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.


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  1. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Spending a year or two working in bigger markets like London or New York or San Francisco or in our major export markets of Asia is certainly beneficial for a career in Australia.

    But frankly, travel is such a big part of Australian culture that if you have not travelled at all then the employer is likely to think there is something wrong with you.

    I remember a few years ago that you wrote a piece saying you don’t enjoy travel. I wonder if your attitude to travel stems mostly from that deeply personal perspective.

  2. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Hi, guys! Penelope wrote about one way where travel can help one’s career in her post, “Put yourself in uncomfortable situations.”

    “1. Go somewhere you don’t fit….you can use travel as a way to address the problems in your life if you use travel to do a specific job. If you set out to solve a problem and then you need a different type of information to solve that problem, you can travel to create that solution….A test of whether you’re using travel productively is whether or not you have a very clear way to implement the results of your travel once you get home.”

  3. Dave
    Dave says:

    I would agree that 3 years of travel would be much more valuable than a law degree for a person who does not know what they want to do–provided you can figure out how to make that work without simply using your parents money: that’s pretty resourceful.

    “Young” people reading this should be aware that the quest for purpose does not end in your 30s and there are many of us approaching our 50s who still consider “what next?” The difference is that when you are in your 30s and 40s, you will be saying things like, “OK, I want to do something different. I just need to find a transitional job that pays at least $120K a year so I can survive until I get back to a level where I can support my family.” Good luck with that.

  4. Anna
    Anna says:

    Blah blah bullshit. I strongly disagree but if the author wants to climb the corporate ladder that’s her choice. I would rather fly off as a location-independent entrepreneur. And yes, you can be successful in both. Travel-related lifestyle is harder to achieve, but much more rewarding.

  5. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Your “research” about how people are happier from achieving career goals is about a group of scots born in the 1936. They were 27 in 1963. I’m 25; these people are my grandparents generation. To say their worldview is not really relevant to todays 20-somethings is an understatement…

  6. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Hi Penelope:

    Getting, keeping and advancing in a career is primarily about networking, correct? If so, the core problems with travelling would be that it a> has you networking with people who can’t help you, because they don’t live where you live nor work in your field; and b> keeps you from networking with the people who *can* help you. If it’s extended, travelling can also c> break your existing network.

    Mitigating any of those three would make travelling less bad for your career.

    Career-building is also about skill sets. Travel that enables building a skill set needed in your career — *known* to be needed, not assumed to be — also would be less harmful.

  7. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I think travel improves a skill you have said is very important –grit. I have figured out public transportation in a foreign language all by myself. When I feel lost or overwhelmed back in the US, I draw on that experience and assume surely I can figure anything out in my own language.

    Workers that have traveled are valuable to global companies. I used to work for a large, global company. I worked with engineers in France, Bulgaria, and the United States to manufacture a product in China and Mexico for a Japanese customer. I was on conference calls weekly with people from all of these countries, and I needed to be able to communicate with them and convince them to work with me. If I knew their language or culture better, our communication and teamwork was more effective. Visiting their country was the easiest way for me to better understand their language and culture, and make them feel I valued them. When they felt I understood and valued them, they worked better with me.

    Companies are becoming more and more global. Speaking 100% online, telephone, and even telepresence doesn’t create a relationship like meeting people in person, where they live.

    However, travel is definitely a luxury. If you are a low net worth individual, or a small company – international travel is probably not worth it.

  8. Steve Randen
    Steve Randen says:

    Then again, by simply focusing on nothing but work and money, you go to your grave never having seen any of the rest of the planet. And how is that enviable? Life isn’t work, work isn’t life. I wouldn’t trade any of my travel experiences or time living abroad for anything, even if it actually did have an effect on income in the long run, which is a sketchy hypothesis in the first place.

    I’ve never had a job in which having travelled is considered a negative, nor would I be interested in same. My knowledge of other languages may not assist me much at work, but that isn’t any reason not to have learned them. Learning another language, especially at a young age, encourages better critical thinking skills.

    This is an extremely narrow-minded article and view, and is indicative of the typical ignorance Americans are famous for in the rest of the world.

