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What is the linkage between travel and creativity that inspired Hemingway, Twain and others?

What is it about travel that has developed a reputation for increasing creativity within an already-flexible mind? Many sources reference Hemingway, Twain, and others as traveling creators – that is, authors who did some of their best work during or following international travel. Something about th

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
travel makes you more creative

What is it about travel that has developed a reputation for increasing creativity within an already-flexible mind? Many sources reference Hemingway, Twain, and others as traveling creators – that is, authors who did some of their best work during or following international travel. Something about the travel process, therefore, sparks the creative mind in a way that nothing else can.

According to some studies, the key element to developing creativity through travel is immersion in the culture. It's not about just seeing new sights; it's about learning to think the way a new culture thinks. People around the world have different ways of approaching a problem or situation; different cultures, just like people with vastly different experiences within one culture, look at things in different ways. It's not just about the food or the environment – it's about an entirely different way of thinking.

Something about the travel process sparks the creative mind in a way that nothing else can.

Phil McKinney

If you're looking to create that effect in your brain, one of the best ways to do it is to immerse yourself in that culture – ideally to live there for a period of time. The change associated with a new culture doesn't happen overnight. Rather, it is the result of time spent within the new culture, adapting to its unique ideas and ways of approaching the world.

Most of us, however, don’t get the opportunity to live in another culture for very long. If you’re looking for more of a short-term approach to stimulating your creative brain through travel, there are many benefits you can get from even a brief international trip. For example:

Travel creates a vital break in routine.

Doing the same thing day after day often becomes sheer drudgery. Instead of enjoying the experience and taking the opportunity to solve problems from different angles each day, the brain becomes complacent, preferring to travel the path of least resistance and do things the way they're always done. By breaking the routine, however, the brain is provided with new stimulation – and that's the moment when creativity flourishes most.

According to the Psychology Career Center, “routines constrain creativity.” The adult brain focuses in and ignores the stimulation around it, because it doesn't consider those things important to the task at hand. Adults demand focus from their minds, and through that focus, they shut out stimulation from everything else around them. When they move into a new environment, however, everything changes. Suddenly, the brain is forced to focus on all of the outside input, and may be forced to reconsider “how things are always done.” International travel is ideal for achieving this creative jump simply because everything around is new and different.

Travel provides new input for all of your senses.

When you travel out of the country, everything is new and different. It's not just the sights and sounds, though the exposure to new scenery and new languages can certainly broaden your worldview. It engages your other senses, as well. The food is different: even your favorite dishes from back home contain subtle flavors of the country you're currently in. Everything from the texture of the road to the smells wafting through the air will be different from what you would experience at home.

If you want to take full advantage of this sensory input, give yourself the opportunity to experience it fully. Don't stick to restaurants where you recognize the food on the menu; instead, visit the restaurants where the locals eat and ask for the chef's recommendation. Try out something that you never would have tried at home. After all, you aren't traveling to eat at a burger joint, are you? Instead of following a tour guide, explore the city. Give yourself permission to get lost! Tuck the address of your hotel on a note card in your pocket, and if all else fails, hail a cab to take you back. In the meantime, wander through the streets taking it all in. Try to communicate, even if your efforts are laughable; don't leave without learning at least a few words of the language. Wander into a store that's intended for the locals, not just as a tourist trap. Stray off the beaten path, as long as you are in an area where you can do so safely. While you're there, take pictures that will help call the experience to mind later, when you're trapped by routine and need a creative boost. You may be astounded by the creative flow that comes as a result of these new experiences.

Travel changes your perspective and sparks your creativity.

Travel doesn't just give you the chance to experience what a new place has to offer. It also shifts your perspective on home when you finally return. There's something about a time away, whether it's a few weeks or several months, that changes your perspective on the place where you've lived for so long. After a long trip, you'll be able to look at home through fresh eyes, appreciating all the things about it that had become cumbersome or irritating. More than likely, you'll have a fresh appreciation for the space you work in, the people you work with each day, and the things that you previously took for granted – all of which contribute to the creative process by helping you look at every experience through fresh eyes.

No matter what your reason for travel, its advantages are numerous, from broadening your mind to changing your perspective – and all of those things come together to help improve creative thought.

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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