When I finished high school, I decided I didn’t have enough maturity of character to continue studying. So I packed my bags and set out to travel the world instead.
It’s a familiar story for many in generation Y, and it’s also something our parents and grandparents can’t make sense of. I remember countless conversations with my parents, trying to convince them why travelling the world was a more enriching short-term plan than studying, working and buying a house. “I need to go somewhere and find myself” my naive 18 year-old self said. “Then I’ll come back and know what I want to do”.
Luckily the gambit worked. In five years since I’ve finished school, I’ve been on six overseas trips (for both leisure and career) to 31 countries. Somewhere in the process, I became equipped to study my Bachelor degree, completed two internships, and am taking small steps to build my career in my new-found love – the public relations field.
I think there is a stigma about travelling young: that it is a time for idleness – for first-world kids to party relentlessly and return hungover with an empty wallet and no sense of anything. But I’d like to challenge that stigma and say that travelling young may be the best thing you can do as a professional. Especially in PR, where high-pressure situations and storytelling thrive. Here are some things I learnt travelling that have helped me in the PR field:
1. English is a valuable first language
On my second trip to Malaysia, I was on a work placement at Weber Shandwick. Expecting to be out of my depth working in Malaysia with Malaysian-speaking staff, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the office spoke native English all the time. Confused, I asked my supervisor why they didn’t speak Malay. “English is the language of business here in Malaysia”. She was right. But the dominance of English as a business language reaches beyond Asia; according to Forbes it is the standard for worldwide business. Now think about how lucky you are, as a communication and PR professional, to speak English natively. Wow.
2. PR is different everywhere
Travelling through the Asia Pacific showed me the other side of what media can be. Sure many other countries still have their social media and online news, but you’d be surprised how different it can be! Many countries in the world have government-owned newspapers, propaganda, online censorship, and journalists doing jail-time. In many countries, the printing press and the television are still the dominant broadcasting medium. And because the journalism environment is different, so too is the PR environment.
3. When bad things happen, stay calm!
On day 1 of my first trip to Europe, I got off the plane in Madrid and eagerly went to withdraw money. The ATM declined over and over, so I tried my other card. Hmm nope. It was then I realised that both my cards expired THAT DAY. To my despair, I was in a foreign country with no cash, no way of getting cash, and 110 days of travel remaining. Can you imagine how anxious I felt?
On another occasion in the USA, I was in L.A – two days from flying home to Melbourne. Suddenly my card declined again. This time it hadn’t expired. I was simply out of money. I used my last $35 dollars on a taxi to the airport, where I was forced to miserably wander homeless for two days. I didn’t even have money for food.
These experiences, along with many others, taught me to remain calm in the face of danger, and look for solutions rather than focus on problems. I cannot tell you how this has prepared me for working in the real world. So go out now and get yourself into trouble!
4. Read and read often
I love reading and travelling. To me, they go together like chips and gravy. If you’re a PR person, chances are you love a good novel, biography or poem. We’re story people after all. And what better time is there to read Dracula in Transylvania, Dickens in London, or The Great Gatsby in New York? I did all three, and they were very memorable. Reading is also a very important aspect of the profession, and I encourage you to familiarise yourself with literature and get into the habit of reading.
5. Travelling creates stories
This is what we live for, isn’t it? The age of working till we retire and die is gone, so why not travel often and make the most out of life! A career in PR will be rewarding and meaningful, but in a personal sense, life is much more vast and expansive. When you travel, you meet people, form connections, witness history as it happens, and take part in a story of global proportions. You don’t have long, so go out and explore!