Why Traveling for a Year is Not Career Suicide

As I’m busy crafting new resumes and cover letters for the inevitable job search, an idea dawned on me. Many of you, my friends, acquaintances, or even strangers have told me in some form or another, “Wow you are so brave to quit your job.” For the sake of keeping a simple conversation flowing, I usually try to move past this comment with a shrug of some sort. While handing in my 3-week notice (one year ago today!) was probably one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life at the time, it was more a matter of fact that I was choosing to start a new part of my life. I had no idea where it would lead to, but I knew that it would be what I made of it.

Some of you may have considered long-term travel as well; maybe you’re bored of life at home and looking for a change, or maybe you’re like me, who have always loved the idea of travel but never got to do very much of it at all growing up. Whatever the reason may be for wanting to travel, I know that many of you have expressed that it would be hard to leave your jobs. I’m writing this now to tell you, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. Of course, every career and travel journey is different for everyone, but like i said, I believe that you can make your life whatever you want it to be, you just gotta stop thinking about it, and just do it.

Believe me, I understand when you say, “Oh but I’ve been working for this promotion and it’s coming..” or “I just got promoted I don’t want to leave them” or “I’m finally in a stable position and an asset to my job, I can start thinking about saving or buying a house, etc.”. All of these thoughts went through my head in some form or another. I’ve always been someone who has put my career first and foremost, because that is the way I was raised. Telling my parents I was quitting my state job (which I finally recently signed a permanent contract with) to travel, was a major battle to say the least.  I assured my parents I wasn’t going “backwards” professionally, and that I knew whatever it is that I was about to experience was going to help me tremendously in building my resume and in addition, my character.

I’m not telling you to up and quit your job and everything will be fine when you come back. Of course you lose the professional growth you would have gained in your job, but you have to weigh that against the invaluable experience you gain besides that. I just knew that it was the right time for me to go, and I don’t regret it in the least. I wanted to write this blog entry, to show you, how my travels have shaped, strengthened, and supplemented my professional skills (and some funny memorable photos comparing my old job to my year abroad). Because if I can do it, you can do it.

La Distesa

Cultivated skills:

  • Viticulture knowledge/experience
  • Web site editing (Translations/Photography/Layout)
  • Photography publication in well respected Italian magazines

What everyone thinks I did in Italy: Sit around eating pizza or pasta and drinking wine all day.

What I actually did: Ok so I ate a lot of pasta…but I came here as a Wwoofer, and besides learning about organic farming, I was able to use my professional communication skills with additional work. Valeria and Corrado hardly have time to work on their website, and since communications is my forte, I went through and reorganized, edited, and built new pages for the site. I’d still like to give it a huge haul design-wise, but it already looks so much better, plus I was able to use most of my photography for the photos. Working for a small company allowed me to showcase my photography and get more involved in the wine business instead of just being limited to the vineyard.

   

Tearing down the Viaduct? … or … harvesting grapes in a vineyard?

Fairy Chimney Inn

Cultivated skills:

  • Strategic communication and business planning
  • Crisis communication and managing authority
  • Production Assistant with the Discovery Channel (at least for a long weekend)
  • Customer service skills in tourism (Daily interaction with diverse people, travel planning, etc.)

What everyone thinks I did in Turkey: Fly in hot air balloons, eat falafel and baklava, and ride motorcycles all day.

What I actually did: Ok I ate a lot of baklava…but I came here to help with daily reception work, but given my professional skills set, the owner, Andus, had other plans for me. I started laying out the groundwork for an expansion of the already world reknown cave-hotel. On top of doing research and creating a communication plan for the new business, I also made some suggestions to streamline the reception and communication work, allowing the workers to be more efficient and consistent. In the middle of this, I became a part time production assistant when coordinating a visit with the Discovery Channel. I helped them plan the location shoots, and provide on-site support in addition to helping Andus with interviews and information gathering. It was a good thing I was well rehearsed with crisis communications from my WSDOT experience, because I unfortunately had to use it towards the end of my time here. With a major medical emergency taking place, I had to quickly “take over” managing the hotel for a couple days as the owners were out. Nothing like having a fully booked hotel in peak tourist season and having to mitigate the situation alone to keep everyone calm when the military police show up for an investigation.

