Travel is terrible for your career

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.


130 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Kalae
    Kalae says:

    Travel might be bad for your career and life if your goal is to live in the US. But you can make a whole career and life out of living overseas. Some cultures still value an in person handshake. And there is a significant difference between meeting people online who can afford a computer and speak English, and chatting through an interpreter with a widow at an ashram in India or eating with clients at an iftar in the middle east. And there may still be companies who don’t know what to do with employees they bring back (out of sight, out of mind) but we know many people who have succesfully returned with their companies. Don’t believe everything you read. ;-)

    • EP
      EP says:

      As an 31-year-old woman who achieved her career goals by 28 by having an amazing job with an international relief organization, I can tell you that I agree with this. I worked out of the US but the job demanded 75% international travel. As in- live in a hard location and travel to another hard location. I learned a lot but I also gave up a lot. In those three years, my friends got married and all have kids. I just moved back to the US and I felt like I took a pay cut because there was no way they could pay me the equivalent of all the benefits I received (housing, cars, food, house keepers) plus a salary. And now I feel just wee bit behind my peers in terms of overall life goals. Most people who live and work out of the US don’t actually stay there long-term. Traveling for the sake of traveling is a waste of time. At a minimum, find a volunteer job. But really, just grow up and find a job in the US. And if you really want to live and work out of the US, then leverage your skills for a paid job when the time is right.

  2. Jarkko Helenius
    Jarkko Helenius says:

    You raise a good point about travel perhaps not being the thing people think it is for their careers, but for my maturation it has been crucial – but there we hit the key point cause I am 27 and I only got to travel cause I hit an admittedly very moderate but still satisfactory success that made traveling possible for me.

    So I think you saying that achieving some sort of career success by 27 being indicative of future success is true – but lets face it, lot of the people traveling either already achieved some success in young age to make the traveling possible in the first place, or will never achieve it anyway cause that is just not in them.

    Traveling and your career are separate things. If you are saying to career-oriented person not to travel to progress your career, of course you are right. But it seems bit of a moot point. People travel to get LIFE experiences, party, etc etc. stuff like that, which cannot be measured in the dollars the next paycheck brings in.

    Most people I have met during my travels have not been some career obsessed people anyway. Even if they are, they are not deluding themselves to think that would progress their career. Its a hobby. When I go do Muay Thai I dont think it will progress my career, but it will contribute to my well being. It is a separate thing.

    But as you point out in your article, to end with a positive note, it does not take intercontinental travel to get experiences and culturally open your eyes. But we prefer doing it that way cause it strokes our ego more to say we have been in 13 countries.

    Cultural differences are getting smaller and travel is losing some of its value, perhaps all of it in career sense, but it is still valuable as life experience even if you cant put a dollar sign on it’s value.

  3. Christiane
    Christiane says:

    I travelled a lot as a child because of my dad’s job (business, not government) and as a consequence I speak four languages fluently (two more less fluently), can adapt to and work in many different countries, and got a high-paying job in a huge international bank at 22.

    My siblings all live in different countries doing drastically different things but all successful in their own way, and for each the languages and the cultures have been a huge booster. While many of my friends are still stuck in my European home country and couldn’t/wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, I’m already confident that I could get a job and career anywhere I wanted to.

    This also means I can pick and choose where I want to raise my own family, based on studies and personal experience – isn’t this a huge added value?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Actually. No. Speaking four languages is not an advantage because no one needs four languages to do their job. Except, maybe at the UN.

      In order to have a stable career with a network you can rely on, you need to be in one country, one culture, learning to navigate the power brokers of that culture.

      Pretty much anyone who is a college graduate is employable at 22. What happens between 22 and 27 is that the person does not commit to specializing, and the person does not get themselves to a place – physically – where they want to start a family.

      When you don’t do those things by 27 you find yourself pretty much starting over at 27.

      So having lots of opportunities at 22 is not the key differentiator. Saying no to most of those opportunities and making very tough decisions that limit your opportunities – all by 27 — is the differentiator.


      • Revé
        Revé says:

        Very few Americans need that many languages to work in the U.S., true. I read an article that said Americans are losing jobs because they only speak English, and even I thought, “Losing jobs in the U.S.?” Upon further research, I saw they were referring to jobs overseas, since many jobs require bi- or tri-lingualism.

        • Morgan
          Morgan says:

          I did study abroad in college. I was very relieved that everyone I needed to communicate with in Europe spoke perfect English. Every restaurant I dined in offered me a menu in English. People act as though knowing more than one language is some big benefit and it’s not.

      • EuroVoice
        EuroVoice says:

        I think you have a distorted view of, for example, the European job market and the demand to know multiple languages. That and you are purposefully exaggerating the level of international exposure that could reasonably require such skills. It comes all the way down to local government, universities, NGOs, financial auditing and management, basic provision of social services to foreigners who have the right to such services (thinking legal, health, social, educational), on and on the list goes …

  4. Shayna
    Shayna says:

    I couldn’t disagree with this article more. Maybe these points hold up if your career goals include becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company — but otherwise they are extremely subjective. Speaking for myself, traveling has opened my worldview and relaxed my inhibitions about meeting other people and interacting — and thriving — in other cultures. In any company or work place, adapting to the culture and speaking the language is critical to success. Moving to Germany, overcoming culture shock and learning to thrive in a relatively unwelcoming place is an experience I’m going to consider a bonus. If that doesn’t make me marketable to an organization, I don’t want to work for them anyway.

    Besides, travel makes me feel alive. Overcoming language barriers to connect with another person is a thrill like non other.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I don’t think you’re disagreeing with the article. Actually you’re saying that you don’t value what the corporate world values, so you’re happy to travel and get the things that you value.

      But it’s important to recognize that the things you are gaining when you travel will not actually help you get a job. I see you think they SHOULD help you get a job. But there is a lot of data in the article in the Economist to say it won’t.

      And, frankly, as a person who has been in corporate life for a while, it’s intuitive to me that the things you list in your comment are not things that will help you get a job.


    • Morgan
      Morgan says:

      There is no reason for anyone to experience culture shock in Germany. I toured the entire country a few years ago on a study abroad trip. Almost everyone there speaks English and there was a Burger King, Subway and McDonald’s even in the smallest little towns I visited. Every person that I needed to communicate with spoke English. Every restaurant offered menus in English. There is even a Louisiana’s restaurant there that serves Southern Style cuisine.

