By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven®

Woman traveling for business

Recent news of the Notre Dame fire reminded me of studying in Paris during the fall of my junior year in college. I grew up in a small, rural town in Connecticut and attended Colby College in the small Maine city of Waterville. Traveling to France kicked off my junior year abroad, and it opened my eyes to the world outside of New England.

I visited all of the most famous spots in Paris — including Notre Dame — with a professor from the Sorbonne. It was on those tours of la Ville Lumière that I fell in love with French art, literature and other cultural staples.

France also opened a door to the rest of Europe. While in Paris, I bought a Eurail Pass, so I had the chance to travel to the area in Germany — just outside Stuttgart — where my father’s mother was born. I met a lot of my German aunts, uncles and cousins. The table was filled with schnitzel, and the beer flowed.

My experiences in Europe taught me that, as much as people can be proud of different cultures and customs, people are alike in so many ways. We are more alike than we are different, no matter where we’re from. People just want to be acknowledged and respected, regardless of their culture.

I also learned more about myself. Walking through the streets of Paris shined a light on my likes and dislikes, what motivates me and what doesn’t.

Decades later, I’ve come to realize that it may be impossible to succeed in business without knowing yourself first. If you understand yourself, you can lead from the heart and be your own authentically best self, all the time.

And you can be a better leader in the business world. Traveling can allow you to meet people from different backgrounds, with differing mindsets. When doing business with customers and clients from outside of your immediate region, you can learn how to think with a more open mind and target people who have different preferences, opinions and biases than your own.

In fact, as reported by Harvard Business Review, “Research studies have shown that people are often at their most creative and ‘cognitively flexible’ when spending time abroad.” This makes it easier to develop new ideas and strategies, all of which you can bring back home. As Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, put it, “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms.”

Of course, traveling also boosts happiness and satisfaction, which can positively impact one’s functioning in a business setting. And don’t forget about productivity, which increases when we have an opportunity to take time away from work. A mental refresh can make us better business owners and employees.

When I walked the streets of Paris at the age of 20, I dreamed of doing business internationally, but I had no idea that it would actually happen — and so successfully, at that. My agency now does business in global tourism promotion and handles the international public relations for a state tourism office and a global marketing organization for the New England states.

There are many layers to the travel industry, and we’ve become adept at working with professionals at every level. It seems like fun to work in travel, but without understanding the nuances and the differences between receptive operators, chamber of commerce executives, tour operators, travel agencies, journalists and the new category of influencers, you will likely flounder.

My agency’s success would likely not have been possible if I’d never stepped foot abroad and stepped out of my comfort zone. My interest in traveling ultimately molded the DNA of my agency. Therein lies a lesson for all business owners: Never forget that your business is an extension of you.

I know it’s hard to fit travel into a busy schedule, but it’s also a good opportunity to delegate some of your day-to-day responsibilities and allow your team to spread their wings and fly while you’re exploring the world. I always carry a tablet or laptop so I can check my emails on a daily basis, but being away from the office for a week or two is a great way to see whether your company can carry on without you.

I’ve also used foreign travel as a way to meet with people in my industry in other countries. On a trip to New Zealand, for example, I met with tourism officials from several regions to share experiences and lessons from my own experience in promoting tourism in Maine and New England.

Seeing how businesses in other cultures operate can inspire you to think about how you could change your own brand and culture to make it better, different or more profitable. Just getting out of your own normal day-to-day routine can open you up to new possibilities and inspire you to serve your current clients better. With regard to public relations and advertising, for example, you may see ad campaigns in magazines, on billboards or online and think, “How could we do that in the U.S.?”

This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in June 2019.