If you’re like me, your desk is decorated with photos of far-away places: a palm-tree-lined beach, a sunrise over snow-covered mountains, a lush Irish countryside. But, while we may all daydream of taking off to an exotic locale, many of us don’t.
A 2014 Oxford Economics Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S. showed 42% of employees with paid time off finished the year with unused days, leaving an average of 8.1 days unused.
Small business owners are especially bad at taking time away. According to the 2013 Sage Reinvention of Small Business Study, 43% of small business owners are taking less vacation time than five years ago.
The fact that we don't use all of our vacation time isn’t all that surprising. After all, getting away for a few days or weeks can be overwhelming when it feels like stepping away from the office will create a painful backlog of work when you return.
But what if stepping away from the daily grind made you better at your job?
John Roa, Chicago-based serial entrepreneur and founder of AKTA, a digital engagement consultancy, estimates he travels around 190 days per year either for business or pleasure, and says some of his most important business ideas have come to him while sledding down an active volcano in Nicaragua or watching the sunset over the Sahara. Here, he shares how his active travel lifestyle has benefited his companies.
Perhaps it’s eating different food, hearing different languages, or just changing the rhythm of your day, but getting away from home makes you see the world through a different lens.
"When you travel—especially to developing nations or off-the-beaten track locations—you appreciate how different life is in other areas so when you come back to your normal life you can look at it with a fresh perspective that you wouldn’t have if you were stuck in your office all day," says Roa.
These fresh perspectives can inspire new ideas or cause solutions to issues you’ve been struggling with to appear almost out of nowhere. "There’s a tremendous opportunity when traveling to allow yourself to think in ways that you normally don’t," says Roa.
Roa uses his holidays to renew his energy and focus. He describes his working life like a glass that fills up slowly with perpetually dripping water—daily stresses, decisions, and pressures of work. When the glass starts to fill, Roa’s thinking becomes clouded and productivity declines.
Travel, for Roa is akin to dumping the water out of the glass. "I come back completely re-energized. I’m ready for new challenges," he says.
A 2011 Intuit study confirmed Roa’s experience; showing 82% of small business owners who took a vacation experienced an increase in job performance upon their return to work. That renewed energy and positivity is contagious and can help the entire team be more productive.
Travel can be akin to taking a course in a new subject, providing an opportunity to flex the mind and create new opportunities for new learning, new ideas, and stimulating new neuron connections.
Whether hiking the Inca trail or spending a week in the middle of the Sahara, travel can push you out of your comfort zone; a skill Roa says has been essential in helping him grow his business. "[When you start or] grow a company, you’re breaking out of borders. You can only grow a company so far by never leaving your comfort zone," he says.
The inspiration for Roa’s nonprofit organization, Digital Hope was found on a trip to Iceland. "I spent a couple of days completely alone in the countryside. I was looking at these incredible landscapes and walking across glaciers and I could feel my brain was processing things differently," says Roa.
While starting a not-for-profit had been on Roa’s mind for years, his trip to Iceland provided the uninterrupted time to focus and think it through. Those few days resulted in a plan that became the business model for Digital Hope. "It was all spawned by allowing myself to be in an environment where I could think in a whole new way that wasn’t the conference room," says Roa.
For introverts who cringe at the thought of attending networking events; travel, especially solo travel, can help you become a natural networker. Travel forces you into situations where you have to talk to others. Roa says he’s learned a lot about his ability to communicate through his travels, especially in areas of the world where English isn’t the first language and you have to rely on non-verbal communication cues to get by.