  5. Mathias
    Mathias says:

    Quite a few interesting points here, although I have to disagree with most of them.

    People often view traveling as some sort of “cop-out”, where you’re running away from responsibilities, or where you just don’t know what you want to do. I think it’s the complete opposite; many people travel because that is precisely what they want to do.

    Besides, at least where I live it’s considered a cool addition to your resumé to have traveled for an extended period of time, since it shows how you’re not afraid to take risks, and how you’re more than capable of dealing with big projects and new situations.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      It probably indicates social class more than anything else, which is extremely important when it comes to fitting in with certain workplaces.

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        It also depends greatly on your industry. In the creative industries, career-related projects involving travel is considered to be a plus.

        I work in the arts. We’re globalized. It’s expected we have shows and do residencies in different countries, make contacts with our compatriots in different continents. But this is not the case for most fields.

  6. Stephenie
    Stephenie says:

    I have never considered traveling in connection to work truly traveling. That is being on the road. When on the road you stay in hotels, eat in chain restaurants with the same bland crappy food you can eat in the same chains at home, hang out in windowless conference rooms and never see anything that distinguishes one place from the next. That’s not traveling. Traveling is staying in someplace more modest or with locals, eating the local food, sipping coffee or tea in the local no name coffee shop, praying with the locals and immersing in the culture. Nothing replaces good travel experiences and no career is worth giving up the chance to do it. I can’t imagine travel looking good on a resume. It means you aren’t married to your job. My career has stood in the way of my travel ambitious more surely than anything. I often manage to travel when I am in between jobs. There are more important things in life than a stellar career. It is interesting about the reaching your goals by 27. I reached most of mine by then but I didn’t realize that I was going to hit the ceiling. I haven’t accomplished much since 36 and still have one important goal left. I don’t have a career anymore and I’m not sure I want one. I felt like I sold my soul for the one I had. I’d rather travel, sleeping in cheap hotels and hostels, not the Marriott. I’d rather fill my passport book with stamps and my camera with pictures of markets, mountains, jungles, and castles. I’d rather live out of my back pack and explore different places than have a career again. There is no life in a career, just money I don’t have time to enjoy.

  7. Revé
    Revé says:

    “And there is a significant difference between meeting people online who can afford a computer and speak English, and chatting through an interpreter with a widow at an ashram in India or eating with clients at an iftar in the middle east. ”

    I live in Madrid, Spain. Internet usage is less common compared to the U.S. Most people here cannot converse in English, and this is the capital city. This also applies to places in which one would think that most people could understand English, such as the airport and the U.S. Embassy.

    Similarly, in other touristy destinations such as France and Italy, most people speak very poor English. And this is Western Europe we’re talking about, never mind developing countries.

    As a relatively new, full-time writer/editor, living overseas makes it possible for me to work freelance and live comfortably. Salaries in Spain are the 2nd or 3rd lowest in the developed world. My salary is modest by American standards, but much higher than most Spaniards could feasibly earn.

    As someone else said, if your goal is to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, travel probably is a waste of time. And similarly, if you’re traveling just to travel, then I can imagine the damage travel may have on one’s career. Eating Italian food in Italy won’t make you more valuable to an employer, but being fluent in Italian might.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Something that really bugs me about the attitude toward travel in the US is that people think you need to go overseas to talk to people who don’t have Internet.

      Rural US is totally different than urban or even suburban US. There is a huge problem in the US, for example, that there is not internet in rural communities. So if you want to visit people who don’t use the Internet, you can just get in your car and drive.

      This is how I know that people who travel want something else — something besides having to bridge the gap between their culture and someone else’s.


      • Revé
        Revé says:

        Definitely, which is why many people join the Peace Corps instead of volunteering at home, or joining Americrops, for that matter.

        Here in Madrid, there is some…animosity, I guess you could say, towards native English teachers. Many Spaniards want a native speaker for a teacher simply because they are a native, yet quite a few natives have little to offer other than having been born in an English-speaking country.

        If you come to Spain, you’re here because there’s something you want to accomplish specifically related to Spain, such as learning languages, living in Europe, traveling, launching another career (generally in the music or arts), etc. If you wanted to seriously pursue a career as an English teacher, it’d make more sense to go to Korea or UAE, make a respectable salary, and have the opportunity for significant career development.

        But yeah. While some of us are able to use living overseas to our advantage career-wise, many are indeed concerned when they return to the U.S.

        • Emily
          Emily says:

          I wanted to respond to your comments and the article.
          1-I have lived in Barcelona for several months now. In Barcelona I cannot practice my Spanish enough! I am thinking about moving to Madrid or other parts of Spain for a few weeks at a time just to get in less-Guiri areas.
          2-I think you’re probably right Penelope. I’m 32 and a musician/songwriter. I’ve tried out teaching public school (inner city and I would love to write a blog post about the horrific scenes I saw go down there). It was after brief stint that I realized my only path left to try was one I’ve wanted to follow all along; music. I’m living my life as a musician here and only rarely teaching. The market for teaching English is a bit dismal, but the lower standard of living is allowing me to pursue music without high rents or the pressure from others in the US to take any job to afford the SUV and car, etc. These are things I might want later, but I have always been unhappy pursuing these things…

      • Transposition
        Transposition says:

        Exactly right!

        Arrogant coastal folks in the US would sooner travel to rural India than rural Indiana. Apparently “flyover country” is just that!

        There is a great deal folks can learn closer to home—if indeed it is learning that they are seeking.

      • Jen
        Jen says:

        Penelope, I really appreciate your comment about rural America being so different from other parts. I grew up in small-town, Northeastern Pennsylvania, in a very depressed, former coal-mining region. I’ve lived in Northern California for over twenty years, and when I go back to visit my mom in PA, the differences are far greater than going to a foreign city in Europe. And that goes for much of the rest of the country–I live in the Silicon Valley bubble, and things are so out of touch with how most of the world lives. Travelling to other parts of the US would make most people realize how stupid and useless most of the tech projects that seem so important to our insular little world really are.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      I studied in Italy, became fluent, got a job in my industry (fashion). And left because there is practically no room for career growth for an American in the EU.

