Several months ago, I attended a meet up held by Meet, Plan, Go in conjunction with AFAR. The topic of discussion: taking a “career break” to travel the world. The concept is interesting—leaving your job and life behind to experience different countries and cultures for an extended period of time. While I’m not at the point in my life where I envision myself doing this (note: I consider my “career break” to be when I moved to London to get my master’s degree and traveled to various countries in Europe and North Africa), it was fascinating and enlightening to meet people who had taken a career break. There were also many attendees who had not taken a break but were just as passionate about travel, incorporating it into their lives in whatever way possible.
According to a study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the United States is the only highly developed nation that does not require employers to offer paid vacation time. In Australia, businesses are required to provide employees with 35 days off. Yes, that’s right: 35 days! In several countries in Europe: 31. America: A big ole 0.
In today’s global and hyper-connected world, this strikes me as a missed opportunity for the U.S. and a big reason why the idea of a “career break” can sound so alluring. We are an overworked nation; that cannot be denied. More than that, we are a nation that is not nearly knowledgeable enough about the world. Travel is one of the ways to become more knowledgeable. As the saying goes, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” With each trip I take, I am increasingly convinced of its truth.
During a flight from Thailand to Hong Kong, I ended up in conversation with the passenger next to me. At first I was more determined to sleep than speak with this person, but I soon found myself showing her pictures of my travels and hearing about her adventures roaming around Chiang Mai via motorcycle (clearly she was the gutsier one). We also discovered a shared background in journalism—her, a newspaper journalist in Dongguan in southern China, and me, a media and communications professional in New York City. I learned about what it’s like being a journalist in China (not the easiest, as one can imagine) and, in turn, she learned about working in media in New York and some of the ways in which the business environment is changing. It was, and continues to be, one of those conversations and experiences you can’t quite create when you don’t go anywhere.
As careers evolve and businesses adapt to the changing environment, global perspective is key. Thus, it is almost mind boggling to realize that not only do Americans barely travel and take vacation compared to the rest of the world, but also the vacation policies of many businesses do not encourage it. Why not change your policy, encourage employees to take time off and travel, whether domestically or internationally, and see what new perspective they bring back? I have a feeling the long term impact would more than pay off.