How Travel Makes You More Creative
Travel is one of the most creativity inducing activities you can do.
While it may seem like travel is externally oriented and consists mostly of exciting, worldly adventures, travel has a long and successful history with encouraging a life of the mind.
If you’re a career breaker, you’ve probably realized how important creativity is to professional success. If creativity is not a fundamental part of your job, it will be.
Here’s why travel is an excellent tool for becoming more creative.
Travel puts you in a more reflective and contemplative mood.
Men apparently become more emotional when flying. I can attest to this. I have no idea why it happens. Maybe it’s because the TSA agent never called me back after our romantic liaison at the security checkpoint. Maybe it’s the change in air pressure. Who knows?
What I do know is that I become extremely creative while on planes. I have ideas for new trips I want to take, blog posts I want to write, and businesses I want to start. Air travel puts me in a contemplative mood that somehow sparks new ideas in my head.
This mental state is not isolated to air travel. I find that travel, more so than many other activities, offers ample time to be alone with your thoughts. I’ve achieved this reflective/contemplative/creative mental state while sitting in a crowded café in an Egyptian market. I’ve also achieved this mental state while sitting on a Thai beach.
Travel offers you the time to be alone with your thoughts, even if you’re not physically alone.
Creativity is primarily about connecting the dots. Travel exposes you to lots of dots.
Steve Jobs said, “creativity is just connecting things.” Steve Jobs also took a 7-month trip to India before he started Apple. Coincidence? I think not.
When you travel, you’re brain is processing a billion pieces of new data. You are throwing old habits out the window and you are learning to function in places that have extremely different sights, sounds, and cultures.
You won’t be hit with a burst of creativity when you arrive in a new country (though you did have bursts of creativity on the plane). When you first arrive in a new place, you won’t be thinking about the nuances of this new, exotic culture. You’ll be lucky if you can figure out how to get your hostel!
However, once you get settled and get some sleep and start exploring, your brain will start processing these new “dots” for you. You’ll start wondering why the French don’t pick up dog poop or why it feels like everyone is trying to rip you off at the spice market in Istanbul.
You probably won’t have the answers right away, but the brain acts in strange ways. Much of the processing that takes place will be subconscious. Then, when you’re least expecting it, probably when you’re in the shower, you’ll have some brilliant insight.
Travel provides food for thought.
Creativity requires that you both focus and lose focus. Travel does this for you.
In high school, I would sometimes get stuck on a hard math problem. I would spend close to an hour on it before I gave up. The problem would bug me, but then I’d focus on other things.
The next day I would usually have an “epiphany” and just knew how to solve the problem.
Travel is certainly not a math problem (except when you’re trying to budget for it), but it does mimic the same pattern of transitioning you from periods of intense focus to periods of relaxation.
Some examples of hard focus during travel:
♦ Navigating anywhere: yes you have a map, but you’ll still get lost. This will require your full attention.
♦ Negotiating: Negotiating is not a daily part of American life. If you want that Moroccan scarf at a reasonable price, you’ll have to focus.
♦ Crossing the street: Traffic laws are optional in many places. Pay attention.
♦ Communicating: You don’t speak the language. Talking to someone becomes infinitely more difficult.
Some examples of relaxation and “non-focus:”
♦ Sitting at a café and people-watching
♦ Meal times
♦ Wandering (not to be confused with navigation)
Even though you’re not trying to solve a specific creative problem, the constant transition between periods of hard focus and non-focus will help give you that extra bump in creativity.
♦ Travel offers you the time to be alone with your thoughts, even if you’re not physically alone.
♦ Travel provides food for thought.
♦ Travel helps you alternate between period of focus and non-focus. This is a necessary condition for creativity.
Dale Davidson is the co-founder of TrekDek, a travel company dedicated to helping people use travel as a way to gain mastery. When not working on TrekDek, Dale spends his time writing for his own blog, Dale Thoughts, and coordinating camel rentals for a defense company (yes, camels).
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