Can you justify going travelling as “professional development”? I did (but I didn’t know it at the time)

by Mar 10, 2017

In early 2007 I stuffed my backpack in Minneapolis, Minnesota and left on a working holiday visa. I had just spent a year working and saving every penny to pay off my student loans, and I thought to myself: “It’s ok that you only have $800 USD – you will find a job as soon as you get there!

Living in a hostel, I found a café job, only to have it fall through at the last minute because my tax file number hadn’t arrived yet. I was devastated, but this was the best thing that could’ve happened as it opened up a whole new world to me – through chatting with another experienced working holiday maker I decided to go to a temp agency. Within 3 business days I had been placed in a role at the Star newspaper to cover three weeks of sick leave, after that I went on to the Irish Development Authority and the Irish Aviation Authority.

The benefits

I never imagined that going travelling would count toward my professional development – but it did! I travelled for 6 years, all the while temping in different offices, and it benefitted me professionally in the following ways:

  • I was able to flirt with different types of industry, getting a feel for their culture and work life balance;
  • I became familiar with what environments suited me best;
  • I developed a true ability to “hit the ground running” after being thrown into random workplaces and duties;
  • I developed admin and soft skills;
  • I worked under a variety of styles of supervision with varying levels of instruction: some people wanted things done in specific ways and others were happy to afford me the autonomy to make decisions and proceed in my own style – helping me to understand what levels of autonomy I was looking for in a career and how important this was to me;
  • I learned many lessons in cultural competence, working in 4 different countries with people from all over the world – in today’s global market this is important stuff!
  • I got a fabulous global resume;
  • When I landed at the right place for me (UTS), I knew it immediately!

The pitfalls

Going on a working holiday (or 4) can help you to understand yourself in a new way – shedding light on who you are, what you want and what you are capable of. But there may be a couple of pitfalls:

  • If your CV reflects a lot of roles, it may signal to employers that you aren’t employable long term – so make it clear in your CV that they were roles while on a working holiday that ended due to visa regulations, and that you are looking for the perfect fit and want to stay a while once you find it!
  • You should examine the industry you want to work in and decide if going away will benefit you more than taking a grad position might – would it be better to go away after a couple years of the grad position, if there might be an opportunity for you with that company overseas in the future?
  • Don’t expect that arriving in a new country with no friends or family will be easy – take it one day at a time, and approach new people in-person or use a website to meet people (it gets easier, I promise!).
  • Stay in a hostel – even if you can afford not to – to meet other working holiday makers and backpackers. Sharing a room is worth the instant friends, or you can still socialise in the kitchen if you opt for a private room.


Study first

Get your undergrad first. Café and bar work definitely provide valuable customer service and communication skills, however, if you get your degree first you’ll be making connections in relevant industry and making more cash than you would in a bar or café (this statement may not reflect the reality if you are living in a tipping economy, however).

Sure, you may be doing admin – which may not be what you want to do in the long run – but you’ll be learning your industry from the ground up – which can only help your career in the long-term!

Take note that in some countries, the only way to get a working holiday visa is to have recently graduated from tertiary study – start planning and looking into your visa options in your last year of uni.

Do temp work

Go to a temp agency. Agencies can find you short-term roles relevant to your degree and/or interests – or just find you a quick role so you can make some cash to get on to the next place!

Contact the temp agency early, or even before you arrive – some countries require you to be in paid employment before you can get a local bank account or tax file number, so the agency may help you with all the logistical stuff to get you working and paid.

You still need to dress for success

Bring a couple of professional outfits made from lightweight wrinkle resistant material so you can wash and wear while travelling without weighing down your backpack. 2-4 outfits should be plenty if you are only working a few days or weeks at the same place, and you can always buy weather appropriate clothes wherever you wind up – don’t over-pack! Ideally these will be clothes you would actually wear in real life to reduce weight.

Live a little!

Go away, be young, discover! You have plenty of time to work in your chosen industry, so if this is something you want to do, do it while you can. You never know who you might meet or where you might end up…


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash


By Sarah Graham

By Sarah Graham

Community Coordinator

Sarah Graham is the Community Coordinator at UTS Careers, and loves how her role with the Peer Network allows her to cry-laugh while swapping hilarious travel stories with people from all over the world.