When you network, you search to find something in common. It could be an alma mater, a friend, golf, whatever. Anything that will allow you to get your foot in the door. When exploring abroad, you immediately have a common denominator with any backpacker you meet: Travel. It unites people from all walks of life. This shared interest and circumstance opens the door to free flowing conversation which can then lead to some incredible opportunities.
When it comes to acquaintances, people usually associate the person with the place and time in which they met. Maybe it’s that you bring back memories of a perfect, white beach or a week where stress finally disappeared. Whatever the reason, travel networking works. A person isn’t just going back home when they step on that return flight, they return to a job, a routine, and a lifestyle. They’re back in their zones and have their guards up again.
I’ve spoken with quite a few people that have stumbled on to some incredible leads that simply wouldn’t been possible if not for their travel network — you just never know who you’re going to meet.
Now, hold on there. This doesn’t mean you should book a ticket to Thailand every time you’re looking for a new job, nor does it mean that you should hound every person you meet on your trip on the off chance that they’re working in a similar field — the brilliant thing about networking while traveling is that it happens naturally, unforced. I would advise against openly pursuing it, people can always tell; not only that, but it would cheapen the experience of travel and render it a plastic aftertaste.
In the end, luck is opportunity meeting preparation. People are more open while they travel and eager to share about themselves and their lives. They’re also usually more generous. It’s not “killing the vibe” to talk about work, it’s human. Work is an integral part of our lives, just like friendship, love, and travel. So, just keep the light switch on. You shouldn’t allow self interest to commander all your conversations, but at the same time don’t let opportunity slap you in the face and get away with it.
Travel is a collision of culture, language, and different stories. Perhaps a friend you made while backpacking can’t offer you much professionally now, but will be in a position to in five years. The world can be a weird place. The trick to getting by with a smile on your face is to view it all as a pleasant surprise that can’t be fully appreciated at the moment.
So stretch your arms out, relax, set your work life at the back of your brain and keep it there. When the time comes to bring it out, it will feel normal, natural. You’ll realize that you almost forgot it — you were too busy enjoying yourself.