How Does Traveling Boost Creativity?

Traveling boost creativity7 Ways to Boost Your Creativity.

9 Things You Can Do to Become More Creative.

Have you seen lists like these? Then you know that traveling is typically one of the  suggestions people have for increasing creativity. Yet, the average American gets 10-15 days of vacation per year. Not a lot of time to amp up creativity. What is it about traveling that stimulates creativity? Maybe if we understand why traveling is such a strong creativity booster we can find ways to instill the spirit of traveling into smaller, doable doses at home.

This summer I traveled a lot. Coming back I asked myself what part about the travel experience sparked creative ideas. First, I want to share a couple of travel moments that triggered me to think differently — nothing earth shattering, just a few thoughts that came into my mind.

Then, I’ll try to figure out what it is about traveling in general that stimulates creativity.

Let’s start with some things I observed this summer. They are random and disjointed, just a collection of a few examples. A verbal slide show.

Travel Impressions

One of the attractions for our kids when we visit my hometown Mainz, Germany, is to go to the fields and pick berries. We go to a farm near my parents’ house where you harvest the berries from the bushes into your own basket, weigh them, and pay. Obviously a lot of them end up in your mouth before they reach the basket. That is part of the fun and the concept. Raspberries, strawberries, cherries, black berries, red currants, also apricots, plums, peaches. And they are as fresh as they are delicious. Juicy and sweet.

Why do we not have something like that here in Austin? Obviously not everything grows here, but the same concept would also work for a greenhouse. Why are there no small peach orchards in our residential neighborhoods. Why do our kids grow up and never explore those fruits before they are piled up in plastic containers at HEB? And why do they never experience how a sun-warmed, ripe raspberry tastes when picked right off the bush.


I had the pleasure of visiting London as well. The last time I had some extended time there was shortly after Lady Diana’s death. A lot has changed since then . The historic buildings, places, parks are still all the same, yet, the whole skyline is different. The London Eye hadn’t even been built back then. Modern architecture mingles with old buildings — present, past, and future sit together for a cup of 5 o’clock tea.

What influence does that have on a society when the past and tradition are as prevalent as the modern influences — almost as if there were two parallel realities? I had similar thoughts while watching the last night of the British Parliament when some members were physically struggling with the speaker (a scene that you expect happening in a pub) while an ambassador of the Queen, capped and gowned, with a historic sword over her shoulder, marched in and tried to officially announce the suspension of parliament.

I happened to be in London on the hottest day of the record. People were stoically riding the tube, trying to keep as much dignity as possible. Only the sweat pearls on their foreheads told the story of their struggles. Once in a while someone would lightly use a fan to find a little relief. The heat put everyone on the same level. The elegant lady with the expensive wardrobe had layers of her carefully put-on makeup peel off from the sweat, just as the dusty worker had black streaks running down his cheek. For one moment, everyone was having the same struggle. Enduring the heated tube together is the most equalizing process I can think of.

On famous Portobello Road many of the shops had an affiliation with a charity organization. If you bought your jeans at one corner store you would support breast cancer. If you got them across the street you would help blind children get surgery. What a different form of consumer’s choice.

Taking the subway from Munich airport to downtown costs as much as taking a train from downtown Munich to a city 150 miles away. Why is that? How much of pricing in general is arbitrary? How do you feel as a customer when pricing seems to be at random? What is the true value of a product behind all those sales, coupons, promotions, etc.?

We stayed for a couple days in a circus wagon at a campground in Germany. The people who ran this place were more playful and more willing to slow down without being lazy than  I am used to. The man in the corner store would not just hand you back the change, he would roll it in curves over the counter until it elegantly landed in your hand. Another guy who was working on a beautiful flower and herb garden would entertain the kids by making perfect imitations of animal sounds. There seemed to be a lot of joy and personality, even in simple actions.

In Prague everywhere we went was a flashlight thunderstorm from tourists capturing the sights. Most of them didn’t put much effort into finding the right angle or making sure the sun was not coming right at the lense. All the tourist attractions have been photographed professionally many times before and are available online. Why do people take their own mediocre pictures instead of downloading the ones that remind them of their experience in a more beautiful way? Is it because they care more about the connection to their own life than about perfectionism?

