How Travelling for Work Prompted me to Explore More of Toronto
A couple of years ago, after I left a job that had me travelling all over the world, I realized I wasn’t spending enough time exploring the amazing city that I call home – Toronto. To say I love travelling would be a massive understatement, and I feel extremely lucky to have had a job that provided me with the opportunity to do just that. One week I’d be working in Germany, the next in Norway, and a few months later, Hong Kong.
I was working as an Operations Consultant with extremely long hours – I’d be at client sites all day, would work through almost every meal and typically didn’t shut off my computer until well after 11PM. There was always more to do, and what felt like never enough time or people. On top of the heavy workload, being an introvert meant that spending time in front of clients every day was even more draining. When I was on my first project, all I wanted to do for the weekends was come home, rest and see my friends after an exhausting week away. During the 8 months on that first project, I flew to the client site every Monday morning and returned home every weekend.
Over time, as I got better at managing life on little sleep, I felt that I was missing out on an amazing opportunity by not exploring these new cities. Typically consulting firms allow you to expense a hotel stay for the weekend or a flight elsewhere, as long as it doesn’t cost more than it would to fly you home. My firm had this policy, so I began capitalizing on it.
I would stay for a weekend here and there, still making the trip home frequently enough to catch up with friends and spend time with my boyfriend. My family largely didn’t live in Toronto anymore and I didn’t have kids, pets or other major personal responsibilities that consistently pulled me home.
I spent St. Patrick’s day in Dublin, surfed in California, enjoyed a beer at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, drove on the autobahn in Germany, ate waffles in Belgium, and spent weekends beach-hopping in Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines. While most of my adventures were solo, I was also able to meet up with my boyfriend in Boston and New York, visit old classmates in San Francisco, spend a weekend with my mom in San Diego, roadtrip with a girlfriend through Spain, and reconnect with an old roommate in Singapore.
It wasn’t always as glamorous as it may seem. On many of my projects, I was travelling alone, learning to work with different cultures and trying to influence clients much more senior than I was. Most days were extremely lonely and stressful – there was a ton of pressure from my company, clients and myself, and I rarely had any senior leaders or even colleagues with me for support. I was at the helm of this ship that I was only just learning how to steer. But I am a firm believer that the best experiences come out of times that challenge you the most. As I was leading multi-million dollar savings projects at client sites across the globe, I became a trusted advisor to C-suite executives as well as employees on the floor. I found ways to turn the toughest clients into my biggest allies and I built strong working and personal relationships that have lasted long after my projects have wrapped up. I was able to gather insights into many business and cultures that I normally would not have had access to. And I learned how to manage remotely while I was working in Europe and had team members in Asia. Every week, I felt invigorated by new experiences, lessons and people that I encountered along the way.
I already had a strong love of travel, but what my consulting experience also taught me was that I was fully capable of exploring the world solo. While travelling in consulting, I learned to successfully drive on the other side of the road alone, got lost in a remote German town with no GPS, map or cell service alone (and survived!), learned to navigate complicated metro systems alone, got locked inside a client site alone (yes inside – at a client site in Norway, you needed a pass to get out after a certain time), took multiple boat rides alone (around Macau, Oslo, and Malaysia, to name a few), spent many days and nights running through airports alone, and of course, got very used to asking for ‘a table for one’. Sure, sometimes I longed for a travel companion; it was often during the little moments – like seeing a stunning view or enjoying a delicious dinner – that I’d wish there was someone with me to just witness the same beauty. But I also feel a great independence about travelling alone and will still sometimes opt for a solo journey. If you read my About Page, you’d know that I’ve now been to over 35 countries, 10+ of them solo. I attribute a lot of that to these years on the road.
Ultimately, I am tremendously thankful for my consulting experience, as I learned so many valuable lessons early in my career. In those almost four years, I saw and did more – both in business and in my personal life – than some people get to do in a lifetime. And for that, I am forever grateful.
More to Explore
View from a weekend hike down from Victoria Peak, Hong Kong
Enjoying a Bruges waffle in Brussels while on a quick weekend trip from a project based out of Jena, Germany
Business Lessons That I carry with me today
Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable
I came out of my consulting career feeling confident that I could handle any situation. It doesn’t mean I don’t get stressed – I still have anxiety over something as seemingly simple as corporate dinner small talk. But having been thrown into situations where I had to lead conversations with C-suite executives of major companies in my early 20s, I was forced to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The more that I was exposed to situations that I would otherwise actively avoid, the more I realized I always came out okay on the other side.
A boss that I admire would ask at the end of a tough day, “Do you still have all of your limbs? Are you still alive?” He’d follow the inevitable ‘yes’ with “Then you’re alright”. He pushed hard, but always reminded me that it was just a job, this feeling would pass and you have to walk away from it knowing you did your best. And that last part is key – push yourself, always be prepared, and work really damn hard – so that at the end of the day, you truly know you put everything on the table.
Older Doesn't Always Mean Wiser
Being in your early 20s and giving advice to C-suite executives seems insane, even to me as I look back on it. I quickly realized that even if you haven’t had extensive experience, if you use solid logic, are quick on your feet, demonstrate grit, creativity, and always challenge the status quo, you can become a respected thought leader and get a seat at the table. It’s not always about knowing the most – it’s about finding ways to add value.
Clients Appreciate Those Who Listen
You don’t always have to have the answers right away – be willing to listen and ask a lot of questions. Take notes and reflect on what you’ve gathered. Build relationships and become a trusted confidant. By doing this you’ll often uncover valuable nuggets of information and be able to deliver more meaningful insights than someone who came to the client site with a plan based on preconceived assumptions or past successes. Feedback that I was always most proud to receive was when clients said they felt I truly listened, and how thankful they were for that.
Go-Karting with colleagues in Cologne, Germany
Trinity College, Dublin – taken on a one of several weekend getaways while working in Galway
how my travels inspired me to get to know toronto
One of the most important lesson that this wonderful, crazy journey taught me is that no matter how busy or stressful my week is, to seek out little moments of joy as often as I can. Ultimately, travelling every week for work began to wear on me. When I decided it was time to leave the company, one of the things I knew I would miss the most was the opportunity to explore new places. Once I settled back into life in Toronto, I realized that I could tell you about my favourite speakeasies in New York or my favourite hikes in San Diego, but I barely knew about the gems in my own city. I made it my goal to seek out at least one new adventure – a restaurant, museum, neighbourhood, etc. – in Toronto each month.
Fast forward two years, and I now actively seek out new experiences much more frequently than once a month. I still travel and am constantly planning my next global adventure, but I’ve added so much joy to my daily life by exploring my own backyard.
On a monthly basis, I’ll be sharing out a curated list of my favourite finds, in the hopes that it’ll inspire you go out and explore your city. Stay tuned for the first installment!
One of many San Diego sunset hikes
Boat ride around Oslo, Norway
Where my work travels took me
Take a peek at my favourite monthly finds in the December 2020 edition of Somewhere Spotlight.
Need ideas for how to spend your virtual New Years? Read this post and get inspired to spend your NYE in the Middle of Somewhere, even if you can’t leave your house!
Take a peek at my favourite monthly finds in the November 2020 edition of Somewhere Spotlight.