The great travel writer Pico Iyer once wrote, “Few of us ever forget the connection between ‘travel’ and ‘travail’”. And if I may draw your memory back to Grade 3 French class for a moment, you’ll remember that the word “travail” means “work.”
After traveling to 30 cities, nine countries and three continents in one year, let me tell you that, contrary to what many may think, there is actually a very deep connection between travel and work. Traveling, for all its splendor, also entails hardship. And these hardships bring out skills, qualities and lessons that’ll prove to be invaluable in the workforce.
Here’s a thing or two I learned while on the road…
You’ve got to be enterprising
The word itself reeks of business savvy, doesn’t it? But seriously, when you’re on the road in some foreign country with nothing but a backpack and some limited funds in your bank account, you’ve got no choice but to be enterprising and resourceful.
You may very well find yourself in a small town in Italy with no place to sleep for one night because of some error in your accommodation booking. What do you do? You connect with old friends or acquaintances who might be passing through the city or living nearby. You scour the Internet for other hostels in the area that may have a bed available. You talk to hostel owners and receptionists to see if they have any inside hookups. Or, worse comes to worst, you sleep in the train station for one night. Whatever the case, you do what you can and make the most out of the situation.
The same is true in a business context. There’ll always be a time when you’ve got limited resources, time, or knowledge, but you’ve got to muster up all of your creativity and find a way to work with what you’ve got. And trust me, there is always a way.
Cultural sensitivity and communication is everything
Learning how to say something as simple as thank you in Khmer or Thai (aw kuhn or khob-kun-Ka, respectively) while bowing your head as deeply as you can to show your utmost respect really goes a long way.
Showing the proper respect for and knowledge of people’s cultural, spiritual and religious traditions is a lesson that is important not just in the workforce, but in life in general.
In our highly globalized world where we are in contact with individuals with such varied backgrounds, communicating with cultural sensitivity and understanding can really set you apart from the many others who have not had this first hand experience overseas.
We are chameleons
Travelers move from one country to another adapting to wherever they happen to be. Yes, we are chameleons weaving in and out of different cultures, languages, and unusual situations. We are thrown out of our comfort zone almost everyday and though it may be scary, we are exhilarated by the challenge and embrace it with open arms.
In the working world, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself in a myriad of unusual situations as well….you may even be working in an industry you know nothing about. But your experience as a traveler has given you the superpower to adapt and flourish wherever and whatever situation you find yourself.
Keep calm and travel on
There are days when everything will go wrong in your travels. You could miss a connecting flight (I did). Your train could break down and you could be stranded in the middle of nowhere in between the mountain ranges of Switzerland and Italy (mine did, twice). It sucks. A lot.
Or sometimes it might be a case of culture shock when you’re jolted from the luxuries of Toronto to the dusty roadsides of Phnom Penh. Everything is different and you are completely and totally out of your comfort zone.
But what do you do? You keep calm and travel on. Keeping composure under uncertainty and pressure is a key quality that travelers are all too familiar with and it’s one that’ll ensure your survival in any situation…yes, even the 9 to 5 grind.