How to travel without ruining your career
Our trip around the world was the best decision we ever made but it didn’t come without concerns. We both quit our jobs, Peter as head of department at a London school and Kia as product manager at Penguin Random House. We knew we wanted a slower pace of life but also that we would have to find jobs once we returned to London. (Alas, Peter’s great plan to win the lottery hasn’t yet come to fruition.)
This fear of ruining a carefully-built career has put many people off travelling. In some fields, the fear is warranted (for example, most junior doctors can’t leave their jobs for a year) but for most of the rest of us, a long-term trip is perfectly possible especially if we spend time on the road cultivating employable skills. Here are six great ways to do just that.
Go somewhere different
There’s nothing wrong with going to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia. Indeed, Cambodia is one of our favourite countries ever — but going somewhere truly different will demonstrate a number of employable skills: problem solving, confidence, courage, curiosity and originality.
If you visit Derweze in Turkmenistan or Bukhara Fortress in Uzbekistan, you’re less likely to be seen as a work-dodging backpacker heading off on a ‘formulaic trip.’ Getting truly off the beaten track will signify a genuine curiosity about the world — not just an extended jolly.
Take on freelance work
If you have a specific skill that can be offered remotely (e.g. writing, video-editing, web development), consider taking on some freelance contracts. This not only provides supplemental income but also demonstrates that you can prioritise tasks, meet deadlines and work with people in a professional context.
There are several websites for finding freelance work. These are especially useful for newcomers who don’t mind working beneath industry rate. For mid-level, skilled professionals, it may be more lucrative to build contacts and secure commissions yourself. Try Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer for an idea of how to get there. It was published several years ago now but has a wealth of transferable information on how to get started.
Learn a languageAh, yes. This old chestnut. So many of us have ‘learn a language’ on our bucket lists but few manage to tick it off. If you combine travel with language learning and practice, you will demonstrate dedication and discipline — two highly employable skills.
It’s unlikely you will become fluent in a year and most jobs won’t actually use your language skills but it’s not the language itself that’s impressive; it’s the time and effort you put into it as well as your willingness to learn.
If you can pause at a language school and complete a certified course, then even better.
Take on a physical challenge
If you enjoy the outdoors, consider taking on an impressive physical challenge on your travels. This will demonstrate tenacity, determination and resourcefulness — all highly employable skills.
Perhaps you can climb Aconcagua on your trip through South America (the highest peak on the continent and one of the seven summits) or, on an even grander scale, cycle from Cape to Cairo. Achieving something substantial will provide a tangible reason for your travels and is more likely to win over potential employers in the future.
Run a website
Yes, we know — it seems that every man and his dog now has a travel blog but as we have learnt over the past 18 months, starting and growing a blog can keep you attuned to the demands of work. A professional blog shows that you can think creatively and work diligently. It showcases your writing and photography skills (if indeed you have them!) and shows that you have a wealth of employable skills: marketing, social media management, search engine optimisation, business development, product management and so on.
‘Voluntourism’ has come under much fire over the past few years, especially after this forthright piece by former voluntourist Pippa Biddle. In it, she urges would-be volunteers to consider whether or not they really possess the necessary skillset to make their trip successful.
If you can indeed bring genuine value to a local community, then consider booking a project through an ethical volunteering organisation. Experts in the field have named GVI, Blue Ventures, Pod Volunteer and People and Places as good places to start.
Using your professional expertise to make a tangible positive impact can highlight a wealth of employable skills: communication, teamwork, integrity and empathy.
Cultivating your employable skills will help ensure a smooth return to work and offer long-term benefits far beyond the end of your trip.
Pro tip: Get the Huawei E5330 MiFi modem to stay connected, freelance, learn a language and run a site on the road.
This article originally appeared on Atlas & Boots — Travel with Abandon and is republished here with permission.