How Solo Travel Helped My Career

02.03.2016 | Sarah Elson

I recently returned from my first major international trip – I spent two months backpacking by myself through Southeast Asia, and it was by far the most adventurous thing I have ever done. Before I left I had a sinking feeling that I was making a huge mistake. I had never traveled further than Canada without my parents, why did I think I could navigate Asia by myself? Beyond concerns about personal safety, I also worried how a two month absence would affect my career. My company generously gave me a two month leave-of-absence, but what if I couldn’t get back into the groove of working when I returned? My job means a lot to me, and I didn’t want to sacrifice it.

Sitting at my desk a few weeks after returning to Seattle, I can safely say that my all my fears were unfounded (except my concerns about food poisoning – those were valid). Once the jet lag wore off, I realized that traveling alone was the greatest thing I could have done for my career. It shook up my world view, put my priorities in perspective, and gave me a sense of personal confidence that can only be gained from knowing you can navigate the world on your own.

So how, exactly, did traveling by myself make me a better PR professional? Let me count the ways:

Sharper decision-making skills. The ability to make clear decisions is an essential leadership skill in any industry, particularly PR. Public relations professionals often make decisions that could have a long-term impact for our clients so we must evaluate our options carefully by weighing the pros and cons and considering our clients’ overall objectives.

While traveling by yourself, you’re required to make thousands of decisions that impact your safety and the overall outcome of your trip without anyone else’s guidance. Sometimes it’s a quick choice – do I argue with the taxi driver who is trying to rip me off or should I let him keep my money? In other situations there may be more time to evaluate your decision. For example, I spent days deciding whether to go to Vietnam as I originally planned or stay in Cambodia an extra week.

Ultimately, I made the decision to stay in Cambodia, and based on my time constraints and personal travel style I’m confident that was the right choice for me. Over time I learned the importance of sticking with my decisions – once you make a choice and there’s no going back, don’t question it. Trust that you have sound judgement.

More cognizant of cultural differences. In today’s global economy you’re bound to work with clients or partners based in other parts of the world, and the more aware you are of cultural differences the smoother that partnership will be.

Travel immerses you in another culture, pushing you outside your comfort zone by placing you in a world where everyone does things differently than you. I spent the first week of my trip volunteering in a small village in eastern Thailand, and trying to learn the local customs was a humbling experience. As the volunteer coordinators patiently showed me how to use a bucket shower and reminded me to take my shoes off inside it hit me how seemingly small habits can have a big impact on how people live their lives differently.

This is important to remember when working with people from other cultures. For example, if someone doesn’t respond to your email as quickly as you’d like it might be because they have different expectations around timeliness.

Language barriers can also have a big impact on international business partnerships. In the U.S. we’re lucky that people across the globe have taken the time to learn our language. Being able to speak multiple languages is an impressive accomplishment that many Americans don’t possess, so remember to be patient when communicating with people who aren’t native English speakers.

Better at adapting to changing circumstances. If you’ve ever traveled to a third world country,  you’ve likely experienced questionable accommodations, confusing streets signs, and a three hour bus ride that turned into an epic seven hour journey. Unexpected things happen when you travel, and you learn to cope. Personally, I think seeing the humor of the situation is the best way to deal with it – you have to admit, arriving at your “hostel” to discover it’s essentially a barn painted blue is pretty hilarious.

In the PR world things can change quickly – your client might have a crisis that you need to jump on immediately or a journalist may leak news that you’ve been carefully preparing to announce for weeks. When these things happen, it helps to be highly adaptable. I feel more prepared to deal with these situations knowing that I’ve experienced far more unexpected scenarios on the road.

More confident. You never truly understand what you’re capable of until you do it. Traveling by yourself is challenging. It can be lonely, overwhelming and, at times, scary. But all of the lows you experience while traveling make the highs even more satisfying.

Knowing that I have the strength to handle the challenges of solo travel has given me a sense of confidence I’ve never felt before. This confidence will help me in all aspects of my life, including my career. Having the self-assurance to stand behind my ideas, speak up in meetings, and push back against clients will go a long way as I look to climb the corporate ladder.

If you have the urge to see the world but feel nervous to go it alone or worry how it will impact your career goals, consider the many way that travel enriches your life – both personally and professionally. From my experience, the benefits outweigh the possible drawbacks, and what I learned through my travels will lead me to more opportunities in my career and beyond.


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Filed under: COMMUNIQUÉ PR, Strategy

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  1. […] Sarah Elson is a senior account executive at Communiqué PR. A version of this article originally appeared on the agency’s blog. […]

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