I have an update: I started a new job this week—yay! And there's even more to celebrate: This week marks 6 months that I have been back in the United States!
In all of my blogging and reading other people’s travel blogs, I rarely hear people write about the adaptation back into the job market after an extended period of travel. So I've decided to write about it in this post.
I will in no way sugar coat this: Job hunting post-travel is not easy.
To give yourself the best possible chance of returning to a job, I will share in this post the tricks I used before, during, and after nearly 2 years of travel without official employment. These tricks include thinking carefully about your reasons for traveling, staying connected to your contacts along the way, and having a "product" to show for your absence.
Think About Why You Want to Travel
You will be much more likely to land a job after traveling long-term if you write your cover letters, your resume, and go to your interviews prepared to answer the question, "Why did you travel?"
The reasons why you wanted to travel in the first place may be numerous. Usually they can be categorized into at least one of three tracks:
- Personal Enjoyment
- Personal Growth
- Professional Growth
My personal enjoyment reasons were as varied as wanting to see more incredibly beautiful natural wonders and wanting to walk barefoot around New Zealand like a hobbit. Similarly, you may want to travel simply for the fun or luxury of it. You may want to see the world before you grow too old or physically unable to. Or you may want to relax after a long stretch of hard work.
All of these personal enjoyment reasons are extremely valid and can demonstrate a kind of self-awareness that not many people have! In my opinion, personal enjoyment is as worthy a reason as any. Some employers may find these the easiest to relate to, but they also may want to hear that you're committed to your job and that you won't suddenly quit because you need extended time to "relax."
Be prepared to describe at least one personal growth reason for traveling. Maybe you want to learn a new skill, like how I learned to SCUBA dive.
But let's go a little deeper than that. I wanted to develop my comfort in and confidence in what to do with the unexpected and unplanned occurrences of life. I also wanted to learn how to stop being such a workaholic and have more of a work-life balance. Both of these reasons demonstrate a kind of self-management that many employers like to see.
Employers want to know that you can recognize personality characteristics within yourself that present challenges in a workplace. Taking this a step further, they want to see that you were proactive (through travel!) in trying to make self-improvements.
A bit more challenging to consider are your professional growth reasons for traveling. These can include wanting to network with people internationally, work or volunteer in another country for a period of time, develop your photography/writing skills, or try out a brand new career track.
For example, I wanted to expand my primarily US-based social justice training to observations about people and cultures internationally—and I wanted to bring these ideas to the attention of others through my blog.
Thinking more abstractly, you may want to think about how the very act of traveling can put you in a better position, mentally, emotionally, physically, for either a new career path or to continue in a prior one after you return. I wanted to travel because I wanted to get my head both figuratively and physically out of the ivory tower of academic for a while so I could more clearly visualize my career goals and interests.
Stay Connected to Your Contacts
I hear the phrase, "It's who you know, not what you know" all of the time when talking about getting an application accepted for a job, a school—just about anything!
I cannot emphasize with you how true these words become when job-hunting. So, first, try not to burn bridges with your past employers or co-workers at any point. Second, and most importantly, do not lose touch with your employers and co-workers, especially the really good ones.
The good ones are the ones who were your cheerleaders all along. They supported you and maybe wrote excellent recommendation letters for you. Speaking of which, get recommendation letters from everyone you can before you depart for your travels. Better yet, get them before you leave your current job position or school.
Inform your supervisors or advisors about your plans (and your reasons "why" from above) and then ask for a "strong letter of support" reflecting on both your decision to travel and your general abilities and character.
If you do not intend to use a letter of recommendation to pick up work while you travel (e.g., they came in handy for my first house-sitting gigs!), they will serve as excellent guides to your contacts after you return from your long trip. They may not remember everything they would have said about you 1, 3, or 6 years ago, but they will if they have their old letter to help.
While you are traveling, don't forget to give your contacts a personalized update every now and then. Ask them about their work, projects, life and whatever else may be relevant. Maintain a connection and communicate authentic interest. Do not make contact simply to try to get something out of it (like a positive reference).
I didn't communicate with my network constantly, but I did make a special effort to check in with important contacts every 4-6 months while I was traveling.
A fun way to maintain a connection is to send a post-card. I consistently sent post-cards from every country I visited to the office of my previous employer. A wonderful result of these postcards was the friendships I maintained with my old boss and co-workers. I easily met back up with them when I returned to New York.
The best result of these post-cards was that it led to temporary employment in a promoted position at my old office after I returned to the states. I remained in that position until I found the permanent position I have now! So it really works!
Produce Something From Your Travels
It does not really matter what medium—try to have something tangible to show for your travel experience. I used this blog. Other ideas are an instagram gallery, a hand-written journal, or a scrapbook.
Alternatively, consider how you will represent this gap on your resume. You can write it in as "International/Domestic Travel Experience" and include soft skills you developed.
Ideas for soft skills can come from your "personal growth" reasons for traveling. Think about what else you may have learned from your travels: Adaptability, Planning, Independence (solo-travelers), Teamwork (group/partner travelers).
Include any volunteer work or paid work you did while away. For example, I included my experience volunteering at Citizen's Advice Bureau in New Zealand.
The more you have to "show" for your travels, the more an employer will see you weren't just slacking off, sipping Mai-Thais on the beach for a year. While a year of sun and fun totally should be allowed/acceptable (in my personal opinion), you should expect a greater challenge re-entering the job market upon your return. Sadly, it's just the way of things.
Applying for jobs in today’s market is rarely easy no matter your situation. As long-term travelers, we have the added challenge of explaining to potential employers why we decided to travel for so long and how they can depend on us to be committed to the job if hired.
So do everything in your power to set yourself up for getting a job again—especially if you are certain your goal is to eventually return home and work again. Try applying a couple of the tips from above and you will better your chances.
All in all, I am happy to say that there is, in fact, a job waiting for you on the other side of traveling. It'll be tough, but remain proactive about what you want and you'll get it!