In January, I did the unthinkable — in this economy, at least — I quit my job to travel for three months through India and Southeast Asia. Some people thought my decision was reckless because taking that much time away from work early on in my career would hinder my success.
But I believe the opposite; in my time away, I learned things that not only broadened my personal outlook, but that also helped me become more confident in pursuing career goals. Here are eight skills that I believe travelers possess that will be a benefit to me today and for years to come.
1. Travelers are curious, patient, and decisive
If you’re like me, when you book a trip, you can’t wait to tear through a Lonely Planet guidebook and scour travel forums. That same razor-sharp focus has come in handy when I’ve applied for grants or funding, pitched a big article, or hunted down data for a presentation.
Moreover, when confronted with last-minute changes and obstacles, the hurdles I overcame while traveling — e.g. should I eat the slimy meat or shouldn’t I? — make me feel prepared to make decisions.
2. Travelers take risks
Not everyone has the courage to propose a new idea or to pursue something that could be just out of reach. Not so with travelers!
While not every gamble pays off, having the courage to take a chance can have huge payoffs when things work out. I wasn’t sure whether I should drive two hours and waste my last day in Bali for the chance to see a high priestess, but I went for it anyway, and I’ll always rank that experience among the most important in my life.
3. They are good at prioritizing
Travelers know all about prioritizing! Back in the working world, prioritizing your work is a lot like navigating a city: you divide your time between long- and short-term tasks and you can’t get derailed when something pops up that requires immediate attention. The longer you travel, the more you understand your body clock and which experiences are going to have the biggest payoff.
4. Travelers think clearly under pressure
In the heart of Varanasi, India, as in many cities abroad, there are no street signs and the roads are overcrowded with people. As a young American female, looking lost meant being swarmed, stared at and cat-called on a level beyond anything that New York’s streets ever challenged me with. Mastering the ability to keep calm, to tune out the chaos, and to focus on the task at hand in the middle of a bustling, foreign city makes dealing with even the most intense deadline or damage control at a 9-5 job a breeze.
5. Communication? Yeah. Travelers
A great deal of problems that arise in the workplace can be traced back to a lack of communication. Being able to establish a connection with superiors and subordinates alike and finding common ground with foreign clients are skills that I largely attribute to my experiences while traveling. Being able to communicate your ideas to people across languages, cultures, and belief systems — and understanding their ideas in turn — is necessary in order to get by. Communication leads to mutual respect, and that leads to better outcomes for everyone.
6. Travelers are flexible and resourceful
Look, even the best-laid travel plans can go awry. Competitors change tactics, investors stop funding, and projects fall through just like buses break down, flights are canceled, and protests break out in the middle of your trip to Thailand. A seasoned traveler, like a savvy businessperson, is solution-oriented and always works toward the best alternative.
7. They seek to know the unknown
Whether it’s chasing career goals or preparing to backpack through India, the unknown incites anxiety or fear among lots of people. However, travel is largely the search for the unknown. You don’t know what the overnight train in Vietnam will be like or what the next city will bring until you suck it up and go for it. And most of the time, the result is positive and fulfilling. Sure, most jobs involve quite a bit of routine and much of your career may be spent following the worn path laid out by others before you; but capitalizing on the few opportunities to chase the unknown can make all the difference.
8. Girls who travel use and trust their instincts
This may be my golden rule. While traveling, your intuition is in high demand: Is this person trustworthy or is he trying to rip us off? Is this place safe to walk at night or should we take a taxi? All of that intuitive exercise has allowed me place more trust in my gut instincts when it comes to a job interview or when to take a risks in the workplace. The ability to read people and situations is invaluable and — like traveling to a new destination or building a career — you have to figure it out for yourself.