How backpacking can help your career

By Eugene Tan

Just because you're not in the office doesn't mean you can't acquire skills for your career.

Have you ever been confused by people telling you that it is significantly useful to list 'traveling' down in your CV under the 'hobbies' section? I always found this bizarre, naturally, that is, until I went on my first lengthy solo backpacking trip two years ago.


It was my month-long December holiday in the first year of university, and I bought on a whim, one week before the start of my adventure, a 22-day Interrail pass, which allows you to take as many train rides as possible across Europe. With just a school-bag, 2 sets of clothes, and a tort bag, I set off into the unknown.


Resilience


That backpacking odyssey was something I have never done before. My daily routine consisted of walking around the city for 9 hours straight, typically from 8 in the morning to 5 in the evening; then spending the next 3 hours in the train station, and then hopping on to a night train in which I would try to get some sleep before (hopefully) waking up in a new city the next morning. On top of the physical exhaustion because of my state of chronic insomnia, and my gruelling walking routines, I suffered from a lengthy bout of depression which lasted throughout the entire length of the latter half of my journey (I attribute this to poor nutrition intake throughout my trip). The wisdom, that no gain is made without pain, has never felt truer to me until this. Since then, I have never felt stressed out by anything that is supposedly stress-inducing – be it final exams or internship applications. The ability to overcome stress will allow you to do work better and more efficiently, and thus is something that any potential boss of yours will appreciate.


Adaptability


Being on the rail across many different countries for so long developed in me a natural ability to accept, and then adapt to, whatever my environment has given me. Without consistent access to GPS, despite having my phone with me, I had to navigate my way using maps and the help of locals. For people like me that are overly-reliant on Google Maps, this was treacherously difficult to say the least. However, it was the rough nights on the night trains which had the most impact on me, with regards to the increase of my adaptability. Becoming more adaptable implies an increase your threshold for discomfort. Before my backpacking trip, I was never able to stand running for more than 3km in one time, not due to any kind of physical exhaustion, but my inability to endure boredom. Guess what? 2 days after the end of my back-packing trip, I did my first 10km treadmill run. In a job market that is increasingly fast-paced and dynamic, having a strong ability to adapt will no doubt take one far.


Vulnerability


Crisscrossing an entire continent without rest for 22 days, alone, armed with only my schoolbag and tort bag, I felt completely vulnerable to whatever negative forces or happenings there may be. A single mishap would most definitely bring very serious consequences, and there were many opportunities for things to go wrong. The worst moments of vulnerability were my night-train rides through Italy, which is supposedly notorious for night-time train robberies. In fact, on my night-train journey from Vienna to Venice, the two men who I shared the seating compartment with had their phones and wallets robbed by the time we reached our destination. My decision to stick my valuables inside my underpants was most probably what saved me! Some scars never go away, and this chronic sense of vulnerability is one such, to good effect. It has embedded in me a sense that one's place in life is never stable, and that the only way forward is to work as hard as possible in improving yourself, to set yourself above life's chaos to the best that you can. This attitude of the hustle would be a benefit in the corporate world, where the opportunist is king.

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