Not too long ago, taking a gap year or two was considered a luxury for trust-fund children — or career suicide. Fortunately, the tide has turned in favor of those who wish to take some time off school or work to explore the globe.
In an increasingly globalized world, businesses need experienced candidates who understand other cultures, speak another language or are willing to relocate — all of which are qualities you’ve acquired on your travels. In fact, if executed correctly, including travel on your résumé can even give you a professional boost.
If you’ve just finished the trip of a lifetime and are now faced with job applications or you’re weighing the pros and cons of skipping that internship and taking some time to explore the world, then you’ve come to the right place. This guide walks you through the process of how to make travel look good on your résumé, how to make your travel experiences relevant to employers and stand out from the crowd.
Including Travel on Your Résumé: 101
So how do you turn that time abroad into a tangible experience to showcase on a résumé? First of all, the vast majority of your travels aren’t really “experience,” rather soft skills you picked up on the road: people skills, leadership lessons, confidence and independence.
While you might be tempted to include these things in your list of skills, don’t. You’ll sound cheesy and as though you’re just putting in useless filler. Instead, here are six tips to consider for including travel on your résumé.
- Be selective about what you add to your résumé — First of all, not all travel is created equal. Spending a month sunbathing in the Algarve, attending a full moon party on a beach in Phuket or photographing old world churches on your summer Euro trip won’t convince an employer that your travel is relevant experience.
- Call time spent abroad what it is — People often make the mistake of putting travel under the “Work Experience” section of their résumés. Since it’s not work, it’s not work experience. That said, don’t leave a gap in your résumé either. Instead, create a separate section called other experience and title it “Gap Year,” “Other Experiences” or “International Experiences.”
- Give yourself credit for your achievements — Did you run a travel blog while overseas, build a large following on Instagram or establish a photography portfolio? Chances are you picked up some content creation, SEO or social media marketing skills along the way that can be applicable to your résumé.
- Don’t write an autobiography — More often than not, recounting the details of your travel experience story doesn’t translate well as bullet points on a one-page résumé. If you’re struggling to cut down the details of your experience into impactful points, it might be better to save them for your cover letter. Alternatively, use this to your advantage during an interview by providing a clear anecdote that illustrates how you developed a relevant skill on the road.
- Know your audience — Only put travel on your résumé if it helps explain an extended work gap, is relevant to the job or unique. If all you did was party during your summer abroad, then it’s likely going to hurt you. However, if you volunteered at an ethical wildlife sanctuary in South Africa, then include it. If this job requires extended travel, definitely put it here.
- Write a great cover letter — This is an opportunity to address the situation of your recent return from a gap year and your intention of pursuing a professional role. Incorporating your travel experience in a cover letter can help you flesh out some of those points on your résumé.
Advice From the Experts
Just like anything, there are best practices for including travel on your resume. But if you’re in the planning stages of taking a year or two to go explore the globe, there’s some additional advice that you might want to consider.
We asked experts in HR, career recruitment and marketing to weigh in on their advice for what people should consider when planning a gap year.
Be Willing to Take a Work Opportunity that Might be a Step Back
If you don’t have a lot of work experience and take a while off to travel, be willing to take an opportunity that might be a slight step back compared to where you left off. Travel absolutely enriches you as a person and a professional, but except in rare cases, it won’t usually result in leapfrogging you in your career.
— Alexandria, recruitment manager and blog editor for A Maiden Voyager
Learn to Embrace the Culture of Foreign Countries
Being familiar with foreign cultures can be seen as an advantage. The reason is simple – you need to be familiar with and embrace the culture of the foreign country to be able to attract new clients and raise brand awareness.
— Lilia Stoyanov, CEO, Transformify – HR Software & Freelance Platform
Ensure That Your Travel is Meaningful
While traveling is a great way to experience new cultures, it can be especially helpful in your career if you can accomplish a task or project which may fit nicely into your resume. It’s all about your willingness and ability to do something different and something that will stand out that will help you on your job search.
—Robert Moses, founder of The Corporate Con/noisseur
Be Prepared to Talk About How You Afforded to Travel the World
Receiving a resume from a recent graduate detailing a gap year is not unusual. Where you went and what you did does not impress me. What will impress me is if you actually detail how you could afford to travel the world. If you used savings or your parents paid, fair enough there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you worked three jobs, flipped burgers and really worked every hour possible to fund your gap year…then, I will want to meet you.
—Simon Royston, Founder and Managing Director of The Recruitment Lab
People who work and support themselves overseas tend to be inquisitive, flexible and adaptive — valuable skills in today’s workplace. From a recruitment standpoint, you are interested in that person who can move quickly and is nimble and has an inquiring mind.
