Is traveling better than an MBA? One of the most common reasons people pursue an MBA is to become leaders. What does it mean to be a “leader” anyway? 

You need to have vision and see things others don’t see yet. You need to make tough decisions. And you need to inspire and develop others. Whether you’re a digital nomad, leading a division at a major national corporation, or working at an NGO — developing your leadership skills can help make a lasting impact. 

The good news is that honing these skills doesn’t always require getting an MBA. Real life practice is what helps leaders develop, and traveling is one of the best ways to get there quickly. Here are five leadership lessons learned through travel:

Influence

One of the hardest things about leadership is influencing people. In today’s world, not a lot gets done under dictatorial leaders, so it’s important to learn the nuances of influence. You could pick up “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” or you could put together and lead a trip to hike the Inca Trail! You’ll have no authority or power over your friends who join, but you’ll need to influence them to commit on time, agree to the itinerary you’ve developed, pay on time, etc. During the trip, you’ll feel responsibility for everyone having fun and making it back safely. That entire exercise is not so different than managing a project team through execution. 

Adaptability

It goes without saying that good leaders are adaptable. Whether you’re an entrepreneur needing to change your tactics, or a 100-year-old company needing to evolve, the ability to adapt is key. What better way to hone this skill than being subject to the always changing world of travel? When your airline’s employees are on strike, your car breaks down, or you find yourself in a home-stay with no hot water, you are adapting to the conditions and learning to take change in stride. 

Cultural awareness and sensitivity

I took a class on global management once and the big takeaway was “different cultures are different.” Which… was almost insulting. So I wont belabor this point. You know cultural awareness is highly important and that you can learn a lot of it through traveling! Read more about that in our post on life lessons learned through travel

Allocating Resources

The unfortunate reality of leadership is that you can’t always hire all the employees you need, invest all the money on R&D you want, or spend what is needed on marketing. When traveling, you’re dealing with many different constraints and you’ve got to work with what you’ve got – from your budget, to what you have packed, to your knowledge, resources, and connections. While you’re out exploring the world, you’re exercising a TON of cognitive brain power to calculate all these constraints simultaneously. It can only mean good things for you as a leader. 

Better Communication

Communication in other languages and alphabets is hard – but you always end up getting by with gestures, body language, and facial expressions. Since most of our communication is non-verbal, learning to pick up on these cues across cultures is really helpful for tuning into what your team members back home may be feeling. Learning body language can allow you to be more emotionally intelligent and check in with colleagues when you sense they may need support. 

This list could go on. Traveling is not only an amazing form of education in terms of history and geography, but the actual act of doing it prepares us well for jobs, parenthood, sports, entrepreneurship, or whatever it is you choose to do in your non-traveling time. Plus, it’s a lot more fun than school or books! Get out there and enjoy knowing traveling is better than an MBA!