Happiness & Success Through Travelling

by Steven Trow

CFO HCP Italy @ Hermes

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine

If you’re reading this, you love traveling. Whether it’s for work or pleasure, most of us love to travel to meet new people, have new experiences or open our minds to different cultures and traditions. But have you ever thought about how travel can actually help you become happier and more successful in your life and career?

In order to show the importance of this, I need to first show you the importance of soft skills. We’re taught from a very early age that to be successful you need to get good grades at school. Nothing wrong with getting good grades at school of course and it certainly leads to more opportunities but it is not the complete picture. If academic achievements are the key reason for success, then why have many successful people not even attended university? Coco Chanel; Abraham Lincoln; Richard Branson, Henry Ford and Walt Disney are just a few examples.

Clearly something else is important. I suggest that the reason is soft skills. A psychologist from Harvard University named Howard Gardner, through research on his patients, established the theory that there are multiple intelligences. His first proposal was that there are seven types of intelligence:

1. Mathematical-Logical – the ability to carry out mathematical operations and investigate issues scientifically. Essentially one’s IQ.

2. Linguistic – the ability to use language, for example learning new languages and reading effectively.

3. Visual-Spatial – the ability to visualize objects and spatial dimensions.

4. Musical – the ability to recognize and use musical tones, pitches and rhythms.

5. Physical – the ability to use one’s body effectively.

6. Intra-personal (Emotional Intelligence) – the ability to understand one’s emotions, capacities, desires, etc. Also called EQ.

7. Inter-personal – the ability to interact with other people.

Schools and colleges focus heavily, almost exclusively, on the first two: Mathematical-Logical and Linguistic intelligences whereas I believe the last two, the soft skills, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Inter-personal skills will be the keys to happiness in life and success in most careers.

So what are these?

Inter-personal intelligence refers to soft skills such as negotiation, leadership, teamwork, communication, networking and managing difficult situations with people.

Emotional Intelligence refers to the soft skills regulating our own behavior and attitudes such as drive, self-confidence, determination, stress management, flexibility, time management, problem solving, emotional regulation, organization, growth mindset, patience and resilience.

Clearly none of the other intelligences mentioned above are going to count for much if you do not have self-confidence, drive, determination, resilience and you are not good at interacting with other people.

The problem is that it’s easier to demonstrate technical skills (a professional industry qualification, the ability to speak a language, IT skills, etc.) through certificates or examples than it is to show that one has these soft skills. It is also less straightforward how we develop these fundamental skills. Many people think that we are born with them and that’s it. There is definitely a certain predisposition however they can be improved.

How? When I speak at schools and universities, I always tell students looking for career advice to travel. It’s the best, and most enjoyable, way I know to develop several of these skills at the same time. Let’s look at a few in more detail.

1. Self Confidence

A difficult “skill” to develop but basically your self-confidence will improve when you accomplish things. If you find yourself in a difficult situation and find a way through it, you will have less fear the next time you meet a similar problem. Travelling takes you out of your comfort zone and puts you in a whole series of challenging situations. Even something as simple as getting somewhere can become a major challenge. I remember being on the back of a motorbike taxi with a driver in Hanoi, Vietnam who didn’t speak English and didn’t know where I was trying to get to. An hour driving round, both of us completely lost and unable to talk to each other, and I was starting to wonder if I’d ever get back to the hotel.

It can be scary to find yourself lost, unable to read the signs and unable to speak to the locals however once you get through the situation it definitely builds self-confidence. Also a reminder that the soft skill of planning/organization is also important (see below). Taught me to have a local language map with me whenever I went around!

2. Time management

We’re all swamped with too many things to do these days so time management is a critical skill. Travelling will force you to be better at this. Missing connections, having to buy additional airplane (or train) tickets or paying for a hotel you didn’t use due to missing a connection will teach you quickly to improve this skill. It’s a kind of aversion therapy! Even in less serious cases, just being forced to wait for several hours can be a good incentive to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

3. Communication skills

Whether it’s talking to your spouse or your colleagues at work, the ability to communicate effectively with others is fundamental to our happiness and success in life. Travelling makes communication more difficult so you’re obliged to improve this skill to get by. You become more sensitive to body language and voice tone. You have to listen more attentively when someone is talking to make sure you catch everything they say. You also have to learn to communicate with people from different backgrounds and cultures making us more sensitive to their differences and opening up our minds.

4. Organization and planning

Organizing and planning are important skills for achieving goals at work. They are also fundamental skills for travelling. At best they will ensure your trip goes smoothly and you get the most possible enjoyment out of it. At worst, a lack of these skills could endanger your safety and your health.

To illustrate this, after getting off a terrible overnight bus trip from Cusco to Puno in Peru I was standing on my own in a busy bus terminal with two big rucksacks and two smaller bags. Exhausted from a lack of sleep, I was soon woken up though by what happened next. Somebody tapped me on the shoulder and I turned round. Whoever tapped me looked away immediately. Fortunately, I’d read before my trip that this was a tactic used to distract someone in order for someone else to steal something. I turned around immediately and, sure enough, another man running off with my girlfriend’s bag that contained her camera. Luckily he wasn’t that far away already so I managed to chase him down and get it back. Remembering of course to quickly to get back to the other bags! However, I remember thinking at the time that it was lucky that I’d done some background reading before my trip.

5. Problem Solving & Adaptability

We currently live in a dynamic, fast-paced world. Technology is changing the world at an ever increasing speed and there has never been a greater need for the skill of adaptability. Again, travelling develops this skill. You miss a flight or a bus and suddenly all your plans have to change. I remember getting on a train in Amsterdam with my friends to go to The Hague. Unfortunately, we’d never heard of train splitting and we were apparently in the four carriages that were going to Utrecht! When you travel you constantly have to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. A skill that is very transferable to work and private life.

These are just a few examples of selected soft skills. I could also include many more but this gives you an idea. Travelling is not just a pleasurable past time, it is a like a gym for developing skills that will allow you to be happier and more successful in life. As Seneca said “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind”. So have fun travelling and keep developing those soft skills!

Primarily the article was prepared under the support of Anna la Germaine for Sky Club Magazine by Steven Trow.


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