Why backpacking was good for my career

September 20, 2018

Last year, I was laid off from my job. Six months before that, I was let go from another job. Needless to say, it was a rough time in my life. After years of working hard, getting good grades in school and even winning an award for my work, facing unemployment twice was a huge blow to my confidence and really made me question if I was on the right path.

After the second time it happened, I knew I couldn’t just pick myself up and throw myself back into the working world. So instead, I decided to take an extended break and go to Europe for a month. It was impulsive and more than a little risky, but I came back from my trip with more than memories and an iPhone filled with selfies in front of historical monuments. I found my career spark again and the drive to finally make my entrepreneurial dreams a reality by starting my own business.

Here are eight reasons why going backpacking was good for my career and is worth considering.

1. I learned it's ok to take a break

After going from high school to university to grad school to my career with not much space in between, I was pretty burnt out. I always wanted to take a gap year or study abroad, but I was afraid of losing momentum in my career. However, travelling for a month made me realize that taking a break and doing things I loved didn’t take away from the hard work I had put in. If anything, it helped give my mind a much-needed rest.

2. I rediscovered my passion for writing

Prior to my trip, I had let my side-hustle as a freelance writer fall by the wayside to focus on my job. However, while I was abroad, a few people reached out to me with opportunities that allowed me to pick up my pen (ok, laptop) and start writing again. Writing for fun rather than for my job helped me fall in love with it all over again, and eventually fueled my decision to start my own business.

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3. I rebuilt my confidence

While I knew it was just business, it’s hard not to take a lay-off personally. I felt like I had failed at the one thing I was supposed to be good at. However, focusing on small tasks like getting to my hostel or finding a place to eat helped me rebuild my confidence and remind myself that I was resourceful and capable.

4. I came out of my shell

I’ve always been an introvert, but travelling solo meant I couldn’t let a friend do all the talking. If I wanted to meet people at my hostel, I had to walk up to them and say actual words. It wasn’t easy, but the more I did it, the easier it became. And now, introducing myself at networking events is a lot less nerve-wracking.

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5. I embraced risk

As someone who likes to plan everything out as much as possible, impulsively booking a month-long backpacking trip to Europe was way out of my comfort zone. While the trip didn’t always go smoothly, I learned that it’s ok to veer off course sometimes. As a full-time freelancer who often struggles to explain what she does for a living, this has been a key lesson.

6. I sharpened my problem-solving skills

From getting stuck with my luggage for nine hours during a thunderstorm in Lisbon to missing the last bus home and getting stranded in Rome in the middle of the night, there were definitely moments when I questioned my decision to embark on such an adventure. But when you’re travelling alone, you have nobody to depend on but yourself, and these problem-solving skills have proven valuable both at work and in life.

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7. I found my people

As I stayed mostly in hostels, I met a lot of different people during my trip. More specifically, I met people who desired the same things from their careers that I did—flexibility, freedom and autonomy. I met a teacher who taught English online and a digital marketer who worked remotely. These people showed me that I didn’t have to do the nine-to-five grind to have a successful career, and well, the rest is history.

8. I learned how to put myself first

For a long time, I felt that being a good employee meant doing everything in my power to make my managers happy—often at the expense of my own health. I would work myself until I burnt out and had nothing left to give and soon, my work quality would begin to suffer.

Opting out of the rat race for a while was like hitting the reset button on my life. It showed me how powerful putting yourself first can be. I was scared to do what I really wanted to do for so long, I didn’t realize how much it was suffocating me. Now, I make decisions based on what I want and need, not on what I feel I should be doing.

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