Travel Narrative

An Open Letter to Penelope Trunk: Travel May Be Terrible For Your Career. However…

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I never felt the need to spew my thoughts onto the interwebs in a long-form open-letter-style post. Until today. Because today I read start-up-queen, career coach, and farmer’s wife Penelope Trunk‘s recent post, Travel is Terrible for Your Career. And now here I sit, my ear buds in with Bridge over Troubled Water (the album) streaming on Spotify, writing my very first Open Letter To A Person I Don’t Know.

Is this the moment I became an internet troll? It just may be. But that’s not going to stop me from taking this post point-by-point and, well, a little bit ripping it apart.

A disclaimer before I begin: Penelope Trunk is far more successful than I am. If that’s what matters to you–being successful–then you should absolutely listen to her. And you should definitely not listen to me. But if being happy is more important than being successful, and if travel makes you happy: please travel. Or at the very least, read on.

Point One: Travel is an announcement that you didn’t know what to do with yourself.

Not true. Many people know what they want to do. They want to travel.

Point Two: You don’t have time to travel.

I assume that the unwritten second half of that sentence reads ‘because you need to be working your ass off to get to the top’. I counter with the question: the top of what, exactly?

Trunk’s actual point is that “succeeding in your career by 27 will make you happy, but travel will not.” Ok. So let’s do some supposing.

Let’s suppose that you are successful by 27. Super-duper freaking successful. And then your magazine folds. Or your startup crashes. Or someone invents a new technology that renders your entire career path totally invalid. Then what? How adaptable are you? Do you know what helps increase adaptability? Travel.

Now let’s suppose that you are over age 27 and have not yet found what you consider to be ‘success’. Good news–you’re already screwed, so you get to travel! Thanks, Ms. Trunk. That’s a great point. I’m so glad you made it.

Personally, I didn’t start traveling in earnest until age thirty. Because it’s never too late to start. But it’s also never to early. You have one life. Live it.

Point Four: Travel Wastes Your Time

So does standing in line at Starbucks.

(And yes, I realize I’m going out of order here on these points. I have my reasons.)

The crux of Ms. Trunk’s argument here is that with the internet, the world is smaller and thus it is less important to actually, you know, move around in it. Her point is made by citing a story about her son not caring that his video game buddy is from Pakistan. To this I say: maybe he’d care more if he had more of a global perspective. Do you know what helps with that, particularly with children? Travel.

Point Three: Job-related travel is not sustainable. 

I’m going to spend most of my time on this point (and have saved it for last) for one very good reason: Ms. Trunk’s argument here speaks directly to my very recent experience. So I feel fully qualified to pontificate upon this at great length. Settle in.

Yes. Work related travel is unsustainable. This is true for anyone, even those who really, really love to travel (like me). See also: my February 2015 meltdown at CLT, when I was trying to get from Miami to Chicago after a high-stress ten-hour work day and before a 7am start the following morning. In a snow storm (I made it).

And yes, you are really not making that much money because you are spending 40+ hours per week in the air, and that’s just your commute. Not to mention TSA lines and rental car shuttles and trying to find food 40 miles outside of Mobile, Alabama at 9pm on a Sunday (good luck with that).

And yes, it is then difficult to transition into another role. Full disclosure: eight months into a post-consulting job search, I’m still non-employed, in not-a-small-part because I’ve been trying to find something that will pay me as much and afford me as many opportunities (spoiler alert: that job does not exist.) And as a consultant, when work dries up, you can’t collect unemployment. So you get really, cripplingly broke. And depressed. So Ms. Trunk–you are absolutely, one-hundred-percent correct on this point.

However.

Travel, both for work and for leisure (but especially for work), has made me who I am. It has made me capable, and confident, and compassionate. It has made me understand the world–and, as importantly, the vast differences within my own country–in a way that nothing else could have. Most definitely not ‘just the internet’. Travel has helped me overcome so many fears, anxieties, and hangups. I’ve had so many experiences that can not ever be taken away. I’ve made life-long friendships, I’ve learned to love cities and towns I may never see again, and I’ve driven really nice rental cars really, really fast. And travel, both with and (especially) apart from my husband, has made our relationship stronger.

If you can honestly say all of that about spending 50+ hours per week in an office, then please tell me where that office is. I’d like to submit my resume.

While I appreciate that this is one person’s world view, it is important to note that it is just that–ONE person’s world view. The world is filled with so many different viewpoints. Perhaps if Ms. Trunk had traveled more, she’d realize that.

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