How to Represent Travel on Your Resume

By Nomadic Matt | Published October 3rd, 2011

work street signThis is a guest post by Sherry Ott.

You’ve just finished your life-changing travels and now you are back home and considering how you are going to find work again. Whether you’re travels were a career break, gap year, or sabbatical you will need to figure out how you account for the time and experiences on your resume. I often work with travelers who are re-entering the workforce and are faced with the following questions when trying to update their resume.

Normally you need to account in some way for the time spent away from work. If employers see a gap in your resume that isn’t explained, you may not make it through the first cut of resumes.

Where should it go on my resume?
It depends. Do you think the experiences you had traveling apply to you finding a new job in your field?  If so, then place it in the main part of your resume. If you don’t feel like it applies, then it probably belongs in a section reserved for ‘Additional Information’ or ‘Hobbies’.

Kristin Zibell of Takeyourbigtrip.com is a frequent career breaker and she keeps her resume flexible saying, “I found the recruiters and hiring managers were looking for the professional story in my resume. Every statement on my resume needed to support this story and show situation, action, and results.  If my travels and experiences had a direct relationship to the position, like my blogging or volunteering abroad, then I listed it like a position – “Travel Blogger” or “English Teacher.” Most of the time, I found that travel was an interesting fact about me and explained the time gaps, but not directly related to the positions. In this case, I placed my travel experiences at the bottom in an ‘Additional Activities’ section that colored who I was and what I had done. “

Kristin’s resume highlights her travels as international experience:

  • Ten months of travel to India, Nepal, Southeast Asia, Middle East, and Europe from October 2008 to May 2010.
  • Activities included volunteer work at Mother Teresa Mission Charities in Kolkata with disabled women and teaching English to street children in Jaipur.
  • Designed and authored three travel blogs during multi-month these solo trips. Currently editor of Takeyourbigtrip.com.

What type of information should I share about my travels?
It’s probably NOT a good idea to put that you were a beach bum for 12 months, or that you traveled the full moon party circuit. Instead, think about what you did on your travels that had to do with education, skill building, volunteering, and business skills and highlight them in a professional manner. But there are some other skills you might want to consider:

Volunteering
One should always represent any volunteering done while traveling on their resume. For me it demonstrated my commitment to education, giving back to other cultures, and global experience. You should always include where your volunteering took place, what your responsibilities were, and if there was any end result. The end results could be tangible things such as building a house, cleaning up after a natural disaster, or restoring wetlands.

  • Extensive international travel background, comfortable working with and in different cultures.
  • Volunteered with Cross Cultural Solutions in New Delhi, India teaching computers, conversational English, and interview skills in order to assist young adults enter the workforce.

If not covered somewhere else in your resume, also consider including any resume building intangible results such as improved leadership skills, proven ability to take initiative, as well as listening and communication skills. Finally, if your volunteering was for an extended period of time such as 6 months to a year, then consider putting this experience in your work or education history.

work street signWorking
I have found that more and more people are working while they travel; I lived and worked in Vietnam for a year. Work that is relevant to your field is important to highlight. Did you do any freelance work, consulting, working at a hostel, or teaching ESL?  If so, this can belong in your work history.

I highlighted my various work experiences as international work experience:

ESL Intructor: ILA Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City

  • Teaching adults English as a Second Language (ESL).

Consultant:  CAMENAE, Singapore

  • Delivered a usability analysis of the e-commerce site and led subsequent redesign.
  • Conducted tests and created a regression test plan.
  • Consult with owners on their business vision and ensure that it can be supported on the site.  Offer guidance on short and long term business plans and their technical implementation.

Blogging
Did you blog, write for publications, or do photography; all of these things illustrate that you took your travels seriously. Think about the new skills you learned when maintaining your blog. Did you increase your knowledge about Search Engine Optimization, marketing/sales of affiliate programs, coding, and social media tools?

Laura Keller did a career break with her husband Ryan and blogged about it at www.roundwego.com . She represented her blogging in the following way:

Digital Entrepreneur, Travel Blogger & World Explorer

  • Expanded economic and cultural views while exploring 20 countries in 14 months of extensive travel across six continents
  • Created, launched and hosted the travel website RoundWedGo.com, attracting 10,000 unique monthly visitors
  • Governed online traffic, social media and SEO to create advertising and sponsorship revenue for RoundWeGo.com
  • Contributed travel articles to leading lifestyle and travel Web sites and blogs

Talking about the soft skills
Even if all you did was lounge around a beach all day and drink beer, you picked up some business skills while traveling around the world.  It’s hard to think about the mundane day-to-day experiences as skill building, but they are. There are a lot of business skills you can learn without actually having gone to business school. In fact, these “business skills” are simply important life skills that can give you an edge:

  • Negotiation skills – All that time spent in markets haggling over the cost of a magnet was beneficial.  You were exposed to and employed various negotiation tactics that can be highlighted. Businesses want people who are sharp negotiators and can make deals not people who are push overs.
  • Budgeting and Planning – You most likely had to plan and save for your career break.  In addition, you continue to monitor your budget and assess any financial risks.
  • Adaptability – When you travel, things go wrong, plans change, there are mudslides that you can’t predict.  As a traveler you are forced to change plans constantly.  You handle the issues that are hurdled your way quickly after a few months on the road. In the ever changing world of business, the ability to adapt is important.
  • Communication  – When trying to converse in foreign cultures every verbal and non-verbal communication is necessary to overcome language and cultural barriers. This skill is helps you deal with people which is an important aspect of any job. Workers with good communication skills are the ones who rise fast.

