7 ways long term travel makes you a better entrepreneur

It is easy to go through life these days without experiencing any risk or uncertainty. Our homes, social interactions, food and entertainment are all sterilized and standardized. Though this safety and comfort was created with the best intentions, it seems to hold back our long-term growth and our happiness.

Long term travel is  a means of discovering the world and discovering yourself. They remove the illusion of stability from our lives and force us to take risks and grow. Better still, long-term travel can also help you develop the skills to shed the safety bubble of society and control the direction of your life.

Many of the skills you learn through long-term travel are also key skills in entrepreneurship. Your experiences abroad can help prepare you to create interesting ideas and products, and grow a business.

How travel can help prepare you to create interesting ideas and products, and grow a business. Click To Tweet

But what is entrepreneurship?

Like travel, the definition of entrepreneurship is elusive and often very personal. But one of the best definitions I have heard is from Ian Shelledy of Sustainable Startups. In his article “What Exactly is Entrepreneurship?” he outlines the two main pillars of entrepreneurship and their purpose:

“In my opinion, entrepreneurship is defined as two, and only two, interrelated concepts.  Neither of which have anything to with business by the way.

  • Entrepreneurship is discovering what you love to do, and finding a way to do it.
  • Entrepreneurship is about identifying problems and needs, and taking it upon yourself to solve them.

What do we do with this powerful way of seeing and operating in the world?

My answer: Make the world better. Create real value. Solve real problems.”

With this definition in mind, let’s look at 7 ways long-term travel can teach us to be better entrepreneurs.

How to fail

224272_506512977061_3139_n

I can’t tell you how many times a mispronounced word or unconscious gesture led to an embarrassing situation. Even if you are fluent in the local language of where you are traveling, its easy to stumble. An everyday word in Spain may be some kind of slang in Argentina you weren’t aware of.

I once made the mistake in Thailand of casually using my foot to point at a bag of protein powder in a shop in Thailand. The store owner was about three times my weight in pure muscle and became enraged, but at the moment I did not realize why. It is offensive to point or touch things with your feet in Thailand. I left before he lost control of his temper. Though I felt guilty for the offense I caused, I took the lesson to heart and didn’t make that mistake again.

Though these things are inevitable, they don’t have to be bad. If you learn to quickly recognize when you have made a mistake you’ll be able to recover with a smile and have a laugh about it. You develop a humility to open your mind and recover when you slip up.

Entrepreneurship in many ways is a process of building a collection of failures and lessons from those failures. Success is a matter of coming back from each failure a little bit smarter than you were before.

Entrepreneurship is a process of building a collection of failures and lessons from those failures. Click To Tweet

People without experience in failure often resist the reality of the situation and make things worse. It can be difficult to admit you made a mistake even to yourself. Instead of working to solve the problem you hide it, making it worse and more difficult to control.

Like in travel, it’s inevitable that you will make fail, and the important thing is to recover and learn from them. The small mistakes you make on a daily basis will work your humble muscle and turn your embarrassing failures into valuable lessons.

Creativity

IMG_3198

Long term travel will expose your brain to new ideas, habits, sights, tastes, smells and sounds. This novelty stimulates the brain and causes your brain to light up to take it all in. In many ways, this puts you in a childlike state of mind. Everything is new, time slows down, and you experience things with a fresh set of eyes. Shaking things up and getting out of your well worn routine can stimulate the creative juices that may have eluded you while at home.

Creativity is a driving force for entrepreneurship. Businesses depend on finding creative solutions to problems. The different perspectives you take in while traveling can expand your horizons and open up new channels of thought. The broad base of experiences developed from long term travel serve as fertile ground for inspiration. The creativity and critical thinking stay with you long after you return from you adventures.

How to take action, even when lost

18780_559324941461_290361_n

Another inevitability of long term travel is sooner or later you will find yourself completely lost. Maybe you’ll arrive in a new place without any plan, maybe the plan you had won’t work out.

This is the moment where the adventure starts. Even if you aren’t sure where you will stay, who you will meet, or what you will do, you make a decision and make a move.

