Often we think of vacations as simple escapes from work, but what we fail to realize is the extent to which traveling makes us better employees. Sure, we often feel richer in a sense, but these benefits apply to the workplace as well. From exposing us to different cultures to helping us communicate better, traveling has a positive impact on our professional life and positions us to thrive at work.
I spoke to Emily Brockway, Cofounder of travel service company Noken, and we nailed down the many ways traveling benefits our work life:
You learn valuable communication skills
While traveling, you’ll undoubtedly run into communication difficulties. Whether it’s due to language barriers or cultural nuances, it will challenge you to actively listen and be creative in how you communicate with others. The workplace is no different.
Earlier this year, The Economist Intelligence Unit and Lucidchart compiled a report revealing that 42% of employees attribute misunderstandings at work to different communication styles. Going abroad and experiencing these communication barriers makes you more aware of differences in communication styles back at work, no matter how subtle.
You rest your brain, which fosters your creativity
Whether you’re trying to overcome a creative block or you feel stuck in a career rut, a change of scenery might just be the answer to your question. For even the high-achieving, creative individuals, taking a break has been known as one of the best stimuli for creativity. In fact, the CEO of Noken, Marc Escapa came up with the business idea while traveling to Iceland.
A study from the University of British Columbia found that as our mind wanders, brain areas associated with complex problem-solving are highly active. This can lead to eureka moments, a term coined by thought leader David Burkus, and defined as flashes of insight that come out of periods when the mind isn’t focused on the problem. Traveling often places us in environments where we’re exposed to different ways of thinking, which can solve some of our personal problems in ways we would’ve never considered before. As Burkus argues, when you take a break, you release the fixation on the same old solutions and let your old ways of thinking fade from memory. When you return to the original problem, your mind is open to new possibilities, which gives way to eureka moments.
You build connections around the world
Traveling provides a great opportunity to create a global network. With tools like LinkedIn, shared co-working spaces, alumni groups and social media platforms, there are many opportunities to connect with people (old and new). This networking might not only help you in your current role, but also open up new doors for your career. Perhaps you’d be open to relocate or transition into a new career somewhere else; having a global group of connections can create these opportunities for you.
You build cultural competency and become a better leader
Traveling prepares you for the quickly diversifying workforce of today. More than ever, companies are becoming global and diverse. This increased diversity leads to better business outcomes, but it also creates a more complicated team dynamic, which must be actively managed and nurtured.
Whether you want to get along with coworkers from all walks of life or be a better manager to your direct reports, your travels can help you accomplish that. In addition to making you familiar with different communication styles, traveling exposes you to cultures that most likely differ from your own—even in the smallest ways. According to Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley, building highly-functioning diverse teams is no small task. When team members come from different countries and functional backgrounds and are working in different locations, communication can rapidly deteriorate, misunderstanding can ensue, and cooperation can degenerate into distrust. By traveling abroad and experiencing new cultures and ways of life, people equip themselves to better manage and lead diverse teams.
You impress potential employers
Yes, traveling has benefits in that area too! While people often gloss over the behavioral questions in interviews, they are opportunities to show your depth and build a connection with your interviewer. Responding to some questions with interesting stories from your time travels is a pretty good way to grab your interviewer’s attention. “I always bring a travel journal whenever I travel to write down observations, lessons learned about my surroundings or lessons learned about myself while traveling. This time for self-exploration can help you figure out what you want to do with your life and also equip you with some pretty great answers from those personal interview questions.” – Emily says.
You become nimble
Things not going as planned? There’s a common travel scenario! Being in an unknown environment and encountering setbacks move you out of your comfort zone, which challenges you in rewarding ways. As Emily confesses, “Traveling and putting myself in uncomfortable situations has been perhaps one of the best preparers for my entrepreneurial journey thus far, since travel, like entrepreneurship, requires you to be flexible and think on your feet in unfamiliar settings.” Overcoming challenges while traveling gives you the confidence to solve unexpected problems in the office with calm.