Has exploring the world as a backpacker always been a dream of yours? Are you thinking about taking a gap year or a career break? What’s holding you back? Is it the fear of the break in your CV, of risking career opportunities or the judgement of your friends and family who believe traveling is a waste of time and money?
Don’t let any of these fears stop you from exploring. Taking the risk will be worth it.
A friend and I set off on a trip from Germany to New Zealand via the Middle East, Asia and Australia as students just out of high school and came back with not only stamps in our passports but some important lessons to take to university and the start of our working lives.
Here are some of the lessons I learnt from spending time on the road:
1. The climb is tough, but the view from the top is worth it
Standing in front of a mountain of work: We’ve all experienced this situation. And at first this mountain always seems unconquerable… but then you start hiking it.
Hiking is a must when traveling. I hiked several volcanos and to be honest the way up was never a walk in the park and there were many times I wanted to turn back after just one kilometer. However if you go on you will never regret it, because having the world at your feet makes you feel like a queen. The time at the top makes all the hours of hard work you put in getting there so worthwhile.
2. Asking for help is never a failure
While traveling you cannot survive without asking all kinds of questions: “Could you please show us the way? Can you help us with our tire? Do you have a lighter?” And the truth is we were never let down by a single person. Locals were very happy to help and immediately started a conversation, asking about our journey and our origin.
I took the same approach when starting work in a new office and never hesitated again to ask for help. You’ll get things much faster if you ask for help, you’ll show an interest in the company and start building a connection with your co-workers.
3. The power of small gestures
Always show an interest in the country and cultures you’re traveling in. Even two sentences in the local language can immediately help you connect; even if your pronunciation is horrible they will be happy that you tried and you will share your first smiles together – a perfect start.
Working in an international company it is as important to make that connection with colleagues from all over the world, to show interest in their background and to respect cultural differences. This is always the first step in fostering a solid basis for a working relationship.
4. Learn to adapt
Each country I visited on my backpacking trip was a surprise, sometimes even a shock. I can remember on arriving in Bangkok I felt overwhelmed by the chaos. But I realized early on, to really enjoy a new place, I had to stop comparing it to home. Adapt to your new surroundings, see the humbleness of the Balinese people, the happiness of the Thai people and the warm hospitality of the Kiwi people. These encounters helped me rethink my own values and attitudes and I took the best ones with me.
5. It takes a team to go all the way
I would have never have journeyed so far if it wasn’t for my travel mate. She always pushed me to try new things and vice versa. I’ve found that moving into my working life having a mentor or like-minded person that has your back is crucial to boost self-confidence and steer you in the right direction.
Six months backpacking taught me so much more than 12 years of school ever could. Visiting new parts of the world prepared me for the subsequent university and career challenges I faced. It’s certainly no career killer, it’s a career winner!