—Rosalind Clay Carter, Senior VP for Human Resources at A&E Television Networks
Translate Your Experience With Cultural Differences
When I’m looking at job applicants, I love when I see people have spent time traveling. Our work is global now, and understanding that not everywhere is just like the place you grew up is incredibly valuable once someone gets into the workplace.
—Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva
How to Articulate Your Experience
Have you ever heard the saying, “it’s not about what you say, but how you say it”? This holds true when it comes to including travel on a résumé or, better yet, using it as an example during an interview question — e.g. it’s all about wording the experience correctly.
To do so, pick tangible skills you learned while abroad and translate those into work language.
Did you master the art of haggling over the price of souvenirs in a Turkish Bazaar or learn to barter with tuk tuk drivers in Indonesia over the price of your ride? Negotiation skills.
Did you plan, finance and organize an extended trip through multiple countries using different currencies? Budgeting, planning and organization.
How about getting stuck at the airport in Paris because your flight was overbooked and you weren’t able to board the plane? Adaptability.
Maybe your bag and passport were stolen and you had to hunt down your country’s nearest embassy to report the incident? Self-reliance and independence.
Types of Gap Years and Sample Résumé Selections
No matter how you choose to travel, you can always find a way to extract the skills you learned overseas and make them relevant for potential employers. Typically, gap year travel is portrayed in one of three ways on your résumé:
Where you include abroad experience on your résumé is just as important as what you include. If your travel experiences are directly related to the job you’re applying for or they’re part of your education (e.g. a study abroad semester), by all means, include them in the main body of your résumé.
Otherwise, it’s best to create a separate section titled “Other Experience.”
If you took a year or more to simply travel, backpack or experience life on the road, this section is for you.
Now, including details about general travel on your résumé won’t necessarily land you a job, but it’s a way to help set you apart from other candidates. If a competing candidate has similar qualifications, and an HR manager sees you’re adventurous, independent and interesting, you’re more likely to get the interview.
Gap year travel speaks to your character and serves as an indicator to an employer that you’re mature, independent and have worldly experience.
Where to include it on your résumé: “Other Experience, “International Experience” or “Gap Year”
Volunteer experience in your home country or overseas can go a long way on your résumé. As more companies place value on social responsibility, this is a valuable detail that can make you stand apart from similar applicants.
Volunteer experience can be worded a couple of different ways:
- You can simply write “volunteer” as your title, followed by the name of the volunteer organization.
- Create a title that summarizes what your volunteer role encompassed. Perhaps a development officer, head of fundraising or project manager describes the role.
If you’re unsure about the title or feel strange about doing this, it’s always a good idea to ask the supervisor you worked with about the best way to word it.
Where to include it on your résumé: “Other Experience” or “Volunteer Experience”
Teaching English as a second language (ESL), is not only a great way to live and make some money while traveling overseas, but it can also be valuable work experience for your résumé.
If you’re applying for a job in education, this is a natural fit under your “Work Experience” section, but if you’re applying to something completely unrelated to teaching, it can be more intimidating to include this on your résumé. Fear not — the same rules apply here as they do for other travel experiences. Try articulating this in a way that’s relevant to the role you’re applying to.
Did you collaborate with a local teacher? Teamwork and collaboration. Did you offer office time and one-on-one instruction for a student that was struggling? Training and communication.
Where to include it on your résumé: “Work Experience” (if relevant to the role) or “Other Experience”
Study Abroad Programs
Not all types of résumés need to include your study abroad experience. If you’re applying for a higher-level position, it’s best to just include your most recent or highest level of education.
Putting study abroad information on a résumé makes sense for the following scenarios:
- First résumé with no work experience
- Student résumé
- Recent graduate résumé
- Entry-level résumé
If you studied abroad during college, place travel experience under “Education.” Include the name of the school, courses you took and the date. Underneath, list a couple of bulleted points to expand on the course.
Where to include it on your résumé: “Education”
Foreign Languages Acquired While Traveling
Having foreign language skills is tremendously useful and highly demanded in the workplace. A language learning experience can go under your “education” header or “other experience.” Here’s an example.
Where to include it on your résumé: “Education”
Alternatively, you can list any foreign languages under the skills section of your résumé. This is more appropriate if you became fluent through your experiences on the road compared to a formal or intensive language course you took while traveling.
Remember, Tone is Important
No matter what you did during your gap year or extended travels, it all comes down to how you view your experiences and how you present them on your résumé. If you take your skills and experience seriously, then you’ll write and speak about them with conviction and in a manner that’s applicable to your potential employer.
So, whether you’re an Australian making the scenic drive from Los Angeles to Seattle, a UC college student contemplating a study abroad program, or a 9–5 professional who’s getting back into the workforce after a year off, it’s possible to make travel look good on your résumé.