All of these new skills belong on your resume. And when you are asked about them in an interview, you’ll be able to share an amazing story about “that time in Vietnam…” when a skill came in handy and how it can help you in your job. As Kristin Zibell says “In an interview, I used travel stories to illustrate soft skills like dealing with adversity or ambiguity. I shared my travel experience as a part of my professional story. This technique made me a more memorable and interesting candidate.”

Bottom Line
Use your travel to make you stand out. Keep in mind that many of these experiences, if described in a professional manner, will make you stand out from other candidates.

Don’t hide your travel when searching for a job; embrace it!

Sherry Ott runs the site Ottsworld and helps others take career breaks at the website, Backpack to Briefcase.

For more on working overseas, check out these articles:
How to Volunteer Overseas
How to Work and WWOOF Overseas

comments 26 Comments

Well timed post, Matt.

This just reminds me that I need to change some job descriptions on my resume. You know, “child wrangler” can now be written as “ESL Instructor.”

Thanks for the tips!

Pol

Good tips, really useful and original!

If you worked somewhere you can always make it a couple of months longer in your CV ;)

Wonderful post, and I’m thrilled to be working with both Sherry and Kristin on Meet Plan Go’s San Francisco event. I hope people can join us there or at one of the other 16 MPG events taking place Oct. 18! I have embraced long-term travel in my kaleidoscopic career resume and think it’s a benefit for all the reasons Sherry mention.
(Heads up: typo in second line — you’re should be your :-))

Great advice, Sherry. The way I look at it is that if an employer can’t see the value in taking a break to learn new things or become a digital entrepreneur, then it’s not an employer that I would want to work for anyway.

Great explanations anad descriptions for resumes!

Nuray Bartoschek

Good tips! Thank you for sharing :)

Learning a language while on the road is also a phenomenal thing to put on a résumé.

Although this was a long time ago while I was traveling around Turkey and Iraq I took a Kurdish class and within four weeks I was able to communicate in basic conversational Kurdish throughout my trip. I put that on my résumé and it has helped me find work. Not because the jobs I applied for required Kurdish or any other Indo-Iranian language but it did strike up some interesting conversations and showed my bosses that if I were able to learn a language with little resources available then I would be able to handle whatever task was thrown at me. It also didn’t hurt that I speak fluent Spanish :)

More mainstream languages like Spanish or Portuguese is an important skill to employers especially in North America. Many times they pay more an hour for bilingual employees.

I think the main way to make travel look good on your resume is to do something besides sightseeing on your trip. Like others mentioned, some nice suggestions are learning a language, working, volunteering, or doing some creative projects. Another important thing is to document your trip in a blog, photos, etc. so that you have a “show-and-tell” item where the employer can see what you did.

Has anyone ever faced an employer who viewed your travels as a negative? Like if they asked whether you would be a stable employee, not just take off again, etc.? How did you handle it?

Not just good advice on resume building here but also on how to have a good time travelling. I realised after a couple of years of travel that the nights drinking and days sight seeing were much to my dismay quite forgettable.

However the experiences dealing with other people, working on personal skills (be it a cooking/martial art/language class, or whatever) was not only much more fulfilling at the time, but more memorable after and it looks good on a resume.

I also found that the time can be dragged to look better on a resume than reality. I’ve taught about 1 private English lesson every 2 weeks here in Japan on average over the past 4 months, but that’s simply going to be ’4 months private English lessons’ on the resume, which looks quite busy and progressive even if the reality is less than one working week in total over that time period.

good post i could put these tips to good use

Great tips. I will be stealing your “governed online traffic” line. Very professional sounding!

These tips really are great; I wouldn’t have thought about that. For entry level professionals that did study abroad trips, would you recommend putting this on a resume as well?

Well done Matt

Truly very good tips, really useful and informative to everyone

Best regards,

Rob

This list will come in handy.. been on the road for four years now and might be heading home… I like the soft skills section :) Have to add those for sure!

Liv

I agree with Kevin that if you can say you learned a language while travelling / abroad then that is something to be proud of!

I think some employers appreciate experience of other countries and cultures – it all depends how you sell yourself really.

This was a great post! I got the job I have now from my travel blog. I now work in marketing and write a blog for my company! I would give anyone the same advice.

Great, great article. I’ve spent a lot of time teaching English in Japan and France, and I’ve cherished my experiences abroad. But I’m not sure if some employers consider my time abroad to be a negative because I’ve had trouble getting work, and I think it might be my work experience has mostly been teaching English abroad.

Thank you for this.

I am thinking of quitting my job in 2013 to travel Africa and was having reservations about explaining to the next employer about this career break. Guess there is a way to make it work for me!

This is a really great post. I have often thought about the same thing as the commentor above me. Trying to figure out what to do with a resume when you take so much time off is difficult but these suggestions are really interesting to consider.

As I’m leaving one career behind and about to embark on a year of travel, I was thinking about this very same question the other day. As timing is often everything, I found this post while I was perusing Nomadic Matt’s travel website. I liked how Sherry spoke about describing both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills in an update of a resumé.

Thanks for your post, Sherry, and thanks for hosting, Matt!

Really thoughtful piece Matt – and on a topic that I’m sure all of us have asked ourselves at one point or another.

Dave B

It’s important to be able to give a potential employer a sense that you are not going to go off travelling again in a years time.

Create a reason for a settled life ie if asked maybe say you want to start a family.

Very timely posting! I’m finishing a one-year break and starting my job search.

Thank youuuu!! Really useful!! :)

Shannon

These ideas are very helpful. I’ve just returned from a 14-month stint before abroad.

I lived in Australia for a year and just worked in hospitality – a restaurant on the beach. I’m having trouble finding ways to incorporate this as being super productive.

This post was so helpful, Matt! I’m applying to grad schools now and was unsure how to include my blog on my CV. Thanks!

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