      I loved learning the language and I’m glad I did it, but I see it now as a fun indulgence for my brain. It’s a cool thing on my resume, but it doesn’t mean that much.*

      Now I can speak to Italian people who don’t speak English. So what? These are people who have had many opportunities to learn another language that could open up their world to millions of people. And they chose not to do so. These are people who don’t care what is going on outside of their own village. Turns out that the language barrier is one of the smaller obstacles we needed to overcome to find common ground. You can’t overcome someone’s indifference just because you happen to speak the same language.

      *One of my clients is an Italian company and I do end up using my language skills quite a bit. However, this barely counts since it’s the one opportunity in 5 years of being stateside where my fluency has been an advantage. Definitely not enough to build a career on.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        Not sure I understand your comment – are you complaining that some Italians you met on your travels did not make the time and effort to learn English? If this is the argument then I fail to understand – a large majority of US citizens do not speak another language which means they would also fall under the group of what you consider narrow minded? Or is this only valid for those whose native language is not english and who fail to learn it? Following the logic of “majority rules” – we should all learn chinese, spanish has about the same number of native speakers as english, with Hindi, Bengali and Portugese in 4th to 6th place. So, learning chinese would open up a whole larger world – there is a significant presence of chinese language websites out there which could be opening up a larger world to you if you just take the time to learn the language.

        • Pat
          Pat says:

          My thoughts exactly. What an ignorant comment that completely ignored the fact that 99% of the Americans this person interacts with daily don’t speak another language and have zero desire to learn despite the fact that it would open up their world to millions of people.

  8. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    There is a lot here I disagree with. Travel can help you reach your dreams faster.

    I moved to Argentina right out of college and started working right away. 8 months later, that job and some volunteer experiences led to my dream job at an international NGO – because I was in the right place at the right time. I would have struggled so much to break into the sector back home in the US. But thanks to travel, I did. Once in, I could fly. Now I’m at the same NGO, with an even better position, in London. And if/when I go back to the US, I have several years of experience, a great track record, and the added value of having learned from two top performing offices under my belt. I consider this success and I’m excited about my future career. I’m 28.

    I also agree that people travel for life experience, not work. But them in most interviews I’ve ever had, people ask about my experiences abroad. They’re things that make me look like a rounded individual and give me chances to tell stories that highlight who I am, my strengths.

      • Pat
        Pat says:

        Of course travel can hurt your chances to reach your dream, if your dream is to be the CEO of an American corporation.

  9. Kat
    Kat says:

    Big international companies only share the brand name and are nothing alike. I am certain that Accenture in the US does not care if you were a full time consultant in Accenture Japan. That’s why repatriation is a joke but if you expatriate permanently that’s a different story. If you have high paying but unstable temp IT work in the US you might as well take the risk and go elsewhere for more high paid work and settle down there. Because it’s not like you’re treated any better in your home country anyway and most fields are constantly asking for new skill sets anyway. Or secure clients in the US while you semi-retire in a nicer, cheaper place while getting paid like you’re still in the US…I can go on with the merits.

  10. Julia
    Julia says:

    I can always tell a good post by first looking at the number of readers who tell you how wrong you are- Most important piece here is finding experience ( or whatever else you’re looking for) right where you are today- the homeless shelter or whereever. It’s all always about the ego.

  11. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    This reminded me of a friend who traveled extensively in his twenties. He later failed to launch and has been unemployed for years despite an Ivy League degree. I think there are ways to travel in your twenties that do not equate to “running away,” the most obvious being college study abroad programs and language immersion programs.

  12. Jack
    Jack says:

    Bullet #3 really applies to any major changes in career experiences, skills or knowledge. Companies have a hard enough time defining what they actually need for positions they are trying to fill. Most of them do a much better job of filling open positions than they do at skills & career progression management. Major changes do not fit into these processes.

    If someone is going to make a major change, they need to include an exit strategy into the career plan if they want to leverage the experience in the future. This exit strategy might be more than just the company. It could include industry, job type and location.

  13. Lizzete
    Lizzete says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I identify with your post because I took a temporary position (mobility experience) in the US with my company (multinational) to gain experience. After about 18 months, I’ll return to my country and most likely get an immediate promotion (that’s usually what happens to people who participate in that program). I think it’s different for people from South American countries (like me) who gain experience in the US because it’s hugely valued by companies back home (although I think we overestimate the value of working in the US, it’s not that different in my experience).

    I’m 27 and plan to have kids in my early 30s (I’m already married) so I’m getting this experience while I can and then I plan to stay in my home country and start a family. I agree that jobs that involve lots of travel cost you a lot in terms of personal life but I view this 18 month experience as an investment. People who are VPs in banks in my country say that people look at their resume and the thing they most notice is that 3 months they interned in the US at an investment firm (even if they just served coffee and took notes at meetings).

    For people in the US it’s probably different since it’s supposed to be the best place in the world for work experience.

    I love your blog!

  14. maria
    maria says:

    Traveling by itself will not give you a career. I think that it is obvious. However, learning another language and having international exposure could help your career a lot. It all depends on the field of business you are. I work for one of the top 50 American companies. I am now in Germany and have a global team in Philly with six nationalities. Therefore, we will give great preference to candidates who speak another language or have oversees exposure and show ability to work and cope with the complexities of a global enviroment.

  15. Paully Fox
    Paully Fox says:

    Nice try, Penelope, but the ideas expressed here are far from reality. A whole generation of young people are acting as unofficial ambassadors for the U.S. as they live their life and love it traveling and living all over the world. For instance, my son, who has his own computer consulting business and has lived all over the world since he was 21, that was 18 years ago.

    Fortunately, I have been able to live with him and his friends for awhile, documenting their life on film, and am filled with hope for the world by meeting these young people who are earnest, dedicated, caring and most of all, they are delightfully interesting. They are truly international souls.

    So, I hope you don’t really believe everything you have written here.

    • Tom
      Tom says:

      I saw a study recently that said many people don’t actually read blog articles; they just guess what the article is about and then respond based on their guess.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You are competing with people who are 22. So a 22 year old applying for low-level jobs looks like they have their whole life ahead of time. A 27 year old applying to low-level jobs looks like they are stuck and can’t figure out what to do.

      So it’s fine to be at the beginning of your career at 22 but it doesn’t really work at 27.

      Additionally, for women, you need to start having kids around 30. Which means you need to focus on finding someone to have the kids with. If you are as starting a career at 27 and you want to do something big, you don’t have time to have a marriage, and if you don’t have a marriage in time to have kids, you don’t get kids. So women have a very small window to establish themselves professionally.

