What International Travel Taught Me About Business Leadership
Working as an intern for several big international companies has allowed me to travel abroad extensively. The travel experience I acquired from visiting more than a dozen countries in less than three years has helped to give me a clear perspective on setting business goals in a global economy and internet-driven marketplace.
Here’s a short list of the skills I picked up while traveling abroad and my advice to young job seekers interested in building their resume through international travel:
Travel teaches you to…
1. Be Resilient
Just like conducting business, international travel involves last-minute changes in plan, situations in which you’ll have to find ways to adapt to new environments, and countless ways that something could go south in an instant. For instance, I ended up in cheap and dirty hostels several times, my bags got lost, my phone was stolen once, and so on.
I had to adapt and improvise regularly, a skill that later helped me as an entrepreneur.
In business, I have had my share of unpredictability. I’ve lost business contracts, have been rejected by clients, and have run out of funds. But the resilience built during my trips abroad helped me tough it out and get out of those situations without a scratch.
In other words, international travel has taught me to stay flexible even when pursuing my business goals.
2. Stay Humble
Surprisingly, travel taught me that being humble will help me go a long way in both life and business. I’ve met so many different people along my journeys who had less than I did and far more significant problems, yet they were content with their lives.
One of my Airbnb hosts, a 54-year-old woman from an Eastern European country, taught me more during my stay in her home than business school ever did. It was a humbling experience that made me realize that I can get new insights even from the most unexpected places.
Humility is necessary when you set business goals or seek a career path, as well. There are so many businesses and people out there that rose only to fall on hard times because they were too proud to acknowledge their limitations or try different approaches.
My advice to young international travelers looking for a resume-boosting experience is to have a down-to-earth approach when assessing your skills and limitations. Applying for a job that you know deep down inside that you are not fit for will not get you far. At some point, someone will notice that you don’t have a clue and are just improvising. Operating on this mentality could derail your career path for years to come.
3. Think Outside the Box
When traveling internationally, you’ll have to deal with scarce resources, unforeseen circumstances, and nasty situations. I had to stretch my resources to the max and look for new opportunities to fit my budget, like taking an Uber instead of a cab or sleeping in a cheap motel room instead of a decent hotel. I also had to communicate with people that did not speak English to get to certain destinations.
All of these bumps in the road forced me to think outside the box when trying to get things done despite the new customs and cultures I often came across. Seeing things from a different perspective can be a huge benefit to a business regardless of the country it is located in.
Thinking out of the box can help you build a killer resume.
When in a foreign country, don’t stick to the initial purpose of your visit, be it sightseeing or studying. Try to meet new people, do some networking, and maybe even get a part-time job to pack some experience. During my stay in London in 2011, I volunteered at a local food bank where I met an Italian woman. She told me that she’d landed a dream job in London thanks to the connections she made during a summer stay in Birmingham a couple of years prior. So, knowing the right people can help you land the job, but also further a business, as I later discovered.
4. Plan Ahead – It Matters
When going on an international trip, you’ll have to do some serious planning ahead. You’ll look for the cheapest flights, visa requirements (if any), affordable accommodation, transportation options, lowest currency exchange rates, and more. You will also have to stay organized, pack only the essentials, and anticipate needs and sticky situations.
People who have traveled extensively abroad become prepared and organized by necessity, two traits that are essential for an entrepreneur or digital nomad. Planning ahead, staying organized, and being ready for unexpected situations are critical skills for setting successful business goals.
Just like in travel, you’ll need contingency plans and extra funds for unforeseen challenges in business too. You will sometimes lack human capital, the cash, or the know-how for a new business venture, but if you plan ahead, you’ll find the necessary solutions easily.
My top tip for any entry-level job candidate is to do some research beforehand and learn more about the company they are eyeing. Fortunately, the internet is bursting with career advice and info.
5. Manage Your Time
Traveling can teach you a lot about time management and staying focused on what really matters. You’ll have to get to the airport in time to catch the flight, set realistic schedules when visiting a new place, and being wary of how you use your free time.
I have made all the mistakes when it comes to time management during my travels, from dashing from one place to another to see all the sites that I was interested in to being lazy and missing out some pleasant experiences. My poor time management skills have often left me exhausted and frustrated.
In the end, travel taught me how to have a realistic schedule when setting my business goals and develop a better sense of time management while in the workplace.
6. Cultivate Cultural Awareness
International travel can offer seasoned travelers valuable insights into new cultures. Any entrepreneur operating in the global economy should have cultural awareness as most business will come in contact with foreign cultures at some point.
If you plan to expand a business internationally or living as a digital nomad someday, you’ll have to be aware of local preferences and cultural norms. Most major companies don’t just ship their employees to a foreign country and expect the business to thrive. They are aware that they need foreign partners to tailor their products to the needs and wants of new markets.
Cultural awareness is also a key component when seeking an overseas job or trying to earn a living while traveling full-time. Before visiting a new country, especially in places like South America, Africa, or the Middle East, do your research on local business etiquette first to ensure that giving a thumbs-up is not a hideously offensive gesture towards your interviewer.
7. Become a Leader
The few times that I traveled with a group, I learned a lot about leadership. Group travel is harder to organize than solo travel. People within a group will look for a leader that can give everyone a voice and tap into their unique talents and skills. Some may know the local foreign language, others may have superior orientation in space, while still others may have valuable previous knowledge of a region.
A good leader will take all of these aspects into consideration and help organize and unify the group while giving it a clear direction. The leadership skills I acquired during my international trips have enabled me to be better at spotting people’s strengths, paying more attention to their feedback, and choosing the right man for the job. These leadership skills will be pure gold when landing a management position within a company too.
International travel has taught me a few valuable life lessons, such as being resilient, not sweating the small stuff, staying humble, the importance of planning & time management, and more. These lessons have made me a better person and entrepreneur while simultaneously teaching me to set realistic business goals and keep a business afloat.
I strongly believe that experience with international travel can offer young job seekers a clearer perspective on life and the world, helping them propel their careers and resumes from good to great in no time.