Why taking a career break to travel can improve your career
Have you been thinking about taking a break from your career to travel? Here’s why you should stop thinking about doing it and actually do it.
People often experience the feeling that there’s a demand to rush through life. You need to find a good job, get a promotion, buy a house and become financially stable.
Whilst these are all important things in life, there’s no time frame that you need to achieve them within. Everyone’s path in life goes in different directions, and at various speeds.
For some, the idea of taking a career break and delaying their advancement in a company is a terrible idea.
But what if I said that taking a career break can actually help your career, no matter what job it is.
What is a career break?
You may have heard the word sabbatical being used, and it means exactly the same thing as a career break.
As the name suggests, a career break is a period of time when you choose not to work. Instead you may use the time to pursue other interests such as travelling, studying, volunteering etc. Whatever your heart desires.
A career break can be as long or as short as you want. There’s no set amount of time. For example, I took a 2-year career break, which is slightly longer than the average 6-month career break.
The great part about a career break is that you are guaranteed a job when you return home. There’s no need to spend the last few weeks of your travels worrying about finding a job or sending out job applications.
Why did I take a career break?
At the time of writing, I’m currently 20 months into my 24 month long career break. Without a doubt, it is one of the best decisions that I have ever made.
A little background to my story - I went straight from school, at the age of 18, into an apprenticeship as a Management Consultant. I joined one of the largest accountancy firms in the world and was pretty much thrown in the deep end.
I’d dabbled with travelling prior to starting work. A month travelling around Indonesia sparked the travel addiction that realistically I don’t think I’ll ever be able to appease! I continued to travel whilst working, but 2 weeks here, and 1 week there just wasn’t enough to satisfy the travel craving.
After 2.5 years at the company, I decided to take a career break and fully enjoy life. I was extremely lucky that my company has a great career break policy, allowing me to take up to 3 years off throughout my career with them. I thought that 2 years should give me enough time.
5 reasons why you should take a career break:
1. Because you want to
If it’s something that you really want to do, then you don’t need to have a long list of reasons for why you should do it. Sometimes your intuition and a gut feeling is enough to guide you.
Taking a career break to travel can create memories that you’ll forever look back on with a smile. It can be the best investment of both your time and money, and it’s probably not going to be a decision that you regret.
Life is about enjoying yourself, and if travelling is how you would like to spend your time, then don’t let inconveniences and ‘what ifs’ stop you from doing what you love.
Now is the time to get out your bucket list and start doing those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
2. Gain new skills
Taking a career break to travel can result in having a number of new skills and experiences in your pocket. A lot of them you won’t even realise that you’ve acquired until you reflect on it.
Travelling requires you to improve your communication skills massively. If you’re solo travelling, then you have to become good at striking up conversations, talking with different people from around the world and connecting quickly with people.
Being in countries where you don’t speak the language forces you to rely more on body language - both reading the other person's, and using your own to express what you want to say.
A soft skill that’s extremely important to possess is confidence. A confident person is more likely to have better relationships, earn respect and make better decisions. Studies have even shown that you may live longer.
Most jobs require you to be confident. Whether it is making a presentation in front of your colleagues, speaking to customers or guiding individuals in a position of leadership.
Travelling offers you new experiences to grow your confidence that your job may not have provided. Tackling the challenges that travelling throws at you certainly helps to give you a bit of self belief and confidence.
As cliche as it sounds, travelling does help you to find yourself. Through unusual situations that you wouldn’t normally get at home, you learn a lot about yourself. The self development and growth from travelling can be huge!
3. Try new things and experiences
The world is full of opportunities. We’re incredibly lucky that every single country is different, with vibrant cultures, traditions and experiences that are unique to each place.
There are lots of ways to utilise these opportunities and try new things - sign up to classes on your travels, go on tours and volunteer.
Volunteering is an amazing way to try something new. Worldpackers has opportunities in more than 140 countries, offering everything from permaculture, construction, hospitality to teaching and animal care.
You could spend a few weeks teaching yoga, doing social media for an organisation or lending a helping hand in a kitchen. All of these things can be a great thing to add to your CV or talk about in a job interview.
My volunteering experience
Across the 5 weeks, I was able to improve my communication skills, confidence and my ability to articulate ideas. Plus my Spanish improved significantly and I had a lot of fun!
I made life-long friends and got to immerse myself in local life, something that’s harder to do when travelling around all the time.
I also used the opportunity to decide whether teaching was something that I’d be interested in for the future. Turns out it’s not, but it stopped me from going to university for 3 years and then figuring that out.
4. Learn a new language
Whilst learning the language of the country that you’re travelling in allows you to have a more immersive experience, it can also be beneficial when you go home.
Speaking more than one language can be a massive distinguishing factor between you and another candidate during a job interview.
The fact that you’ve put in the time and effort to learn another language shows employers that you’re dedicated and willing to learn new things. Research also shows that it can improve your problem solving skills, memory function and creative thinking.
The opportunity to take your career abroad
Not only that, speaking another language opens the door to working in a number of different countries. Something you might not have been able to do before taking a career break.
If you already speak English and learn Spanish, then you’ll be able to speak to 80% of the world’s population and potentially work in 21 Spanish-speaking countries.
If you want to apply a business lens to travelling, then you can. Roaming around the world can be a great way to network. Backpacker’s aren’t only people on their gap year after school or university. They’re lawyers, doctors, teachers, consultants and much more.
You’d be surprised at how many other people are on career breaks too, or working whilst they travel.
For those questioning where you want your career to go, speaking to people that you meet whilst travelling can help you to learn about jobs that you didn’t even know existed.
You also never know when a conversation could lead to a potential job opportunity.
Volunteering can also introduce you to your dream job.
How to take a career break?
If nobody else around you is taking a career break, then it might be unclear about how you can take one. A lot of companies don’t often advertise career breaks, as it increases the chance of them losing their employees.
Asking to take a career break might be the final hurdle that’s holding you back from living your dream, so here are some steps that you can take in order to secure your career break:
Check your company’s policy
Policies for career breaks are often outlined in employees handbooks or staff guidelines. If you’re unable to find the information, then speak to a contact in HR. They should know the answer, and you can find out what you need to know without having to inform your manager that you’re thinking of taking a career break.
Most companies will have a policy. For example, my company's policy is that as long as you’ve worked with them for longer than 2 years, you can take up to 3 years off within your career with them.
Prepare a case
Some companies may agree to your career break straight away as it’s part of their policy. Others may require you to put a case forward as to why the career break is both beneficial to you and them.
Here you can state reasons such as improving your communication skills, having time to study and gain new experiences etc.
If your company doesn’t have a career break policy, then speak to HR and your manager about making an exception for you. Your case will need to convince them that this is the best decision for both parties and that it’s something you need to do.
In the unfortunate event that your company says no, you can discuss the idea of working remotely. COVID has shown that most jobs can be done completely online. Maybe think about working and travelling?
A career break is the best decision I’ve made
Taking a career break to travel can be done at any time in your life. Whilst your career is important, so is making the most of life and enjoying it!
A career break is the perfect opportunity to take some time out, but know that your job is there waiting for when you return.
You have nothing to lose, but so much to gain!