      I say this over and over again and people just think I’m a doomsayer or whatever. But instead, I think people should start thinking about how costly it is for women to spend four years in college doing pretty much nothing when their window for professional success before kids is so short.


      • jessica
        jessica says:

        This is one example, but my mother stayed home for 30 years after working at Merrill Lynch, she just re-entered the workforce freelance- online- and has global clients within a year. She travels constantly to meet for (paid) projects.

        So while there is the child raising window, she’s showing that if you want to continue later on, you can.

        I know several people that work from home making 6+ figures. I don’t think it’s as strictly black and white anymore because professional success is no longer limited to the corporate model.

  16. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    This makes me think of a trend I have noticed amongst the teenagers – travelling with their church on mission trips. It is expensive, and seems to me to be more of a photo and travel op for the teens than anything else.

    It does seem odd to leave the U.S., where there are plenty of people who are different, and could use some help, and spend thousands to go to another country and do the same. And really what are a bunch of 14 years olds going to accomplish in one week anyway? But churches are pretty good at pushing this as the thing for upwardly mobile white kids to do.

  17. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    I can’t personally vouch for the invalidity of travel, but I can vouch for the career success by 27 bit.

    I’m currently 27 and have achieved a six figure job in a growing field. I’ll be quitting my primary job soon to focus on raising my kids, and many people ask me whether or not I’m nervous about going back to the workforce later on.

    Honestly, I’m not. I built up my first career in relatively little time, and I think that I can do it again. (I’ve also built a lucrative part time job, so it’s not as if I’m leaving completely anyhow).

    I worry much more that I’ll fail at being a caretaker than that I will fail to build another career.

  18. Kalae
    Kalae says:

    “In order to have a stable career with a network you can rely on, you need to be in one country, one culture, learning to navigate the power brokers of that culture.”

    For careers in the U.S. yes. For careers overseas (for a US firm), having an international network in your industry makes you golden in your own firm and the competitors who want to steal you. Knowing enough of different cultures in order to not accidentally piss people off is important too. Knowing a few different languages can help you win business over others (overseas you are much more likely to be dealing with people from various countries and although many know enough English, they warm up much more to people who can speak their native language). (Our experience relates to designing hospitals. Some of our expat friends oversee enormous ports, are in the chemical industry, aviation, security and more. They all travel a TON going to to multiple countries every month. Our non-American friends, colleagues and competitors give us much grief for not knowing other languages. It is a handicap for us.)

    I think your point is that you can’t become CEO unless you are completely focused on the business at home. Maybe so. But you can still become partner.

    “When you don’t do those things by 27 you find yourself pretty much starting over at 27.”

    I believe your point is that early success gives you confidence for changes later in life–but I think it applies mostly to women who want to off ramp to care for children before they get too old. Men it doesn’t matter so much. My husband bummed off his parents and travelled around the world after graduate school. He didn’t get his first job until he was 27. Then worked part time after we had kids while I worked full time. In his 40s he went back to work full time. Now in his 50s he’s doing quite well. His career slowed at times but it was never starting over.

  19. legalperson
    legalperson says:

    There are many ways to “travel,” some of which scream indecision. Other things like volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, taking a semester abroad or enrolling in a language program read differently on a resume.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Um. No. That’s the whole point. They read the same. As an adult, it is not time for you to start volunteering. It’s time for you to start earning money. Volunteering instead of learning to navigate the work world is an extension of childhood.

      And learning a new language does not make you more employable. You need to know the culture, have a visa, have a network.

      This is exactly what I’m talking about. Doing more stuff you did in childhood — going to school, working for free – – does not look good on a resume.


  20. redrock
    redrock says:

    Learning another language is more about learning different ways to think and approach culture and not so much about knowing words. And while it feels like we are so much alike when conversing on internet connections the many cultural differences remain, and make life interesting and complicated at times. Having lived in different countries and cultures enriches your life and, in terms of career, allows decision making outside the “US centric” box. The poorest decision makers I have encountered in my career were those who never moved away from the place where they grew up, or went to school – it is good to see other ways to solve problems and one good way to do so is spend some time in a foreign country. It does not even have to be an exotic one.

  21. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    Megan McArdle made this famous comment about Europe:

    “Without the pretty buildings, what would often most strike Americans is the cramped space and a succession of petty inconveniences.”

    I have friends who travel, and it’s always a destination they can brag about. They collect these destinations the way children collect marbles: “I have more!”

    When I was about 30 years old, I thought it would be fun to visit Amsterdam and England, so I did, and it was fun. But it was also expensive, and for a lot less money I can have just as much fun closer to home. Plus, there are the things they do to you in airports now. (shudder)

  22. Erica
    Erica says:

    This is a terribly naive post.

    If the premise were that travel is bad for (certain fast track careers) and you had stopped there I could go with that — I assume you have your research to back that up. But to conclude that because your child plays video games with a kid in Pakistan that national boundaries are irrelevant and where people are from doesn’t mean anything, that we’re all interested in the same things, that sleeping in a homeless shelter in Chicago is the equivalent somehow — is either just silly or dead wrong.

    It’s because your kid plays videogames with a kid in Pakistan — precisely because the world is smaller — because what we do in this age DOES affect someone across the globe and what they do affects us — it’s precisely because of that, that it’s important to understand the rest of the world and the world they live in.

    Far from being visionary, this post is the product of an extremely narrowly focused and naive assessment of priorities that comes from a world that no longer exists. We no longer have the luxury of (or can get away with) closing our eyes to the rest of the world, living in a bubble and just going about the business of earning good money and being a “success.” That world that no longer exists — we’ve erased the boundaries between us and them through technology and war and the “them” aren’t just going sit quietly by. How successfully we deal with the rest of the world, which will be determined by OUR KNOWLEDGE OF IT, is going to determine the future we live in.

    Syria? Bataclan? the Islamic State? Had Bush “traveled” (and I’m not talking about staying in Marriots), but had he bothered to understand a bit about the complexity of the rest of the world, perhaps we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, a disastrous decision, which, on top of the lives lost and the 2 something trillion dollars spent, has resulted in the largest refugee crisis since WWII. Even worse, the war on Iraq brought us the Islamic State. We can not afford ignorant, insular presidents or to be ignorant, insular individuals.

