How to Keep Long-Term Travel From Ruining Your Career
In good conscience, can you really take time off to travel long-term without ruining your job prospects? Whether it's a gap year after school or a sabbatical mid-way through your career, taking time off is rarely regarded kindly by the office. (See also: America is the No Vacation Nation)
The most obvious way your job prospects are compromised is with the gaping hole in your resume during the time you traveled. In addition, prospective employers might question your reliability — thinking you'll quit to travel again just when they need you most.
Being willing and able to take a long period of time off to travel the world makes you a bit of a loose cannon; which isn't exactly a model employee trait. What to do about it?
Volunteer With High-Profile (Sometimes Paying) Organizations
Organizations like Peace Corps and CUSO pay all your expenses (plus a stipend) to volunteer your expertise around the world. Depending on your skills, you may even find a position that is related to your career. These are resume-worthy experiences, ones that will incite curiosity, and often respect.
Get Reference Letters From Volunteer Gigs
Even if you're volunteering for a small organization or just in trade for free accommodations, ask your volunteer employer for a reference letter. This can demonstrate a wide variety of skills, and says that you are flexible, responsible, and committed — even when traveling. (Don't forget to list volunteer experiences on your resume.)
Teach English Abroad
By teaching English abroad you can not only travel (living in a foreign location and using it as a base), but you can earn some nice cash on top of your subsidized accommodations. This can address any cash flow requirements you might have at home while you're away long-term.
Travel With a Working Holiday Visa
With a working holiday visa, you can acquire a one-year working visa for a select number of countries. You need to be 18-30 (up to 35 in some cases), and can generally work in whatever field you wish — so you can continue to further your career, and expand your prospects.
Negotiate With Your Employer Before You Go
The boss is usually the last person to know if you are planning on quitting for a sabbatical. But if you share your traveling desires with your employer early on — while emphasizing how much you love your job and career (assuming you do) — you may be able to reach a mutual agreement. This can include options like your job being held for you, or even continuing to work from abroad by telecommuting. (See also: Location Independent Career Basics)
Brag About Your Travels in Your Cover Letter
Brag about your travels — don't hide them. Feature them front and center on your cover letter in a way that demonstrates your commitment, reliability, ingenuity, creativity, and philanthropy. Now that you're back, you're energized and ready to hit the ground running with new ideas, and you want your prospective employer to benefit from them!
It's better to boldly stand out and represent your travels, rather than worry about whether people think less of you for it. If you carry yourself like you're a star, you will be. (See also: You Are What You Do: 16 Ways to Improve Your Body Language)
Has travel affected your career or job prospects?