Traveling is time well spent. In recounting their travels, the women at Unearth Women, a print and digital travel resource for women, demonstrate that traveling can both fill your soul and make you a better professional. Co-founder Kelly Lewis reminds herself that she can navigate through workplace adversity. “I catch myself in tough moments and think, ‘You hiked Machu Picchu. You got this!,’” says Lewis. Here are six ways travel can help you better advocate for yourself and your career:
1. Gain a clearer perspective on life as a whole.
Nikki Vargas, co-founder of Unearth Women, remembers her first solo travel experience. She was about to get married and working in advertising, which was not the field she had planned to pursue. With her life not panning out how she had hoped, Vargas flew to Buenos Aires two weeks before her nuptials.
“Away from all the noise of wedding planning and the pressures of work, I was able to listen to my own wants and needs,” recounts Vargas. She realized she neither wanted to get married nor continue her career in advertising. “Traveling allowed me the time and space to re-evaluate my life and find the strength to make big changes.”
Travel can give you perspective and the courage to regain control of your life. “The ability to step outside your current surroundings – be it a day trip upstate or a flight across the world – can offer a fresh look on things back home,” said Vargas.
2. Better understand people.
While traveling in Indonesia, Vargas visited a remote island where the Bajo tribe, an indigenous group, lived on stilt houses above the ocean waters. She met a local family and was invited to their home.
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“Even with the language barrier, we still connected as humans,” remembers Vargas. “Our lives would be entirely unrecognizable and incomprehensible to each other – me with my technology-addicted, urban lifestyle, and them with their nature-focused life on the sea – yet we still understood each other.”
Meeting people while traveling helps you to realize that people, regardless of background, are more similar than they are different. Travel promotes understanding and compassion, leadership traits to practice when perceived differences arise with your colleagues at work.
3. Set boundaries for yourself.
Different surroundings expose you to different experiences that can test your comfort level. While traveling alone through Central America, Unearth Women writer Maria Eilersen chose not to partake in a medicinal plant ritual, despite pressures from her tour group. She felt uncomfortable about the situation and knew she had to take ownership of her experience and communicate her boundaries. Eilersen says that her confidence in knowing what is right for her while traveling also helps her to know what is right for her career. She works part time to allow room for her passions outside of work.
Kelly Lewis also improved her skills to say “no.” On a few occasions, Lewis found herself having a friendly conversation with a man that would sometimes shift into an uncomfortable situation, where she had to either physically defend herself or try to make a quick exit. “I learned quickly to recognize the signs and set boundaries for myself,” said Lewis. “Now, the second I feel uncomfortable in any conversation, I put an end to it. I am no longer worried about being perceived as rude.”
4. Trust your decisions.
Being outside your comfort zone, travel can compel you to trust your intuition. “When you first arrive in a new place, everything requires your attention,” says Unearth Women Co-founder Elise Fitzsimmons. “You can be pressed to make quick decisions on whether or not to go down an empty side street or accept an invitation into an unlisted guesthouse by a friendly local.” Travel requires you to navigate the unfamiliar on a regular basis, which forces you to make decisions and trust them.
5. Ask better questions.
Traveling also requires you to get comfortable with asking questions. When Lewis gets lost, she has the “five question rule.” She asks for directions from five people. When she gets the same answer from three or more people, she knows she is on the right track. “The world is mostly safe and most are good people, but asking the right questions and getting to know people around you helps keep you safe and ensures you’re moving in the right direction.” When you practice asking the questions on the road, you will be more adept at asking questions to guide your career in the right direction.
6. Handle the unexpected.
During your travels, you can become ill, get robbed or stumble upon a local festival. When Vargas was in Venice waiting to board her flight to Amsterdam, an airline strike caused her flight to be canceled. She ended up taking the only available flight the airline could offer, which was to Berlin. Visiting Berlin, though unexpected, “remains one of my favorite travel experiences,” recounts Vargas.
The unexpected is all part of the experience and can lead to other memorable experiences. You learn to think on your feet and be spontaneous. In being exposed more to the unknown, the unexpected becomes less daunting.“Women who travel develop a sense of street smarts that benefit them in the workplace,” says Lewis.
Travel benefits you personally and professionally. Start seeking new experiences to gain clarity on what you want, better relate to people, know when to ask questions, say “no” when you need to, trust your gut and navigate surprises. Jumpstart your travels, and unearth your career potential. Use the world as your practice ground, and be ready to put in place at work what you have learned while traveling.