  9. can thi
    can thi says:

    “1. It’s an announcement that you had no idea what to do with yourself.
    2. You don’t have time to travel.
    3. Job-related travel is not sustainable
    4. Travel wastes your time. If you want to learn about other cultures, sleep in a homeless shelter in Chicago for a week.”
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Martina McKeough
    Martina McKeough says:

    So true! I used to travel for work with a major oil company almost every week. It was tiring, I was getting up at the crack of dawn and getting home late. I was working longer hours and staying in hotel rooms that I didn’t want to be in eating food I didn’t want to eat and watching TV programs in a foreign language. The travel made me finally say enough and I quit my job to retrain as a therapist and I haven’t looked back.

  11. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    I come from an international family in different career fields that languages and exposure to culture gives a competitive edge for positions requiring cross-border collaborations.

    That being said, speaking Portuguese and Spanish has opened many doors for me here in NYC and on the East Coast in general where many populations do not speak English as a first language.

    In regards to traveling to rural United States, I don’t know if people realize this but sometimes it is more expensive than going overseas. I’ve lived in this country for 6 years and try to see as much of it as I can. But when the costs (airfare, car rental, hotels etc) become comparable to visiting family or friends in different countries, I’ll chose the later.

  12. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I am a registered nurse in Los Angeles. I have recently noticed that the majority of posted jobs day that the applicant MUST speak Spanish. I almost feel stuck in my job because I only speak English and therefore don’t qualify for most new jobs posted.

  13. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    I love to travel. Have I ever done it because I thought it would help my career? Eff no! I’m totally not a corporate person and I travel so I can see different places with my own two eyes, actually be in those places instead of just seeing pictures of them on the internet or on TV. It has nothing to do with work. If it helps me in an interview down the line, great, but I don’t specifically bring up the places I’ve been thinking it will be impressive to a potential employer. Besides I’m all about travel for my own experience. Traveling all the time for work sounds like torture to me because I’d want to be taking in the city I was in instead of sitting in meetings. I also volunteer with several non profits in my spare time. If you work for a non profit whose events are dependent on volunteer labor, then you are hoping there are adults out there who like to volunteer and volunteer a lot. I think Penelope is targeting those who are wanting corporate job and lifestyle and think that traveling will give them a leg up in moving up the ladder. For the rest of us non corporate types who aren’t traveling in hopes of moving up in the corporate hierarchy, it’s fine to travel for the sake of travel.

    • Elisabeth
      Elisabeth says:

      J.E. : Thank you!

      I’ve also found that a lot of forward-thinking employers actually prefer candidates who have traveled. If they don’t, their company probably won’t be around for that much longer and you’d be signing on to work for a sinking ship anyway.

      Do what you love because nothing is guaranteed in this life. If you don’t love to travel, then don’t. But if it excites you, if you get something out of it, then you should do it. That goes for anything. Too many people on this planet obsessed with advancing your career and not enough enjoying life. Guess what! You could be dead a year from now! So if you love your career great but don’t put yourself in a box like that.

  14. jestjack
    jestjack says:

    What an excellent article. You are spot on about travel. Friend of mine was transferred to Europe for his job…was there for 4.5 years. When he got back to the US EVERYTHING had changed at corporate and he was out of the “loop”. Soon there was a “re-org” and he was HISTORY….

  15. Elisabeth
    Elisabeth says:

    Yeah, I really despise the notion that everyone needs to have the same goals.

    I agree with Kalae’s comment. Not everyone wants to work in the U.S., especially now that the job market here is looking bleak to none. I would think that as an entrepreneur you would be for traveling. Sure, some take it to the extreme. But travel is a healthy dose of global reality, the best way to get out of your comfort zone, and gain new experiences and memories.

    If you want to earn a decent living wage in this country but you happen to want to work in any field besides tech, you’re pretty much screwed.

    I have a friend who was living in Seattle and had her dream job of teaching children with special needs. I don’t know how she does it, but she loves it. The problem? She was making $14 an hour here, with student loans to pay off and rapidly rising cost of living. What are the options? Move out of the city and commute longer? Give up your dream job and go into IT? Why? She ended up taking a year off to travel, and guess what? Teachers actually get paid decent living wages elsewhere in the world! She’s teaching preschoolers now (only 6 in her class so they have extra one on one time) in Seoul (voted the #1 cleanest city to live in), AND the SK government is not only paying her salary but paying for her housing and paying off her student loans. Who wouldn’t want that?

    My point is, not everyone has the same goals. Travel obviously isn’t your thing but that doesn’t mean it’s not beneficial for other people whose goals are different from yours. Some people want to learn about the world firsthand, instead of live their lives behind computer screen or in a cubicle. Or earning degrees they will get bored of before they use.

