I Traveled the World, Helped Save Lives, and Learned 6 Transferable Skills. Newsflash: You Can Too.
Learn the skills, I mean.
And save lives, depending on what you do for a living. But develop those skills? For sure.
I could have indulged in some serious role play in the past decade. People asked me over and over again: “Are you a doctor?”
When I was in college, I found this amazing opportunity to help cancer patients. I became a bone marrow courier. And so, I spent nearly seven years traveling the world with a cooler full of hope. It was a great mission. And it didn’t cost me a dime.
I learned a great deal on these trips. About cancer. About different cultures. About traveling. And about myself.
It may sound silly to write about the professional skills one can learn from lonesome traveling. Even more so when I tell you that I’ve built my professional success on these lessons. But that’s just it. Being on my own, yet actively contribute to someone’s fate completely changed me.
Sometimes, you need to look in other places to be stronger on the home field. In my case, it was traveling solo with a humble mission.
1. Put things in perspective
There’s something quite exceptional about knowing that your carry-on is a potential lifesaver. Once I was in charge of that little box, I felt like I was glowing. Time was of the essence, my senses were heightened, and that box felt like the holy grail.
When you know your mission is paramount, you’ll re-discover the meaning of purpose. It’s hard to describe. Think about a moment where you’re in flow AND when you behave in an altruistic manner. That intersection is the sweet spot: you’re completely focused, have absolute clarity of the urgency, and feel incredibly good about what’s happening right now.
I get it. You can’t all volunteer your time as a medical courier. But if there’s any lesson I learned from this, it’s that:
Life is more than a job, a career, or a promotion. You’re alive. Take some time to reconnect with the realness of life.
2. Channel your resourcefulness
I can’t recall standing in a departure hall and looking up at a board that didn’t have any delays or cancellations. Ever. Traveling means you have to brave potential holdups along the way.
It can get real iffy when time plays a crucial role in your journey. See, those medical goods are unique, and they have an expiration date. So it is, literally, a matter of life or death. Especially when you know that a transplantation is oftentimes a leukemia patient’s last option.
I discovered a source of resourcefulness in myself I did not imagine having in a million years. From finding ways to zip by security lines to taking off while everyone was grounded, de-boarding a plane on lockdown, or talking crews into an earlier take-off. All of it ethical and legal, I assure you.
Biggest challenge? When mother nature threw me a curveball (Eyjafjallajökull).
When you travel on your own, you’ll naturally develop a set of trump cards. I’m not encouraging you to argue your way into business class (though, if you pull that one off let me know).
Some days, things go seriously south at work. Whether you have to juggle expiring deadlines, mend client relationships, or fix major blunders. That’s where your problem-solving skills will save the day. And isn’t it fortuitous that creativity and confidence tag along whenever resourcefulness pops up?
It’s a lovely triple-threat, really.
3. Let your mind wander
When I told people I wasn’t a doctor but simply a volunteer, most acquiesced, flashed a subtle smile, and that was that. On occasion, there was be a polite exchange of pleasantries. Once in a blue moon, though, I’d meet a person tuned to the same wavelength. These are people I bumped into on flights, trains, hotel lobbies, or strolling through foreign cities. I’ve built great friendships with some of them, while I’ve simply kept in touch (LinkedIn!) with others.
This shows how an open-mind makes human interaction elementary. Traveling on your own is a prime context for opening up to new situations, culture, and people. And it’s extremely important to cultivate an open-mind.
"Minds are like parachutes: they only function when open.” Thomas Dewar
Open-minded people are quicker to adapt to new situations, have sharper problem-solving skills, and make the most out of life. So keep expanding your horizons. Who know, you might just develop incredible friendships or stumble upon exciting professional opportunities.
Speaking of, Sarah Elkins developed a sharp concept to help you stretch that horizon. She organizes "No Longer Virtual" events, where you can effectively turn your online relationships into REAl one. Pretty awesome, no? Here's Sarah on the realness of your network.
4. Get your ducks in a row.
Packing used to give me headaches. Now, having completed over 50 life-saving trips, I can officially dub myself CTO (Chief Travel Organizer). I’ve learned to cut the fluff, locate essential logistical information, and cook up a plan B. My pragmatic expertise knows no bounds, from Rome to Rio, New York to Bangkok, or London to Copenhagen.
Travel on your own and you’ve got no one to rely on but yourself. This gives you ample opportunity to train your organizing muscle. Research routes, subway maps, time differences, cultural faux-pas… The sky’s the limit. Be prepared, but never assume your plans are airtight. Remember #2.
How does this transfer to your cubicle? Every professional needs organizing skills. Simple as that. When you research, evaluate, and archive information, you train your brain to think structured.
5. Activate your quick-wit!
My travel plans rarely panned out the way they were supposed to. So not only did I have to think outside the box, I had to do it fast. I didn’t have time to mull over how to deal with a flight cancellation. I walked up to the nearest service agent and clearly stated my predicament. Or I called the hospital straight away to relay the potential delay. I took charge and didn’t wait for someone to come hold my hand.
The ability to think on your feet is gold. And while traveling solo will surely help you develop a quick-witted mind, you can apply this skill to literally every area of your life. In fact, I haven’t seen a single job description that didn’t include a bullet point calling for someone who’s sharp, flexible, or quick to adapt.
6. Become lingo-savvy
Before I embarked on this journey, I had a vague idea of what miles were. Now, I could teach a class on the variety of mileage species. I’m always up to date on the latest mileage hacks and know how to structure a mileage run. Ok, so you’ve noticed – I’ve learned the lingo. From IATA codes to fuel dump combos.
I’m not saying you have to master the lingo. But if you dig traveling, I’ll cheer you on along the way (and give you tips too). You’ll get access to fantastic deals, complimentary business class upgrades, and almost-free flights.
This won’t transfer into professional skills per se. But a little travel lingo goes a long way when you need it!
If you enjoyed this article, I'd love to hear from you!
☕ Christine is a communication strategist and a notoriously curious person. Hopeless optimist, hustler with a sunny disposition, and klutz at times - she's eager to hear your story.
☞ This article was originally published on LinkedIn as part of a writing challenge.