It used to be that if people had no plans for what they were going to do after getting their law degree, they would justify the choice by saying, “Even if I don’t go into law, I can always do something with a law degree.”
The law degree of the new millennium is travel. People think they gain valuable experiences from traveling that will be valuable no matter what field they go into. But it’s simply not true. All experience is not equal. And experience gained from having a job is much more useful experience than anything from not having a job.
Here are all the reasons travel-based experience isn’t as valuable as you’d think.
1. It’s an announcement that you had no idea what to do with yourself. People who are driven to build a career don’t stop the forward motion to travel for no reason. If you are excited about your life, you do your life. If you are not excited about your life, you travel to get away from it.
You can try to talk your way out of this revelation in an interview, but you will always look like you couldn’t handle getting a job so you decided to travel. Which is why people who travel always look like they are running from something.
There are a lot of ways to explain a gap on your resume. If you’ve already done the travel, instead of talking about the travel in that gap, talk about something you did to move your life forward. Maybe you learned to code, or started writing a novel. Did you try your hand at a startup from your parents’ basement? Anything is better than travel, even if that startup was a fast and furious failure.
2. You don’t have time to travel. The Independent just published research that shows people who fulfill career goals before age 27 are happier throughout their adult life. That rings true to me based on the lives of the hundreds of people I’ve coached.
If you had success by 27, you worry less about your long-term prospects because you feel like you can replicate that success throughout your career. And you have more confidence that you can change careers and be successful again. However if you do not have success by 27, you start to doubt yourself, and, actually, you should. Most people who will have success in their careers have shown signs of it by 27.
This is not to say you will be doing the same thing at 27 that you will at 57. But, for example, by 27 I had set my sights on playing on the professional beach volleyball tour, and I succeeded in getting myself to California, getting sponsors, and playing on the tour. I was achieving goals that scaled toward a bigger goal, and even though my objective was unconventional by everyone’s standards, making that progress was a sign of my ability to create success.
The big takeaway: Succeeding in your career by 27 will make you happy, but travel will not.
3. Job-related travel is not sustainable. Forget about going overseas for a job, because when you get back to the US you’ll be screwed. I’m not kidding. Here’s a whole article in the Economist about how US companies send people overseas to “gain experience” and then penalize people on their return to the US.
So let’s just talk about those jobs that force you to get on a plane all the time.
You get used to a big salary which is not actually big because you are trading your free time for money. And when you have to get a job that doesn’t include travel you will feel like you’re taking a pay cut.
The most common job that is not sustainable because of travel is consulting. Don’t even start doing it because it’s an unnecessary stepping stone to a client-side job. You should just take the client side job to begin with. And, you risk getting so addicted to the consulting salary and the consulting arrogance that you can’t make a shift later.
I did the most travel was when I was toying with the idea of a speaking career. It just sort of happened that I was making $10K a speech, and I had a speech almost every week. Sometimes I spoke twice a week and you know that fun, weird feeling you get when you’re dizzy and a little disconnected from your brain? That’s what I felt when I had no idea what city I was in. Again and again.
I also noticed, in hindsight, that I did all that travel when my marriage was falling apart. Who would want to be home for that when money-making escape travel was right there? But once I reconnected with my kids and decided to get rid of one of our two full-time nannies, I had no desire to travel for speaking gigs.
So I think people travel for work because they feel like they have nothing at home. Maybe you’ll say I’m projecting here, but I’m also right; a person can be both.
4. Travel wastes your time. If you want to learn about other cultures, sleep in a homeless shelter in Chicago for a week. I’m sure you’ll have more culture-shock there than you will in a Marriott in Prague. The assumption that travel is intrinsically useful assumes we live in a world with no Internet. The more our national differences diminish, driven by a cross-national internet experience, the less valuable travel becomes.
I think about the increasing irrelevance of national boundaries when I look at maps of people who visit this blog. The map up top is from a random day but it’s like all other days because you guys come from all over the world to read about the same issues.
And I saw this trend most clearly when I’d listen to my kids play video games with kids on Skype. I’d say, “Hey, where’s that kid from?”
And my son would say, “Mom! Shush! You’re embarrassing me! No one cares!”
At one point, I had been hearing the same kids over Skype for four or five days in a row. So I said, “Hi. This is Z’s mom. Where are you guys from?”
One boy said, with his perfect British accent, “Pakistan.”
And that was it. No one was like, “Cool. Pakistan. Wow.” No one talked about where they are from. My sons’ generation doesn’t care. They don’t think it means anything. And, I think they’re onto something.