• Whitney

Navigating boundaries (while traveling)


For a lot of us, part of the draw of a career in international development may have been the chance to see the world. But how do you create boundaries around something you also love?


Why set boundaries?

Personal and professional boundaries are essential because they set the basic guidelines for how you want to be treated. In the workplace, they are the tissue that ensures everyone can thrive - on their own terms. Without boundaries, folks start to feel stressed, angry, confused, or resentful.


No one like the feeling of having their boundaries crossed.

Having strong relationships with people at work - and a positive relationship with your work life in general - begins with defining the kind of behavior that you will accept in the workplace.


What do boundaries look like in international development careers?

Here are a few areas where you might consider setting boundaries at work:

  • Whether or not you want to be available outside of regular business hours

  • What work you do or don't want to be involved with over vacations

  • How you communicate hard 'nos' to your boss and team

  • What microaggressions go to far

  • What formality of language you will accept in the workplace

Those are just a few examples - the biggest issue, especially for new parents or anyone else caring for others, has to do with travel.


What travel boundaries do you care about?

When I started in international development, I felt comfortable going anywhere, for almost any length of time, and dealing with all kinds of risks. You don't start a career in stabilization and reconstruction without at least imagining the idea of ending up in a war zone.


But lives change and priorities change, and your boundaries need to change with them.

One of the most commonly mentioned challenges for working parents in international development is long trips to faraway places. Whether it's poor infrastructure that doesn't allow a call through to home, or unreliable flights, or missing important moments, unrelenting travel can create a big hurdle.


For me - a person suffering from inflammatory arthritis - the long flights and unfamiliar foods I once loved are a recipe for aggravating chronic pain. That means that today, I try to avoid long direct flights, opting instead for whatever gives me a chance to get up and move around. I also need the ability to access ice packs and build in time to ease the strain on my back when traveling.


The key is to build your own boundaries. What is important to me won't necessarily be important to you.


Advocating for yourself can start with advocating for others. Have real conversations within your team about what boundaries are important to you as individuals. And then respect those boundaries as a group.