Travel builds a lot of life skills, many of which translate very well into business. Here are 18 ways travel makes you a better entrepreneur.
Were you always good at business, or did travel make you into an entrepreneur? I want to chuck it all in to travel, but I’ve never run my own business and I’m hoping that travelling will help me start one. What do you think? -Charlie
First of all, absolutely – I believe travel makes you a better entrepreneur. Personally I was lucky enough to have the entrepreneurial gene thoroughly embedded before I sold everything to travel full-time, but certainly, my business skills have since improved, and I’ve seen the same happen to many other travellers.
Let me first issue a disclaimer about chucking it all in to travel without any kind of plan for your business. It’s totally doable – I did it myself. But, I can also say from experience that it was a tough slog, creating my own travel lifestyle simultaneous to starting a business. Perhaps this is one of the ways in itself that travel makes you a better entrepreneur (for example time management skills are inherently learned), but let me assure you – it ain’t easy. Thus, the advice I normally give is to get something going before you quit your day job.
How Travel Makes You a Better Entrepreneur
Regardless of whether you plan to travel full-time/long-term or not, I firmly believe that travel makes you a better entrepreneur in a variety of ways; 18 ways to be exact.
One of my oldest friends visited me when I was living in the Caribbean. Although she’d travelled extensively with her family (and even chaperoned school kids as a teacher), this was the first time she did it alone, and she raved about how empowering the experience was, in its sheer simplicity. There’s something about navigating through foreign situations and experiences that builds an incredible amount of self-confidence, which is also great for business since entrepreneurs need to be their own biggest cheerleaders. The confidence-boosting element especially applies to solo female travellers.
What happens if you miss your connecting flight? What is your accommodation going to be like? What if you don’t like the food? The very act of travel is an exercise in throwing yourself into uncertain situations; as an entrepreneur, your job as a trailblazer will involve similar uncertainties.
By experiencing other cultures and societies, you’ll gain perspective by seeing other ways of doing things. Perhaps you’ll gain a better appreciation for how things are done at home, or perhaps you’ll see ways to improve (bingo! A business opportunity).
Getting Comfortable With Discomfort
Travel is all about pushing your comfort zone. Likewise, any good entrepreneur will tell you that the very act of starting a business involves risk, which is usually pretty uncomfortable. Getting comfortable with discomfort (and even fear) is a valuable skill.
A by-product of pushing your comfort zone and leaning into discomfort is a higher level of courage. This is also a requisite for taking the sorts of risks that define successful entrepreneurs.
Without the comforts of home, you usually learn to survive with less than you’re accustomed to. One of the greatest learning experiences I had was on an off-grid permaculture property in Hawaii. I learned how much sun had to shine in order to provide the most basic of electricity needs, and this knowledge of conservation gave me new perspective and an element of frugality (environmental and financial) that I’m proud of. Reducing things to the basics is a great way to run a tight ship. It’s an entrepreneurial – and life – skill.
Budgeting and Money Management
Travel forces you to plan and budget and choose how you want to spend your money. What’s more important: a nice place to stay, or doing some extra scuba dives? Would you prefer to eat somewhere fancy on the tourist trail, or find something cheap and local? If you aren’t great with money, you’ll learn the value of a dollar pretty quickly through travelling, and how to budget and prioritize your spending. Again this is not only an imperative entrepreneurial skill, but also a great life skill.
Back when I used to take annual vacations with my (now ex) husband, I was fascinated by how he changed every time we travelled. With a new environment and fresh eyes, he’d come up with all kinds of interesting business ideas. If you’re looking for a new business idea, hit the road, keep your eyes peeled for opportunities, and allow your creativity to shine.
Travel (just like business) rarely goes entirely as planned. You’ll learn to think on your feet and solve problems; skills that will be invaluable when your business plans or day-to-day operations go sideways and require adjustments.
Learning to Trust Your Instincts
You’re being told by a local on the streets of India that the train station is closed and you need to go with them to buy a ticket; but something doesn’t feel right about it. You need to decide quickly – what do you do? Even if you make the “wrong” decision and get scammed, you’ll learn to trust your instincts next time. Quick decision-making and trusting your gut are crucial entrepreneurial skills.
Rolling With the Punches (Adaptability and Resilience)
Perhaps you made the wrong decision in the above example and now you’re on the opposite side of town without a train ticket. What to do? Kicking yourself or giving up won’t help; getting back on the horse and finding an alternate solution will. Travelling teaches you to let go a bit and acknowledge that sometimes things are out of your control; just as in business, you learn to play with the cards you’ve been dealt and make the most of it.
Improving Communication Skills
When language (and/or culture) is a barrier, you learn new ways to communicate, and to ensure that you’re being understood. Mastering communication is very helpful in business, even if language isn’t a problem.
Travel (especially solo travel) is a great way to build networking skills. And through building your networking skills, you’ll also be building a network of friends and contacts that span the globe, and which might be useful in your own entrepreneurial venture.
If you’re already running a business while travelling, you’ll quickly learn what needs to be done and what can be outsourced or put off until later. Either that, or you’ll burn out and learn that way. Regardless, you’ll come away from it all with better time management skills. (See also: Work-Life Balance on the Road)
Trying New Things
Surely you’re not travelling to experience the same things you could do at home. From new foods, to living environments, climates, and even ways to accomplish “simple” tasks, everything will be new. Entrepreneurial leaders stand out from the pack by trying new things.
You’ll get the most out of your travels by planning them out (at least to a degree); likewise, you’ll get the most out of your career by creating a business plan. In both cases, it’s important to create a plan that can flex with the events of life, which can throw you an unexpected curve ball or three (see: adaptability, above).
Some might say that travel puts you in the fast lane towards a higher level of maturity. Life experience in general fosters maturity, and the sorts of experiences you’ll have on the road, which inspire all the skills outlined in this article, are ideal vehicles to a more mature outlook on life. And with this maturity, also comes better business decisions and ideas.
Travel Prevents Burnout
If you’re an entrepreneur who doesn’t think you can afford to take time off, think again. With a life that is all work and no play, you’ll actually end up being less productive and prone to burnout. With increased energy and fresh perspective, taking time off to travel can actually be good for business. Stefan Sagmeister runs an extremely successful business that became so because every seven years, he takes a year-long sabbatical. (You can watch his inspirational TED talk here). It has been proven over and over again that travel will help – not hurt – your business.
Are You Up for the Adventure?
In the entrepreneurial/travel land of unknowns and unforeseen circumstances, you’d better be up for some adventure, because there’s sure to be a lot of it.
A colleague of mine who runs a large financial business said this of travel:
“It takes a lot of courage to just pick up and travel for a year. You are forced to network and make new friends along the way which develops your personal skills, which is the most important attribute in any career. It will help with life skills, not just business.”
Not Yet Convinced that Travel Makes You a Better Entrepreneur?
Don’t listen to me. Expedia.ca published the results of a 10-year study of 3,400 university students who spent an exchange year abroad and examined how it fostered entrepreneurial and life skills. You can read more about the study here, and see some basic results in the below infographic.
Feature Photo Credit: tec_estromberg https://www.flickr.com/photos/92334668@N07/11122773785/