In business you may find yourself at a crossroads with a choice, or you will be faced with a challenge or setback that you don’t know how to fix. Travel teaches you that the important thing is to take action. Always waiting to create the perfect plan or for when “the time is right” will only leave you stagnate.

Communication

If you’re in a place where you don’t speak the language you’ll learn that verbal communication is only one small part of how we relate to each other. In a pinch you’ll find a way to express yourself in a way that can be understood. everyone knows how to do the “I need to go to the bathroom” dance.

Understanding the more subtle forms of communication is an essential skill of an entrepreneur. It can change how you hold yourself when meeting with people who are important to you. It can influence how you want your portray your brand and how you show yourself to the world. You’ll learn the value and the power of words and choose them carefully.

Self-reliance

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 10.39.03 AM

Though the process of making mistakes and getting lost, you’ll start to build self-reliance. You may find yourself unable to board your flight home, lose your wallet, out run of gas on a lonely highway. Giving into panic and frustration will only make the situation worse. The key to solving most of these problems is to step back from the uncertainty you are feeling, and take small steps toward solving the problem.

You’ll start to trust yourself that even when you don’t have all the answers. You’ll see yourself through the challenge, like you have done dozens of times before.

Entrepreneurship will call on your self-reliance time and time again. There will be many times where you feel alone or uncertain. You may be behind on a product launch, lose a business partner, or lose one of your main marketing channels overnight.

You will need to trust yourself to see it through, stay calm, and take little steps to fix it. The many misadventures you survive from long term travel can cultivate the trust you need get through the uncertain times in entrepreneurship.

The misadventures you survive traveling build the trust endure times in entrepreneurship. Click To Tweet

Empathy

61694_581216256091_4587145_n

Long term travel offers many lessons in empathy. Exposing yourself to new cultures, ideas and locations will expand your perspectives. You’ll find many of your impressions and expectations are completely wrong.

Almost anywhere you go you’ll find people that live happily with much less money or possessions than what you are accustomed to. Or perhaps people with much more money than yourself, but they spend it differently than you would. You’ll encounter people of different religions and cultures that you know little about, then realize how similar you are.

The understanding of the wide-array of lifestyles different people have around the world can open you up to yourself on a deeper level.

This broad awareness and understanding of the diversity in the world can help entrepreneurs put themselves in the shoes of their customers and find new ways to better serve them. Practicing empathy and will make you more sensitive and receptive to differences in opinion, priorities and aspirations in others. This will be invaluable as you work to better serve the people you work with and add a unique element to your brand that people connect with and love.

Patience

155314_591193716181_4524098_n

Patience is something we all have difficulty learning. This is something Americans in particular struggle with aboard.

We’re used to instant gratification, flawless customer service, and things starting on time. This sets up many challenges for the first time traveler. Long term travel is where our patience is really tested. It’s easy to overlook slow service on a week long vacation. But if you want to live and adapt to a new place for months or years at a time, you’ll need to alter your expectations.

You’ll face setbacks like a bus breaking down, missing a flight, or power outages. These situations will leave you with nothing to do but be patient.

Successful entrepreneurs are patient. They understand the value of the long game and are willing to sacrifice some instant gratification for bigger rewards down the road. The patience learned while traveling will serve you throughout your life. Instead of reacting to setbacks with anger, with patience will you’ll see opportunities. Instead of giving up on your project too early, you’ll stay the course and reap the rewards.

Conclusion

The lessons that long term travel teaches helps in many aspects of life outside of entrepreneurship as well.

If you are interested in learning more about the art of long-term travel I recommend reading Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. Whether you are a seasoned adventurer or are planning your first time abroad this book is a treasure trove of lessons and inspiration.

P.S. I’m writing a book too!

I’m writing a book for students filled with tactics and strategies to build a business before they graduate. I’ll show you the many “secret weapons” students have to hack their university to helm them build a successful business.

If you want to get updates on the progress, get early access to the book before it’s released and maybe even be featured in the book enter your email below.

Kyle Gray

Kyle Gray is the founder of Conversion Cake, where he helps small businesses and startups with content marketing strategy and sales funnels. He is also the author of “The College Entrepreneur” a guide that teaches students how to build an entrepreneurial skillset while in school and use their university’s resources to help them build something amazing.