Prague has a lot of “potravinys,” small corner stores. I have been to a couple of them and all were run by Asian moms with two very young children. The stores are so tiny that there is no corner for the kids to hang out. So they sit in one of the three aisles and try to entertain themselves. In one store a 5-year old boy was playing obnoxiously on a plastic trumpet. The fact that the mom let him continue — despite her suffering ears and the customers speeding up their purchases as fast as they could — showed me that the alternative to that trumpet must be even more gruesome. In another potraviny a small child was crying hysterically while the mom checked me out, showing no signs that anything else but our transaction was going on. Those neighborhood stores are open from 8 am- 9 pm. There are no other employees. Life.


What makes traveling a time for creativity?

Looking at all these random snippets, I tried to figure out what about these experiences and impressions while traveling boosts my creativity. Here are the four conclusions that I came to.

1. Heightened Receptiveness

While traveling our senses are highly alert. We go to different places to see the mountains, to feel the sun on our skin and the sand in our hands, and we want to taste the sugo of Italian pasta in Rome. When we walk through a different city and explore its sights, we do it with our eyes wide open. When we drive to work our focus is typically somewhere else — not on the sights around us. When we travel we are curious to find out what comes our way, we are looking for little stories to present themselves. We are open and ready to take it all in. That is why we notice so much more than we do in our daily lives.

2. Questions as a Way of Thinking

What we see makes us think. Why don’t we pick fruit from the fields? Why is Helsinki full of beggars and Tallinn is not? Why do the British still hold on to their royals? By asking all of these  questions we are constantly reflecting on the status quo. And just like children develop their understanding of the world and thinking skills by asking “why, why, why” so do adults. Questions are the answer when it comes to developing new ideas and perspectives.

A lot of the ideas that derive from those questions might not lead anywhere. I most likely will not open a berry or peach farm here in Austin. Yet I agree with Seth Godin when he says, “Good ideas come from bad ideas but only if there are enough of them.” And both bad and good ideas flow from asking lots of questions.

3. Understanding Different Viewpoints

When we travel lots of things are different. It is not what we are used to. Whether we travel to a nearby campground where we hear other people’s voices or the river at night, or to Cambodia where almost everything is different. We compare what we observe with our life and notice the differences. Going to work doesn’t have to mean getting into your car — in Amsterdam most people ride to work by bike. By acknowledging different forms and ways of life we learn to understand a different perspective. And we understand that many of the things in our life that we don’t question have one or many alternatives that are hidden from our mind.

4. Routine-free Zone

Some people love to work out their travel itineraries; others like to float with whatever comes up. But the one thing that is for sure when traveling — nothing ever goes according to plan. Traveling demands that we be adaptable and react spontaneously — more than we do in our normal life. When we travel we lack a lot of our routines and the structure of each day is optional and needs to be defined. What has worked well yesterday when we spent most of the day on planes, might not be the right fit today when we walk through a new city. There is no default framework to fall back on. And as helpful as routines are in our everyday life — we actually couldn’t survive without them — stepping outside these routines allows us to take a look at our lives from different angles.

How to Get the Benefits of Traveling without Traveling

Nothing can replace the value that comes with spending extended periods abroad. Prof. Adam Galinsky’s study manifests the link between creativity and living in another country. Traveling is like a miniature version of that experience.

When it comes to traveling creative stimuli happen naturally. We don’t have to make a conscious effort; they are built into the traveling experience. If we want to have similar thoughts and ideas without leaving work and home we need to be intentional. We need to make a conscious effort to open our minds, look for different perspectives, question our status quo, and become more sensitive and perceptive.

Is it harder? Yes. But you can visit a place in town you normally don’t go to, read a magazine that you typically wouldn’t pick up, or attend an event with people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. Traveling means expanding your horizon. Sometimes you just need to turn to your left and you will find a piece of a new horizon.


“(…) ordinary is just what you’re used to. This may not be ordinary to you now, but after a time it will.”

(Handmaid’s Tale — aunt Lydia)



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