Freeing Effects of Travel on Creativity

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There’s something about travel. It erases our routines, chores and obligations, leaving behind a clearer, more creative mind. When we try to hold onto this feeling after our travels, this new found creativity fades as easily as it appeared. Let’s look at how travel rewires the brain, improves creativity and how this can be used more purposefully when we plan our next trip.

Before travel became as common as it is today, numerous creatives set off on adventures of their own. Yves Saint Laurent fell in love with Marrakech, Mark Twain sailed the Mediterranean coast, Ernest Hemingway lived in both Spain and France, and architect Michael Graves was transformed by Rome. Each was able to see themselves and their craft from a new perspective, transforming and influencing their work for years to follow.

Fast-forward to today, where travel and next-destination aspirations continue to rise. Cheaper flights, online booking and stay options democratised a once luxury, once-in-a-lifetime pursuit. For creatives, this means we can more easily access faraway cultures or unfound destinations. Many of us believe our inspiration comes from gathering new pictures, swatches or items for our projects. It’s not. The greatest impact travel has on our creativity is its affect on our mind.

Experiencing a new place forces the brain to adapt. This includes building new neural pathways and rewiring existing ones. Such neural pathways are sensitive to change, whether through experiencing a new language, dish, road or human interaction. According to Adam Galinsky, chair of the management division at Columbia Business School and renowned social psychologist, “foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms”.

We all get caught up in today’s status quo and comfortable in our own lives. It’s unavoidable. Sitting in front of your computer looking for moodboard images will not rewire your brain like travel does. There are times when creativity wants to be boxed in to fight its way out, and other times when creativity needs to roam. When our creativity roams, we unravel our own limitations. This is because travel not only rewires the mind, but strengthens our identity.

Creativity is applying our experiences, skills and beliefs to a given or self-formed challenge. Whether designing a dress or writing a short story, identity plays an underlying or starring role in the process. When we travel, our identity is both challenged and strengthened. According to Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, neuroscientist, psychologist, former teacher and USC professor, “the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone, is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self”.

Whether you are a writer or designer, we all can get stuck in our learned ways and overruled by the status quo. Routine takes over, and our creative pursuits seem more like a grocery run than gratifying exploration. If you’re a creative looking for a boost or refresh, consider an unfamiliar travel itinerary and activity. This is because travel can rewire your neural pathways and strengthen your identity. As creativity is a never-ending journey requiring new inputs and challenges, we all need to get away from our computers and travel more.