    2015’s questions are not what is good for my career. 2015’s question is what will get me the knowledge and perspective to make decisions which lead to a successful life on a peaceful, habitable planet. That means understanding the world we live in.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        Friendship is not defined by playing a video game online. It is good to experience cultural barriers in person – it makes one more humble. The idea that the internet removes cultural barriers is a ridiculous assumption, and while it allows ease of communication to be treasured, it clearly has not helped to level the prejudices against other cultures. Otherwise there would be fewer wars and not an extensive and rather successfull use of internet-based tools as propaganda machines.

        • Tom
          Tom says:

          It’s an article about career success, not ending war.

          Did you read it? Would it make a difference if you had?

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            Tom, indeed I read the post – no need to insult me. However, your comment about friendship online with another video playing kid in Pakistan is what I responded to in this particular instance. Just for the record – your response did not relate to anything about career either. And if you would check my previous comment you might have realized that I disagree with the premise that travel does not help career development. I don’t think going to London or Thailand to party does anybody any good – except for killing brain cells from the alcohol. However, conscious travel – learning some of another language and culture broaden our understanding of the world. Something you cannot acquire by having a fast internet connection. Should everybody travel? No idea; would it benefit many to have an idea what it means to know another language and culture – absolutely. If your career plan is to sell consumer goods and that is your highest goal in life you probably will not feel any need to travel, if you think that a small hotel room is a huge issue for you, then by all means stay at home (the latter is an example – a reason given by an colleague of mine never to leave home).

    • Jake
      Jake says:

      Did you really think that Bush having a lot of in-depth travel experience in the Middle East would have changed anything?

      I think that the political machine would have still gotten the war. Someone does not become president by fighting the political machine. If he experiences had turned him into someone that resisted being handled, he would have never been made the Republic candidate.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      The war goals of the 2000s will be reached decades out. It has nothing to do with terrorism, although it is an obvious and easy political pitch to getting everyone on board.

      As for living as one- I don’t necessarily think putting the world on ones shoulders may advance them further than say just dealing with their personal and professional lives consciously and efficiently. Whatever mental gymnastics one has to take to live that way, so be it, but defining life choices off the back of outside of ones control ‘globalism’ seems, ironically, limiting.

  23. Isela
    Isela says:

    Wow! Three days ago I realized that I could make more money working from home than trying to do the same activity traveling to other cities; and I even removed the option of public speaking from my site.

    You put in words what I was unable to express. I used to travel to get away from everyone and everything, and the perfect argument was to go and see places.

    Thru the years I have worked with people from all over the world, I have learned more eating lunch with them in the canteen than traveling 6000 miles.

    Great post.

  24. Happy
    Happy says:

    I just turned 40. As someone who spent much of my 20s traveling across the US and my 30s across the globe, I have to agree with most of Penelope’s assessment. Traveling may has made me a better worker but not necessarily a more successful employee. My cross-cultural experiences have indeed broaden my perspectives. Am I more insightful or effective than my non-traveling coworkers when faced with challenges in the workplace? Frequently. Am I more on track climbing the corporate ladder? Nope.

    As much as an employer wants a productive/proficient worker, the ones who are most valued by management are those who attends regular office happy hours, partake in holiday parties. When you travel, you’re away from these social events. When you’re in town, you spend time focusing on personal relationships instead of work network. Face time matters! So you have to pick — catching up with family/friends or mingling with colleagues and associates.

    Now I enjoy my relatively low-level job and I could care less about what most people strive for in any given career: money, power, fame. This is important because I am knowingly and willfully giving these up. In exchange, I have the freedom to live life as I see fit… even though I sometimes do crave pretty looking food from super fancy/trendy restaurants.

  25. IT
    IT says:

    New York, New York… If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. (c)

    After New York, I can go anywhere and be successful.

  26. Alan
    Alan says:

    One of the things that whining snowflakes complain about is people asking someone where they’re from. Well, grow up. This is America. We’re all from somewhere. And I’m a Polak and my college friends were Italians and we’re seeing a lot of Indians lately and what are you, ashamed of where you’re from?

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      We are ‘from’:
      * The country whose passport (or ID) you hold
      * The country in which you were born and/or raised
      * The region identified by our accent

      Ethnicity/heritage is another question entirely. Irish have no patience for Plastic Paddies who say, “I’m Irish!” with a North American accent.

  27. J.D. Meier
    J.D. Meier says:

    I like how you really separated the wheat from the chaff.

    I know a lot of people that travel for work. It gives them some fun stories, but I can’t say it improves their effectiveness. If anything, it can cloud what’s important.

    As my psych teacher always said, “If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re not going to see it.”

    I used to think that video was important. But after listening to several interviews with people like Stephen Covey and John Wooden, I realized it’s actually voice. A phone call can go a long way (well beyond two cans and a string.) Emphasis and priorities come across in voice and cadence.

    > If you are not excited about your life, you travel to get away from it.
    I know some people that do exactly that.

    > Maybe you’ll say I’m projecting here, but I’m also right; a person can be both.
    There’s a gem I’ll reuse.

    With that said, I do travel … for fun. I take the family in the RV and I hop around the US to renew and find breakthroughs.

    And, as I travel, I challenge myself to re-imagine what cities could be like in a mobile-first, cloud-first world. I explore ideas on how to better connect citizens with their local government. I explore ideas on how to build smarter buildings both in terms of energy efficiencies and occupant productivity. I explore ideas on how to use city data and insights to improve traffic, light the city more efficiently, provide augmented reality to empower the disabled, and empower local businesses with visualizations of footfall traffic and demographics. And I re-imagine healthcare with a focus on precision medicine. And I re-imagine education with a focus on machine learning patterns to improve student success and personalize learning.

    I’ve learned to blend and balance work and life, and to live my values. After all, you take you with you wherever you go, but the real skill is being able to create the world you want right under you feet.

  28. Charlene
    Charlene says:

    This post and the comments made me smile because I genuinely thought everyone knew travel was just a socially acceptable alternative to sitting on your mums couch eating cheetos. I’m not saying travel can’t lead to great things such as confidence but you could develop that said same confidence forging ahead with your career. My favourite thing is trying to understand how people think so this post was really enlightening.