   

Old job:                                                                 Volunteer job:

Media interviews with engineers in Seattle   … or … media interviews with anthropologists in Turkey?

Lha Charitiable Trust

Cultivated skills:
  • International language experience
  • Teaching English as a second language
  • Leadership and mediation skills
  • Adaptability

What everyone thinks I did in India: Meditate, yoga it up, be a giant hippie, and get food poisoning.

What I actually did: I only did yoga twice ate a lot of Indian food without food poisoning!…and I came here to teach English to Tibetan refugees. This was probably the most straight forward volunteer work I did abroad. Completely up to your own agenda, you shape the experience you get and the experience you provide to the students. It’s hard to summarize how incredibly awarding this experience was. But as many people pursue ways to live abroad, teaching English is needed almost everywhere in the world. I volunteered here, but there are plenty of people like my friend Nathan who have been teaching English in places like Korea, where you are paid a decent amount and your transportation and accommodation is provided.

In addition to all of these “professional” reasons why traveling makes me a better candidate for a job, the amount of things I learned about my character just in traveling itself are invaluable. And I’m not talking about the “soul-finding” or “self-discovering” kind. I’m talking about serious life skills that you can bring into any work kind of work environment. Here’s just a simple few:

  • Nothing tests your patience, flexibility, and adaptability like traveling alone in India. Or any developing country. Seriously.
  • Traveling alone forces you to become more confident and independent.
  • Keeping your finances in order shows you know how to budget, especially if you’re like me and running on savings for a year!
  • Volunteering shows you think about others above yourself. Perfect for team building or leading a team.

I just don’t understand why people think that once they leave college that the only way they can continue to build their resume is only through paying jobs. All of the work I did above was volunteer work. It’s like all of a sudden when we have a degree in our hand we feel like we’re above working for free or interning. There are ways to be rewarded that don’t involve money.

   

Press interview by Seattle media? … or … press interview by India media? (That’s a funny story)

While I was able to help the organizations that provided these opportunities, the reward I received was so much more than resume skill building. Above all of this corporate, business, resume stuff I was able to travel and experience countries and cultures in ways you could never do on a two week getaway Contiki vacation. The travelers you meet, the locals who share their homes with you, open you up to a whole new world that goes beyond “seeing the sights”. (I spent over a month in India and I didn’t even have the desire to see the Taj Mahal.)

So if you’re still not convinced. Send me a message. I recommend taking time “off” when the time is right to “escape the grind” and “discover yourself”. Whatever those cliche phrases mean. The point is, whatever it is that you choose to do, you are in charge of what you make of it. If you quit your job to be a beach bum for a year you might have a harder time justifying that. But it is possible to apply your skills to your travels and then some!

   

Photoshoot with Steve Zakuani? … or … photoshoot in preparation for a National Geographic portfolio?

Now that we’ve covered the way to “justify” your travels, we can move on to financing this expedition. Believe me when I tell you, it doesn’t take much money to travel…but that’s another entry for another day…

Thanks to the following people for capturing me doing cool things along my journey: Jordan Henderson for the photo of the truck in the vineyard, Nathan Anderson for the kayaking photo, and Tim Boylan for the main photo of me in Turkey.

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4 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    I did the same thing in November 2011 and left my company after 6 years with no plan. I “fell” into many amazing volunteer opportunities and haven’t regretted a moment of it.

  2. Moniek says:

    Thanx for your post! I’ve almost finished my PhD, am not sure yet about what to do next and am strongly considering WWOOF-ing or other voluntary work.
    How did you decide where to go/ which organization to work for?

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