4 Reasons Why Traveling Solo Makes You a Better Professional

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I had three goals for my recent solo trip to Washington DC: I wanted to photo-document my travels, explore a new place, and visit as many off-the-beaten-path parts of the city as possible. I decided to stay with a local through Couchsurfing, which matches you with a local resident to throw yourself into the city lifestyle.

1. You Become More Observant

I began to take notice of the environment I was in. Paying attention to detail does two things. One, it allows you to appreciate what you are working on, in my case photographing people. Secondly, it allows you to spot errors like when typing up a report or sending an email. You will be surprised by how much you can hone this one skill by spending a day taking in your surroundings rather than just walking through them with your eyes glued to your smartphone.

2. You learn how to set realistic expectations

Traveling to an unfamiliar place can be just as thrilling as starting a new job or working on a new project. Yet, our expectations usually differ from what reality offers us. The more I travel to different places, the better I become at managing my own expectations. Instead of making up in my mind that something has to be one way, I approach new places openly. This same tactic applies professionally. Instead of going into a new role or project with high expectations for how things will go, set the bar low and have an open mind. This will allow you to appreciate and understand things better rather than being upset that things did not go according to your mental plan.

3. You become a better and more rational decision maker

Learning how to react swiftly and make reasonable decisions was already my niche. However, I utilize these skills a lot when traveling. For example, I could have made the irrational decision to go back home because I was disappointed that my expectations were not met. Yet, I quickly and sensibly decided to go somewhere else in an effort not to ruin my own mood. When working at a startup, or a company that runs like a startup, quick and logical decision-making is essential. There will be times when an answer or solution is needed, and you will have little to no time to research information or consult with someone else for help. This is how leaders are born.

4. You become more creative

When traveling alone I get to adhere to my own game plan; yes it still does have bounds as I will have to alter it to fit the schedule of a museum or gallery that I may want to visit. The same can be said for a project manager. Although, you have to keep your client’s expectations in mind, you still get to be a bit more innovative because you are the one managing the timeline. On another note, I found myself tapping into my inner artist to take pictures of a building. Who does that? I do, because it was refreshing. Giving yourself time to be creative sharpens that skill as well. Creativity, in my opinion, is something most are just born with. Yet at the same time, I also think it can be learned. The more you practice something the better you get, right?

I travel alone as much as possible and for obvious reasons, I highly recommend it. If you travel for work, that does not suffice. If you are a student, money and time do not have to be deciding factors. Although, the goal of Couchsurfing is not just to have a free place to sleep, it is something worth considering if you are on a budget. There are plenty of budget travel options like Bolt Bus and Megabus. Skyscanner.com is a search engine for cheap flights and has a useful “Everywhere” feature which allows you to search for flights to anywhere in the world. With all of this information and Google at your dispense as well, you are more than ready to pack your bags and get traveling!

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Brittany is an artist and marketing student graduating from Rutgers Business School this fall. She enjoys Couchsurfing, eating like a local and longboarding. She’s passionate about music and has a career goal of becoming a concert/festival photographer. Follow her on anybritt.com to see the world from her lens!

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How to talk to strangers at professional events

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If you ever go to a professional conference, here’s what you see: 90 percent of the people attending have their phone at their ear or their fingertips, avoiding eye contact at all costs.

It’s weak, y’all.

The true gold of a conference is the opportunity to create or widen a professional network. These are folks you can learn from, bounce ideas off, meet for an occasional happy hour, and maybe even work with someday. Making connections is crucial to your career, your well-being, and your learning.

So, how do you do it? First, get over yourself. Not to be mean, but nobody cares—if someone doesn’t respond to your small talk, it doesn’t matter. This isn’t reality TV, no one is watching. Just go chat with someone else.

Second, recognize that most people want to connect, find a commonality, have a laugh. Reaching out is a little gift that you’re giving their day.

Here are some harmless ways to start a conversation:

Compliment something (if you mean it).

People often work to look their best at conferences, so if you truly like someone’s bag or shoes or dress, tell them. It’s a good way to get a conversation started. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.

Note: This can be a little awkward. Once, an acquaintance came up to me at a national HR conference and, I guess, finding nothing else nice to say, exclaimed: “You got waxed! Your eyebrows look great.”

Not a lot of opportunity for follow-up there.

Go with the context.

What seminar are they thinking of attending next? Did they go to the conference bookstore and have a look around? What did they think of the keynote?

Find commonalities.

She likes jewelry made from bottle caps; you make jewelry from can tabs. See? You have lots to discuss.

Go meta—if you must.

For example: “I know I’d like to meet some people here, but it feels awkward to meet strangers. How have you typically networked at things like this?”

Basically, just relax, make eye contact, and listen. Look for an opening, something that makes the other person’s eyes light up a little, and ask more about that.

BFFs now? Great! But before you end the conversation, let them know you’d like to get in touch again, and give them your card or tell them where they can find you online. If they don’t give you one back, don’t worry—they may not have any available just now.

Make a note of their name in case they get in contact. If you get a card or contact info, follow up two weeks to a month later with a brief note about something relevant to your conversation and see where things go from there. Keep it light.

If you’re getting a lot of people looking around for an escape when you introduce yourself, you might be falling into one of the insecurity traps associated with meeting strangers. Here are a few traps to watch out for.

Don’t brag. “I’m the youngest VP of the largest company in Florida. Here’s my business card.”
Don’t humble-brag. “You have two kids? And no help? I don’t know how I could raise my three without my nannies.”
Don’t name-drop. “Oh really? You just started as an HR clerk at Walmart? Then you must know Prithi W. She’s the VP of Supply Chain for Walmart Corporate. I think she reports directly to Bill Simon, Walmart’s CEO. We’re great friends.”
Don’t complain. “Yeah, these conferences are OK, but the food is terrible. I wish we could get better sandwiches, after all, we’ll never eat again and we couldn’t possibly bring our own or go off campus. Let’s whine about the chips together.”

You look insecure and weak when you show that you feel you must establish dominance through status, people you know, or criticism something you didn’t create. You may think you’re playing it off, but you’re not. Nobody is impressed, and you just made them either judge themselves for not being such a rock star, or judge you for showing your insecure side.

You want both parties to walk away from the conversation feeling good. The best conversationalists are secure enough to make the conversation mostly about the other person, and are gracious and supportive.

Franny Oxford is the vice president of HR for Leedo Cabinetry. She was named one of the Top 100 HR and Recruiting Industry Pros to Follow on Twitter (@Frannyo) and her blog Do The Workwas named one of the Top 25 HR Practioner Blogs of 2011. Franny works and lives in Houston with her wife and 4-year-old daughter. She’s a terrible but enthusiastic gardener and a beginning runner. This story first appeared on PR Daily in August 2011.

(Image via)

Ragan.com

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