  29. Chris
    Chris says:

    Reading that article reminds me of the people who don’t work hard enough on building a lifestyle and instead just want to escape reality by traveling as much as possible. I think there’s a different reality for people who seek to build a mobile lifestyle (I’m refusing to use the word career because of its implications) – if you can add value, you can build a lifestyle for yourself, and you definitely don’t have to be strapped to one cubicle or location forever. Every people I look up to and aspire to become was not “seeing I’m a career by 27” – I think that’s a cop out for people who try to get comfortable, and comfort is the enemy of achievement

  30. Laura
    Laura says:

    I partially agree and partially disagree with this. I work in the field of International Education. I do immigration advising for international students at a university.

    When we hire, we do prefer candidates who have some kind of overseas living or studying experience. Almost everyone in the field has some; and it generally makes for more interesting and passionate candidates. If we have two well-qualified candidates, one who has lived abroad and one who has not, we will preferred the one who lived abroad. It’s an added bonus, but it can’t make up for any other lacking skills.

    I don’t consider travel itself to make anyone a good candidate. Working in the education field abroad can be part of your story towards working with international students in the US, but backpacking around Spain for 3 months doesn’t cut it. Whenever we recruit, we see dozens of applications from people who have no background, education, or experience in the field, and who seemingly apply because they saw the word “international” in the posting. These are people who list all the countries they have been to in their resume, but can’t show they meet, or that they have the aptitude to meet, any of the job criteria.

    I worked abroad for two years, and I’m able to tell a story to connect that experience with my current career. I think it’s helped me in my international profession. But it’s not a golden key; it’s only helpful if there’s that connection. And this is for a job that has “international” in the title.

  31. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Being international in the US puts me at an advantage. The upper crust of the working world value their international jaunts, it’s like being in an exclusive club. Access to that club comes from membership in travel cliques like the Peace Corp etc. In upper level management I’ve encountered a disproportionately large segment of travel veterans.

  32. Lo
    Lo says:

    I’m a millennial (30 yrs old) AND I’ve traveled & worked overseas. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

    However, I worked as a teacher overseas so it’s a little different in my case as I was building my resume and getting to travel/play during my vacation time throughout Asia :) I also obtained a specialty training via an advanced degree by the age of 26–right before moving overseas. I had only planned on teaching overseas for 1 year but it was SO FUN and stimulating that I stayed another year in a different country.

    I was fortunate enough to still be employable when I returned to the US b/c I had 1) specialized 2) gained valuable work experience in my 20’s. I don’t regret working overseas what-so-ever. I’m happy with where I’m at professionally and I’ve worked hard to get to this place.

    It sucks but I agree w/ Penelope that traveling for > 1 year wastes a lot of time. Overseas, I met countless people who were finding themselves and figuring out their next move. Teaching overseas can be a great way to earn money while figuring things out when you don’t know your career. However, I think living overseas can hurt your earning power as you will most likely earn less overseas than you would in America.

    Personally, I still recommend that young people travel if they have that desire. IMO, traveling opens up your world to new possibilities and life perspectives. It exposes you to so many cool people and places.
    There is a caveat: Be VERY careful with how long you stay. 6 months to a year is enough. For me, I knew in my gut that I had to come home. It was a very hard decision, too, because I fell in love w/ traveling and w/ my lifestyle. I still miss living overseas all the time but I’m grateful for the experience. And, I appreciate living in the US and being close to my family now.

    Penelope, you give SUCH good career advice to young women–it’s not even funny. This is a very smart article. These days, it seems like so many media outlets are trying to convince millennials to quit their 9-5 job and travel. I love that you are a voice of reason and common sense in all the noise.

    Fyi, I discovered your blog when I was living in Taiwan, so you are right that people are accessing your thoughts from all over the world.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      Agreed, it depends on what you want to do. Some things are easier when building a career overseas, others harder. International education has very good opportunities (beyond the English teaching route which is a kind of dead end).

      I met my husband while working in Asia, and he doesn’t want to live in the US. Too many guns, he says. I’m not keen on the job opportunities in my field in his home country at this stage (the UK). So for the past decade we have lived in many places while building our careers – because we enjoyed the challenges, the differences, the familiarities. We were not running away from anything, but seeking to build a life we both wanted, together.

      • Transposition
        Transposition says:

        I know it may be hard to believe, but these are plenty of places in the US in which guns are rare. I am trying to remember the last time I saw a gun…

  33. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    Something no one has mentioned is joining the military, you can see the world and still be training for a job/career. Plus there are numerous long-term veteran’s benefits long after you have moved on.

    • Joyce
      Joyce says:

      Yes, this is true. My parents were both military officers. They were able to travel overseas, get training, and live on base. After they retired, their pensions were larger than my salary as a lawyer.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      I think no one has mentioned it because joining the military means putting your life on the line for some shady-as-heck political agendas.

      Besides, does living on various military bases and shopping at the PX really count as travel? How is it not a more extreme version of staying at the Marriot and eating exclusively at McDonald’s?

      • Joyce
        Joyce says:

        Hi, Melissa! Yes, that’s true. Joining the military means putting your life on the line for twenty years or more if you want a pension. That’s why I haven’t joined. I will join only if it is necessary, such as a defensive war.

        No, that’s not the travel that I meant. The travel that my parents had were related to their career advancement. My parents got training in the US. My mother studied electronics, my father studied artillery. My father had advanced studies in Germany and worked as military attache in the US. It worked great for their careers.

      • Jennifa
        Jennifa says:

        I have not been in military, but know people who were, and are, and they all have good things to say about it. The opportunity for travel being at the top of the list. Just thought I would add that to the discussion. I don’tbelieve it is all px’s and mcdonalds, but depends on the person, how much they want to explore on their own.

  34. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    The premise here is that travel “should” relate to a career. It follows that the peace corps, a military hitch and a university degree should relate to a career too. Maybe.

    I haven’t done the Peace Corps, but I’ve done the latter two, resulting in an enriched life for me. Then again, I’m not career material. Not good enough?

    I’d rather be doctor than an advancing hospital administrator, a normal professor than a department head, an artist or self-employed lawyer than a lawyer working his way up to partner. My life premise is more blue collar, I guess.

    I suppose that half the people who divert a portion of their lives into hobbies and causes and political party memberships are escaping life. But not the other half. Someone told me that half the people who advance in careers are rising up by ability—the other half rise from desperately needing to. I wouldn’t know.

