Travel enriches one personally, of course, but how does it help you
I recently spent two months backpacking by myself through Southeast Asia.
Once the jet lag wore off—and the food poisoning had subsided—I realized
that traveling alone was the greatest thing I could have done for my
career. It shook up my worldview, put my priorities in perspective and gave
me the confidence that comes from learning I can navigate the world on my
So how, exactly, did traveling solo make me a better PR professional?
Sharper decision-making skills.
Public relations professionals often make decisions with long-term impact
for clients, so we must evaluate our options carefully and consider our
clients’ overall objectives.
When traveling by yourself, you must make thousands of decisions that
affect your safety and the overall outcome of your trip.
Sometimes it’s a quick choice: Do I argue with the taxi driver trying to
rip me off, or should I let him keep my money? In other situations, there
is more time to evaluate your decision. For example, I spent days deciding
whether to go to Vietnam, as planned, or stay in Cambodia an extra week.
Ultimately, I stayed in Cambodia, and based on time constraints and my
travel style, I’m confident that was the right choice. I learned the
importance of making and sticking with decisions; trust your judgment.
Cognizance of cultural differences.
In today’s global economy, you’re bound to work with clients or partners
based in other parts of the world. The more aware you are of cultural
differences, the smoother that partnership will be.
Travel immerses you in another culture, pushing you outside your comfort
zone. The first week of my trip, I volunteered in a village in eastern
Thailand, and trying to learn the local customs was humbling. The volunteer
coordinators reminded me, for example, to take my shoes off inside, and it
hit me how seemingly small habits make a big difference in how people live.
To that point, if someone in another culture doesn’t respond to your email
quickly, it might be because they have different expectations about
Language barriers can hamper international partnerships. Most people
worldwide speak at least some English. Most Americans don’t learn a second
language, let alone several others. Be patient—and appreciative—when
communicating with people who aren’t native English speakers.
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Adaptability to changing circumstances.
If you’ve ever traveled to a faraway nation, you’ve probably experienced
questionable accommodations and confusing streets signs, perhaps even a
three-hour bus ride that turned into a seven-hour journey. Unexpected
things happen when you travel, and you learn to cope. Humor helps.
(Arriving at your “hostel” to discover it’s essentially a barn painted blue
is nothing short of hilarious.)
In the PR world, things can change quickly. Your client might have a crisis
that needs immediate attention, or a journalist might leak news that you’ve
been carefully preparing for weeks to announce on a specific day. When
these things happen, it helps to be highly adaptable. I feel more prepared
to deal with these situations knowing I’ve experienced far more unexpected
You never know what you can do until you do it. Traveling by yourself can
be challenging, lonely, overwhelming and, at times, scary, but all those
lows make the highs more satisfying.
Knowing that I can handle the challenges of solo travel has given me a new
sense of confidence that will help me in all aspects of my life and career.
Having the self-assurance to stand behind my ideas, speak up in meetings
and push back against clients will go a long way as I climb the corporate
Sarah Elson is a senior account executive at
Communiqué PR. A version of this article originally appeared
on the agency’s blog.