing cultural competence begins by recognizing the differences between your own culture and others’, and understanding that working with these cultural differences instead of resisting them is the effective way to achieve common goals.
Being culturally competent doesn’t mean you always need to approve of foreign beliefs, customs, and traditions. Rather, it means holding your judgements on cultural differences that you don’t comprehend, and allowing yourself time to understand.
When you see something you cannot fathom from another culture, you ask questions about it and thereby gain enlightenment, instead of readily making up your mind about what you just saw and risk getting the wrong idea.
Cultural competence is a skill sought after in the workplace now more than ever. As the world becomes more interconnected, and more and more organizations realize the advantages of a diverse workforce, the workplace is increasingly becoming multicultural. People who are culturally competent are more likely to succeed in the modern multicultural workplace, as they can effectively interact with people across cultural divides, from their culturally diverse colleagues to international clients.
Besides, culturally competent people are more likely to be creative because they have a more open mind, more receptive to different perspectives and possibilities and more willing to explore, experiment, and take risks.
6. Language and communication
The ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important life skills you can – and should – learn. Developing your communication skills enables you to understand and be understood without difficulty or risk of misinterpretation. It allows you to speak, listen, question, and write with clarity and conciseness. It enables you to build and sustain meaningful relationships – personal or professional – with other people.
Language is a medium of communication, and learning new languages is one way of developing your ability to communicate effectively. Being cognizant in multiple languages allows you to connect and interact with a wider range of people.
Although there are around 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, only about 23 of these account for more than half of the world’s population. So learning any of these major languages, which include Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, English, and Hindi, already enables you to reach out to more people.
The benefits to learning new languages are plenty. Being bilingual or multilingual heightens your cognitive function, leading to improved memory, increased attention span, enhanced critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and a reduced risk of age-associated cognitive decline.
The ability to shift from one language to another also fosters the development of your multitasking skills. Moreover, learning a second language allows you to learn a third, fourth, and so on language faster and with far less difficulty.
Travel is likely the best way to learn new languages. When you are in a foreign country, the environment is already conducive for learning – the local language is spoken all around you!
In places where no one understands your own language, you will be forced to interact with the natives in their own language. The more you put yourself in situations where speaking the local language is key to a successful experience, the faster you learn and the better you get at it.
Besides, conversing with locals in their native language allows you to learn the cultural context of their language. You pick up slangs, jargons, idioms, metaphors, and ambiguities, and grasp the finer points and nuances of the local language, most of which you would not learn through textbook methods.
Communication, however, is more than just languages. It encompasses not just verbal communication, but nonverbal communication, too, which includes the tone and pitch of your voice, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, other body movements, and whatnot.
Besides learning new languages, travel is also an opportunity to enhance your nonverbal communication skills. When you are in a foreign country and are interacting with the locals, you have to be aware of their customs and conventions when communicating in order to successfully get your point across and not risk being misunderstood.
You have to be prudent with your choice of words and phrases to avoid offending. You have to discern what tone and pitch of voice they consider polite, and gestures and expressions they deem rude.
Developing your communications enhances all areas of your life, especially your career. Adept communication skills and proficiency in multiple languages expand your career opportunities. As workplaces and marketplaces become increasingly globalized, you are able to communicate and connect with a wider range of people across geographic and cultural boundaries.
Effective communication skills allow you to successfully engage with a multicultural workforce and with international clients. You are able to facilitate organizational interactions, ensure effective transfer and reception of information, and reduce the risk of misunderstanding.
7. Adaptability and stress management
Travel can be frightening. It forces you out of your comfort zone, and into situations where your fears are most apparent. The moment you decide to take a trip, you usher in a veritable world of worries, uncertainties, and whatnot. The moment you step out of your door, you step into the unknown. You will find yourself in unfamiliar ground, where everything is new, foreign, and intimidating, and where sometimes even your survival is at stake. On the road, you will encounter far more difficulties than you would if you stay home.
But to travel is to improve your adaptability skills. When you travel, you learn to adjust to new environments, foreign peoples, unfamiliar cultures, strange languages, and exotic foods. You learn to come to terms with the fact that you are a long way from your family and friends, separated from the comforts of your home.
When you travel, you will encounter all sorts of problems, most of which you never would at home. You might lose your passport, have your backpack and baggage stolen, or your money extorted from you. Your flight might be cancelled, or your intended accommodation might have booked you on a different date. You might step into the wrong train, step out into the wrong bus stop, or even get lost in a rural village.
But when you travel, you also learn how to overcome these sorts of obstacles. You learn to be creative and resourceful to come up with innovative and effective solutions when challenges confront you. You learn how to take control of situations that you can, and make decisions quickly and effectively when you have to.
When you travel, you will learn that even your best-laid plans can go awry. But you will also learn how to adapt quickly, to be flexible in dealing with changes. You learn how to take things as they come, to surrender to things beyond your control and simply roll with the punches.
And when you learn how to adapt, you enhance your stress management skills, too. Travel itself is one way to take a break from the tedium of life. It gives you a chance to step outside your dull and familiar life and discover new and exciting experiences. When you travel, you embark on a journey not only to find new places, but also to find yourself.
Though you travel to escape from stress, you will learn that being on the road has its own share of troubles and difficulties as well. But as you go along, you learn to adjust to changes and build your endurance to stress.
In the workplace, the adaptability and stress management skills you pick up from your journeys can enhance your performance and help you be more productive. You are better able to adjust to organizational changes, such as promotions, demotions, moving to a different department, or having a new management.
You are more able to adapt to changing work conditions, such as working with different teams, handling an increased workload, using new work equipment, or coping with a new work schedule. Your enhanced adaptability can also help your organization increase its capability to adjust to social trends, industry changes, and market movements.
And through all these changes, you know how to effectively manage your stress, allowing you to maintain quality performance even under pressure and meet the constant demands of your work.
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