  35. Jean
    Jean says:

    I’m 29, I have no real job experience, I speak 3 languages fluently, I traveled a lot while studying and after (mostly with money I got from being in the military, and then with unrelated agricultural work), I had excellent grade during my degrees without much effort.
    On the other hand, my academically challenged cograduants which never really left switzerland all have excellent jobs.
    So I’m quite convinced that you’re completly right.
    But what to do then?

  36. Kate
    Kate says:

    I’m curious what you think about relocating for a new position. I’m currently being courted by someone who managed me previously to move abroad and help the company set up a new office.

    What do you see as the pros/cons of making this step? Incidentally, I already live abroad, so I would not be leaving my home country.

  37. BK
    BK says:

    I don’t know about elsewhere, but here in Canada the whole international experience thing is way overrated. Companies here are pretty insular and tend to discount any education or experience that wasn’t acquired in Canada. Some people even consider you to be a “traitor” if you studied abroad or worked internationally for a few years. I suspect it is similar in the U.S. and other countries.

    • Kate
      Kate says:

      That’s interesting!

      Until now, I’ve primarily worked at international companies and my experiences abroad have been taken nothing but positively. The vast majority of upper management have also lived and worked abroad for significant periods of time. Perhaps the experience would likely be different if I were working for a company focussing only on the domestic market.

      Additionally, I am in Europe, so perhaps things are different in Canada and the U.S.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        My husband did the same and doubled his salary returning to the US. Again, I think it is the purpose of working abroad that is important.

        Most people I know that have come back to the US after a stint abroad have done well. This is much different than just killing time in another country, which I assume is what P is getting at in the article.

    • Violet
      Violet says:

      This is true only during the early career. If someone has education and 5+ years experience in Canada, working on unique projects overseas for a couple of years is an asset. It doesn’t matter where you worked as long as you picked up something unique/useful for your next career move.

      In fact, in large infrastructure projects (> billion dollars), it is almost the norm that the upper project management moves to where the project is, doesn’t matter Asia, Europe or North America.

      But it can hurt some who are not cut out to produce the same performance despite cultural variations. So, it is a risk, but it comes with rewards (2x the pay and usually all living costs covered + cultural experience).

    • BK
      BK says:

      I don’t know, and I suppose it does depend on the industry and one’s experience, career level and qualifications. Just looking at the challenges skilled immigrants face in Canada, it doesn’t seem like we value international education and experience the way we say that we do.

      I personally had a very difficult time after returning from completing my undergraduate education in the U.K. (I know, the U.K.!) even though I grew up in Canada and received all of my schooling here. I couldn’t even get a low level retail job in Canada after working retail all through university (and high school back in Canada). Recruiters openly told me I wasn’t being considered due to my lack of RECENT Canadian experience. Some of these were minimum wage jobs stocking shelves!

      People sneered at me for studying abroad, asking me things like, “So, wasn’t a Canadian university good enough for you?”

      I still believe I don’t get calls for interviews for many jobs I apply for because I don’t have a Canadian bachelor’s or master’s degree – even though I have several Canadian university and college certificates and professional designation (as well as a master’s degree – also from the U.K. (long story)) and over 20 years of business experience here in Canada.

      Perhaps working abroad for a few years as an expat executive might be beneficial, but I know the international dimension to my resume hasn’t helped me one bit. If I could do it all over again, I never would have left Canada – biggest mistake of my life!

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        Yes, if you are overseas for more than a few years, this can make your experiences less ‘relatable’ for people back home. You become harder to categorize. Particularly when applying for work outside major cities (are you outside Toronto/Vancouver?). And as another commenter said, jealousy may well play a role for some.

        • BK
          BK says:

          I’m in the Toronto area. I was only gone for four years. The whole experience was just bizarre — basically being treated as a foreigner in my own hometown. Even at this point in my life and career, I am now going to do what I should have done in the first place and complete a Canadian business degree.

  38. Elsa
    Elsa says:

    Written by someone that obviously never travelled herself and is a tad bit naive.

    You have to be living in a cage to not realize that we are becoming more and more citizens of the world.

    I grew up with people speaking at least 2 languages, that are studying in an other country, working in an other. I’ve done the same myself. At 23 years old, I have myself travelled, had experiences in more country than my parents will ever visit for vacation.

    It is becoming a norm. Whether it is good or bad for your career is not really a question here cause it is happening.

    I find it really surprising that people still believe in the work for a company for X years and you’ll get the job you wished for, your career will move on. It is true to a certain extent. The market& technology are changing so fast that no one (travelling or not) is really entitled to a job anymore.

  39. Stephen
    Stephen says:

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
    ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

    I am responding from Southern Africa, having left a well paid law firm profession in the USA 20 years ago. At the time I realized I would rather have a lobotomy than continue that existence….so in that sense yes I was running away but I never looked back. I have lived and worked in Oceania, Western Africa, the Caribbean, and Middle East all for prominent development firms, for profit and non profit. Because I work internationally I receive anywhere from 4-6 weeks vacation per year. Along with my wife, we have raised a wonderful daughter overseas during this period. She is currently applying to top universities in the US and Europe next year. She is fluent in Spanish and English and speaks a smattering of Arabic. We have camped on Red Sea beaches in the Sinai, traveled with bedouin on multi day camel treks, bushcamp safaris, scuba dived Pacific atolls, enjoyed the hospitality of Senegalese family who took us in for three days, road tripped around Western Africa, motorbiked around Laos, camped on deserted Caribbean beaches, learned other languages, cultural and religious traditions. We have made life long friends around the world. I couldn’t imagine a more fulfilling life and wish I could do it all again. Importantly, during this time I also saw my own country and experiences in the USA from a whole different perspective.

    Career was never the primary determinant of decisions I have made in life, at least I hope so. My father, who was a very successful businessman and was able to semi-retire young, always reminds his children that “on one’s deathbed, no one is going to be wishing they had been able to spend more time at the office.” If the question is boiled down to the more pedestrian, “Is travel good for your career?” For those, who don’t think “traveling is a waste of time”, I suggest you go to They currently have 2,610 job adverts (mainly overseas) from entry level to senior executive positions. The firms hiring are prominent for profit and non profit multi million dollar development firms. It may be a niche market but its been my niche career for the past 20 yrs.

    • Stephen
      Stephen says:

      One other thing, you will note that the majority of the vacancies posted on that are beyond entry level positions require international experience and many will require or prefer a second language.