    We live in a disconnected society, and the reason we are so disconnected is because we don’t take the time to connect. Yeah it’s scary to stretch ourselves to growth beyond our perceived limitations and boundaries and what we think we are capable of doing. There are no guarantees that future employers or colleagues won’t scoff at us for taking time off to live our lives and to travel. But I would never want to work for those kinds of narrow minds anyway! Life is too short to not just do whatever you want to do. Plenty of travelers end up with careers that make them genuinely happy. Getting a change of scenery and people brings a creativity that gives you a competitive edge and anyone who doesn’t see that is stuck in archaic models of thinking. I would rather have memories of awesome adventures and experiences, of doing the things that I wanted to do. And to those who would rather spend their time on this planet staying in one corner of the world and judging those who dare to expand their awareness, you should know that you’re just going to appear to the rest of us as disconnected, and a little boring. But hey, it’s your life.

    /end rant

  16. elizabeth geyer
    elizabeth geyer says:

    I am amazed to have landed on this blog by googling ‘inspiring blogs’. Travel is not always an option, and thankfully it’s definitely not the only way. But travelling the world is one of the best things I’ve ever done careerwise (as well as personally) and opened doors to all things being possible. I am a late bloomer. I don’t know one successful inspirational person who would agree with this blog.

  17. elizabeth geyer
    elizabeth geyer says:

    ps sorry, I did not mean to seem rude or disrespectful by my comment. Each to their own and all the very best to you.

  18. Kent W
    Kent W says:

    I’m not qualified to make any general statements about how travel affects one’s career, so I’m not going to. But the idea that the internet has somehow made travel worthless as a means of learning and personal growth is utter bullshit. Humans are not computers. Reading about something on the internet is not the same as touching it, tasting it, talking face-to-face with someone who experienced it. Okay, if you do nothing but hang out in the Marriott, there’s not much point to traveling. But if you get out and interact with ordinary people — experience kindness of a stranger taking you into their home; the anger of someone who says things about their government that they would never dare post on facebook; face the challenge of explaining something stupid about your own country to someone who asks, “why?” — you learn and grow in a way that you never will just by reading or seeing photos, no matter how well-written those accounts may be.

  19. Karin
    Karin says:

    Of course travel can help you reach your dream faster and inspires the mind and experiences are for the whole of life that no one can take.

  20. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    This discussion somehow moved from why travel doesn’t help a career to claims that foreign languages don’t help.
    I would like to point out that anyone who, as a part of the job, regularly reads scientific literature or publications in other fields (economics, history, etc.) really needs to know more than one language. For the physical and biological sciences, English, German, and French do the trick pretty well. Spanish and Russian also don’t hurt. Most of the good work done in China ends up being published in English, and the same is true for some of the good Japanese work. Those who use “minor” European languages (Norwegian, Dutch, Polish, Greek, etc.) generally publish in English, German, or French, in that order.
    In my case, my high-school French and college German have been invaluable tools for my career. Don’t disparage the value of being multilingual.

  21. ESTPGirl
    ESTPGirl says:

    This post is hitting me pretty hard. I’m turning 27 next week, and yeah, I’m definitely starting over in LA. It’s not fun and stressful as hell, but I think it’s better being out here than stuck in my dead end job back in my homecity. I definitely did not want to be there.

    -ESTP Girl

  22. Muriel
    Muriel says:

    I think this post may apply to those planning to have a career in the USA.

    In Europe, traveling around, speaking at least 2 languages is highly valued and helps in career progression.

    I was born and raised in France.
    Left at 18 to study and live in the UK.
    At 28, I left the UK to live (and work in my field) for one year.

    When I came back to the UK, I was able to establish myself as a consultant, in my field. My experience in Spain had given me the impetus and competence to do so.

    I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today if I still live in my native France.
    But again, France is not America.
    It’s an socialist country that values quality of life over career satisfaction/progression.
    And Europe is not America
    A lot of my friends that are German expats in Spain, South America, or Brits expats in Germany, have very strong careers.

    I am not even talking about life satisfaction.
    I was craving to discover different people and cultures all my life. I would be very frustrated if I had not been able to do so.

    But again, I appreciate that this post is about a person planning to have a career in America.
    And happiness and life satisfaction (through traveling) are not indispensable ingredients to a successful career.

  23. Tressie William
    Tressie William says:

    Good Points! I totally agree with all your points here. People think that travel based job can be a fun, but it’s not true you have to deal with many problems such as weather conditions, people, culture etc.

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