10 Skills You Learn Traveling Abroad - And How They Apply To Business

In a globalized world, how well-rounded can an applicant be without travel?
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Andrea Cardenal

When assessing a job application, there’s a wide variety of factors recruiters look at. Education is important, but companies today want more than theory – they’re looking for experience. In a globalized world, how well-rounded can an applicant be without travel?

Today’s business world is growing increasingly location-independent and breaking the mold of the standard office cubicle stereotype. Your experiences abroad, ability to adapt to unique and changing situations, developed coping skills and creativity can help you stand out as a desirable job candidate. A well-traveled background tells recruiters you’re flexible, adaptable and worldly.

Below are ten skills you learn when traveling abroad, and how they can be applied to the business world.

1. Research & Planning

When planning a trip abroad, there are dozens of small factors that can make or break a trip. Depending upon where you’re traveling and how long you’ll be there, preparing for travel can include looking for the best itinerary and cheapest flight option, researching visa requirements, finding reasonably priced and centrally located accommodations, weighing tour options, finding transportation, navigating currency exchange rates, packing essentials and much more. A seasoned traveler is organized and prepared, knows where to find the information needed, and has the foresight to anticipate needs and unexpected challenges.

When considering what could go wrong, travelers must often prepare for any eventuality in their budget and have contingency plans. Often, choices will be presented where experiences or goods offered will prove tempting and put a strain on a traveler’s budget. Experience teaches the weathered traveler to allocate some capital to leisure spending but always have enough money saved up for emergencies and unforeseen challenges.

2. Time management

Many of us may not have the time or resources to take exceptionally long trips which would allow for a full immersion into the culture of the country we’re visiting. This forces the average traveler to make the most of what little time you have, managing expectations while also capitalizing on said time with the most (and best) experiences they can fit into the schedule.

A common error in traveling is setting an unrealistic schedule and setting yourself up for failure. Trying to execute a mad dash through countless sites in too little time will end in exhaustion instead of a pleasant experience. Similarly, not planning and leaving too much free time that results in missing out on experiences could cause frustration. Handling time and schedule constraints during travel can translate into a better sense of time management in the workplace.

3. Adaptability

There are countless things that can go wrong on a trip, from cancelled flights to lost luggage or passports, getting mugged or even health scares. Not to mention what could happen when traveling to places where there’s political unrest or risk of natural disasters. But even if nothing goes wrong, international travel often means stepping out of your comfort zone. Making your way in a foreign land with limited knowledge of the local language, customs and geography has a way of teaching us to think on our feet and be ready for anything. A traveler knows how to be flexible and adapt to change.

“An avid traveler can usually take the lead thanks to their experience, awareness and knowledge.”

4. Teamwork

Usually we travel with friends or family, but more and more often these days, travel involves tours or larger groups of people. Any of these scenarios can lead to friction as different travel styles and diverging interests emerge; these differences, the variety of choices and preferred activities can be more manageable if the group can work together as a team and play to each member’s strength.

For example, someone may have a great sense of direction, another may speak the local language, and a third may have been there before and know what sights are worth seeing. Teamwork translates into shared responsibilities and workload, which results in things getting done with each individual feeling understood, valued and appreciated.

5. Leadership

Often a group will look for a leader to help organize, unify and consolidate different opinions and requests. An avid traveler can usually take the lead thanks to their experience, awareness and knowledge, but a true leader will make sure everyone has a voice, asking for positive contributions, weighing preferences and different approaches, identifying strengths and letting people do the jobs with which they are most comfortable.

6. Communications

Language comes in so many shapes and sizes. We communicate with words, but also body language, style, customs and more. Even when speaking the same language, slang can make it sound completely different and give words or expressions altered meaning. Take Spanish, for example: more than 20 countries speak the same language, but no two countries speak it in the same way. Accents, expressions, catch phrases, slang can make the same language sound completely different.

When traveling, language barriers may be challenging at first but you soon learn to navigate around them. I lived in Barcelona for 3 years and came away speaking Catalan without a single lesson. The more languages you speak, the easier it is to expand your knowledge, especially when they’re derived from the same root (Latin).

7. Networking

Having lived in 6 cities and traveled to almost 40 countries, I have friends all over the world. Even when I don’t know anyone, I often reach out to friends who may have connections, because there’s nothing like experiencing a new place like a local. Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet may have the best tourist hotspot suggestions, but that’s usually not the reality the locals live.

Discovering an underground cafe or a sunrise fish market, or seeing an authentic local band play will open your eyes, mind and even palate to new experiences you never imagined. This is what international travel is really about, and the most enriching experience you can have. And it’s an amazing opportunity to meet, interact and learn from people you would have never connected with otherwise.

8. Diversity

Experiencing new cultures unquestionably inspires people to open their mind to different ways of thinking, new possibilities and novel ways of doing things. Having an understanding of different cultural nuances and customs leads to broader knowledge of the how the world works, why cultures function the way they do, where political tendencies stem from, and even how all of these elements influence business practices all over the world.

International travel enables you to work with culturally diverse and interesting people by developing your tolerance and open-mindedness. Being immersed in different cultures can broaden your horizons, give you a different viewpoint and allow you to understand the background, history and context people are coming from. It gives you unique perspective that is difficult to find if you haven’t been face to face with certain situations and cultures.

9. Innovation

When traveling, you won’t always have everything you need at hand or know where to find it. Traveling teaches you to think out of the box and work with what you’ve got, using and stretching whatever limited resources you have access to or envisioning where you can find new resources. This can play into packing for a trip with limited space, finding things to do on a limited budget, getting yourself out of sticky situations, dealing with unforeseen circumstances, problem-solving, and even communicating with someone who doesn’t speak the same language.

After visiting places where people lead such different lives and have unusual ways of thinking, you can often take those influences with you and find ways to apply them to your reality or way of life. Having a better grasp of the diversity in the world can be a great advantage in the business arena. Travel can often lead to new business ideas. You may come across situations you’ve never seen or twists on conventional products and services. You may see something and reimagine it in your country, adapting it to the local customs and culture. This can be a huge benefit to organizations no matter where you seek employment.

10. Empathy

When you travel, you’re constantly learning things about the world around you, growing from the experiences you encounter, and integrating those experiences into your everyday life. When traveling to third world countries, you’ll often encounter situations that will shock, impact and move you. These experiences will often develop a level of sensitivity and compassion that’s hard to grasp without having experienced first-hand the harsh reality a large portion of the world’s population lives in. This empathy is important for developing corporate social responsibility.

In conclusion, traveling is an investment, not an expense. Travel experience directly translates into a competitive advantage in today’s workplace. It has profound effects and plays an important developmental role in becoming a better team player, a more creative thinker, a more effective communicator, and a better overall person.

Travel helps you learn in so many different arenas and opens your brain to a whole new way of education. In my experience, it brings with it a thirst for new learning experiences and personal growth. New environments are a breeding ground for real-life teaching moments.

Nothing builds character or broadens your perspective quite like traveling to exotic places and experiencing new cultures. You don’t have to stifle your curiosity and imagination in favor of more practical pursuits. In today’s world, you can -and should- do both.

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