  40. Sara
    Sara says:

    I have a hard wrapping my head around this article. It’s making blanket statement for everyone who travels. This could not be more wrong for my family. My husband started his career in China, he set up a factory at 23 and only rose higher and higher. He did his MBA at a top 10 university and has been offered a COO position in his company at 33, overseeing more than 150 people in several countries. I met my husband when I was doing a gap year in China, so I stayed in China and got in with a big chain hotel and have been moving up in the corporate chain, so to speak. We both speak two languages, he is from France and I’m from America. We had our first child last year, she is being raised in a tri-lingual household. AND we travel a lot. Travel has offered us privilege beyond anything we could have achieved in our home country. Granted, there are always cons to the pros, but my generation is still picking up the pieces of the financial crisis. I left New York in 2008 when it first hit and my friends and I were being layed off left and right. We do what we can to survive. Even though my friends don’t travel (at least nearly enough as I do), they can’t touch the successes that my husband and I have.

    People travel for a myriad of reasons and, yes, the access to the internet has made the world a small and more accessible place, but is that any reason to label travel as non important? I would much rather give my child an experience at the Pyramids of Giza than have her spend her time on video games.

    • Transposition
      Transposition says:

      Yes, you may be outside of your home country, but both of you have spent time and established yourself in China where your career capital is being built.

      I think that the point of the post is that one does not magically gain anything from travel that is valuable to the vast majority of careers. Yes, there are some careers in which international experience is useful. Yes, there are some experiences (a shrinking number, I might add) to be gained through travel that are not career oriented.

      But the focus of this post (and blog) is about how to build a career and life that fulfilling given the realities of the world. Pie-in-the-sky dreamers can go elsewhere. And as the post clearly shows, they do.

  41. Cyrus
    Cyrus says:

    “” It just sort of happened that I was making $10K a speech, and I had a speech almost every week. “”
    “”decided to get rid of one of our two full-time nannies””

    Sorry you’ve had to deal with those tough 1 percenters issues. Are you OK now?

  42. Sara
    Sara says:

    What? I think halfway there you digress and you completely lost me when you brought in your two nannies. It seems that you contradict yourself there, Ms. Trunk. As stated by you, travel was indeed very good for your career – at 10k a speaking pop, it would seem that your career would be on point. Then you speak of quitting travel and reconnecting with your home life, which has very little to do with career, in fact. This seems more like a ‘thinking outloud’ piece than actual one of legitimate advice.

    Lean In or Bake a Pie? Is your view really this myopic or you just trolling us? *Serious Question*

  43. Gigi
    Gigi says:

    While it’s fair to point out that this “Quit your job and travel” phenomenon can be detrimental, it’s also incredibly arrogant to say that travel is never valuable, never helps people reach career goals, and doesn’t make people happier. There was a big research piece floating around recently talking about how experiences make us happier – and travel is a whole world of new experiences, especially if you try to get outside the main tourist areas. It’s also worth noting that there was another great piece of research done on the top regrets of the dying. Not a single person surveyed wished they’d worked more or made more career progress or been successful before 27. They said they wish they’d spent more time with family and friends, that they’d seen the world, that they’d had more experiences.

    So, should people quit their jobs willy nilly to travel? No. Is travel always a good thing for every career and person? No. Is every type of travel, every destination, or every experience a positive one? No.

    But is travel deeply valuable to many people for a variety of reasons, sometimes career-wise, sometimes in other contexts? You betcha.

    Personally, I was very successful as a copywriter before I turned 27, but I was also deeply depressed, overworked, and exhausted. Going freelance and traveling abroad and then living abroad while working were huge steps forward for my mental health, personal well-being, and, yes, the career dreams I had as a child. I’ve published six books and fulfilled several childhood career dreams since leaving the US. Again, I don’t think that’s the case for everyone and I appreciate that there are people out there like you pointing out that it isn’t always good for your career, but I do wish you’d acknowledge that there are a wide variety of career goals, types of careers, etc. and travel can be good for some of us.

    • Tom
      Tom says:

      “it’s also incredibly arrogant to say that travel is never valuable, never helps people reach career goals, and doesn’t make people happier.”

      No, Gigi, what’s “incredibly arrogant” is to put words in someone’s mouth and then attack them for what they never said.

      • Gigi
        Gigi says:

        If you read the post, Tom, she says travel doesn’t make people happier and she also says it’s bad for your career. Not sure how me pointing that out is putting words in someone’s mouth.

  44. HEL
    HEL says:

    If I never traveled and gone abroad for the last 7 years I wouldn’t have: Met my husband and best friend in South Korea, gotten the most memorable wedding in Bali and traveled South East Asia for 6 months where I learned that volunteering and non profits was one of my passions, gotten my 2 rescue dogs from Thailand where my husband was the manager at a dog shelter, married a husband that had so much managerial and travel experience abroad that he got a job in the US as a manager above others who had stayed in the States and just tried to climb the proverbial career ladder- he was the first outsider to be hired at his non profit company BECAUSE of his vast range of volunteering and traveling abroad, cycled across China and learned that what you think you know is not what you know. I have plenty of friends who don’t like traveling. And thats fine. But don’t go and tell people it will ruin your life.

  45. Felula
    Felula says:

    This article presents a very US-centric point of view. The way I understand it, you get only 1-2 weeks of paid vacation a year in the US.
    I live in Europe and I get over 5 weeks of paid vacation each year. This way we can travel more than the Americans and it doesn’t really hold us back in our careers.
    And let’s not even start with paid maternal leave – I would get 1 year of fully paid leave if I decided to have a kid.
    All these benefits give us a lot more freedom and flexibility in travelling, starting a family or generally – navigating our careers.

  46. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    I find it interesting because in countries outside the U.S. a gap year after high school, after college, between jobs is acceptable and sabbaticals are encouraged by companies to allow employees to travel or focus on goals outside of work. Work is what they do for a living, not who they are.

    I’ve spent over 20 yrs recruiting for Finance roles at Investment firms that I managed and found that those who spent time traveling, even if it was semester abroad had a better sense of the world and solving problems because they had to be independent much quicker than at home.

    I don’t think it should be an either or situation nor assume that people want to climb the corporate ladder or have families by the time they hit x. Yes, have goals but understand that life throws curveballs and goals need to evolve and change. Travel is one luxury in life that we get to choose to experience. I’ve chosen to travel to over 40 countries (vacation time) before internet and after without negatively affecting my career.

Newer Comments »

Comments are closed.