In case you need more motivation to take that PTO: When you travel, whether for work or for fun, you’re not just seeing new places and making incredible memories. Your globe-trotting experiences can actually give you an edge in the workplace.
“Travel can help you be more flexible, be more open to ideas, and be able to bring innovations back home,” notes Michael Schlesinger, a project manager at leading travel e-commerce company Booking.com. We asked Schlesinger to share how his frequent travel—in three years, he traveled to more than 40 offices around the globe to set up new Booking.com teams—honed skills that just can't be sharpened by a career seminar.
1. You Play Well With Others
Whether you’re traveling with co-workers, friends, or a partner, travel can help you learn to rely on others and cooperate, even when your patience is tested by long days in transit or struggling to communicate in another language. Traveling solo? You still have to step outside your comfort zone, whether it's to ask a stranger for help with directions or to make small talk in the hotel lobby. These skills can all make you a valuable co-worker.
“When we interview people for jobs, of course we’re looking for their technical skills, but the way they can interact under pressure is essential as well,” says Schlesinger. Travel is one way to get used to operating under pressure, in close quarters with other people. When you’ve successfully re-routed your trip in fifteen stressful minutes at a foreign train station because of misunderstanding the original train schedules, working with a diverse team to execute a complex project is a breeze.
2. You Learn to Listen
When you travel abroad, it’s important to pay attention to local customs and norms—especially small details that may not be a big deal back home. For example, “In Asian cultures, if you’re given a business card, it’s considered polite to take it and study it for a few seconds, before you carefully place it in a wallet or holder," says Schlesinger. “Taking the card without looking and sliding it in your back pocket is considered to be incredibly rude.”
To understand these nuances, Schlesinger relies on advice and anecdotes from his teammates, who hail from around the globe. “It’s really important to take the time to understand the place you’re in, and let the locals lead the way, even if it's a different custom than what you would normally do,” explains Schlesinger.
That’s why traveling abroad—or even working with a diverse group of coworkers from all over the globe—can teach you the art of listening, acceptance, and learning to let others take the lead. “What I love is when we have downtime in a new country, and colleagues in offices abroad can take us away from the tourist spots, to the best restaurants or sights in town that only locals know about,” says Schlesinger. Traveling for pleasure? Taking the time to get to know locals—asking for recommendations, taking note of any customs—can foster curiosity and learning back home, too.
3. You Get Good at Making Things Work
There are those days when everything at the office rolls like clockwork—emails returned, deadlines met, clients satisfied. And then there are other days.
“One time, we were setting up an office in Singapore, and we arrive on a Monday, expecting a completed office we could add furniture, servers, and technology so that Booking.com employees could start the next week. Instead, we arrive at what was still a hard hat zone, with construction not even being completed,” Schlesinger shares. “We had a few late nights, a lot of phone calls, and somehow, everything came together.”
Snafus are also inevitable when traveling for pleasure: Luggage may get delayed, WiFi may not work, your credit card may suddenly get declined. But you’ll learn how to interact with locals to get any help or support you need, figure out workarounds (turns out your phone can become a WiFi hotspot in a pinch), and store up some fail-safe wisdom for next time (always pack an extra outfit in your carry-on), all of which can translate into how you deal with mishaps at home or at the office.
4. You Become Incredibly Independent
When you’re abroad, you don’t necessarily have the same support system as you did back home. The time difference may mean it’s tough to check in with friends, family, or your workplace. Because of that, you get pretty good at taking care of yourself—which at work translates into learning how to manage your time and get your job done without getting constant input from your manager.
“Taking care of yourself” also means developing routines that help you prioritize your own physical and mental well-being. “I travel with a mini-pharmacy at all times, to make sure I have everything I need, from ibuprofen and band-aids to an extra T-shirt,” says Schlesinger. “[In my line of work] it’s not a typical nine to five job, so you need to know what to do to take care of yourself even when the travel and work gets intense”—including heading to Starbucks kiosks all over the world for his favorite coffee order, a venti caramel machiatto.
5. You Roll With the Unexpected
“One time, my boss asked me how long it would take me to get home and pack a bag,” says Schlesinger. “It turns out I was needed in Asia for a problem that cropped up. I went home, got a suitcase, and hopped into a car.” Being able to bring this sort of flexibility into the workplace lets you seamlessly pivot between projects and assignments, and not feel stuck in the way things have been done in the past.
Travel can make you work smarter, which is one of the many reasons Booking.com prioritizes opportunities for employees to travel, even if they’re primarily based in a home office. And while traveling for work is a great way to get paid while seeing different parts of the world, taking a vacation trip during your PTO can give you the same benefits. So make sure your passport is current and book that trip—you could end up expanding your resume as well as your perspective.