Anecdotes from Europe: How traveling improves your creativity
In an effort to break free from winter’s monotony, I spent two weeks this past January traveling to Iceland and the United Kingdom. Visiting wetter and windier places with often less daylight—believe it or not—benefited me long after I returned home. Though I hardly had a moment to relax on the trip and spent nearly half of the voyage en route, I still came back feeling refreshed and revitalized—especially creatively.
Before I left, I was in an artistic rut. I was not only stuck physically in my day-to-day routine, but mentally as well. Whether it was tasting puffin for the first time, staying the night on the Caledonian Sleeper train, or trying to decipher if hunangskinka was ham or horse meat, I returned with my creative drive stronger than ever. My refreshed imagination amazed me so much that I kept asking myself what really happened to my mind during those two weeks?
A recent body of research by psychologist Adam Galinsky delved deeper into this topic, who came to the conclusion that foreign experiences increase a person’s ability to make “deep connections between disparate forms,” (Article). Cognitive flexibility, as it is referred to, is a main component of creativity. It is stimulated by immersing oneself in multicultural engagements and adapting one’s senses to these new experiences.
Every bit of cultural immersion is important in sparking cognitive flexibility. According to Jonah Lehrer of The Guardian, it is being reminded of what we don’t know that has a lasting impact on the brain. The rut I experienced prior to this trip was to be expected. I had spent a year in the same place with the same routine. My senses needed to be stimulated by uncertainty.
Prominent designer, Stefan Sagmeister, advocates for the importance of taking time off and traveling for long periods of time. Every seven years, the artist takes a year long sabbatical to rejuvenate his creativity —the key phrase being “for long periods of time.” Jet-setters who don’t engage with the local culture, don’t acquire the same benefits to their creativity. Though taking a year off may seem intimidating and impossible for many in the moment, in the long-run, it is very beneficial. After the new experiences, Sagmeister claims in his Ted Talk, The Power of Time Off, that he becomes more productive and his work improves in quality and ingenuity—meaning, he can charge much more than he had previously been charging for his work.
Not only did going abroad fulfill my travel bug (and add cool pictures to my collection), it restored my creativity, expanded my skill set and increased my faith in humanity. Getting out of my comfort zone is no longer a fun thing to do every once in awhile, but a necessity for my career. My recommendation for creatives is this: make your next holiday abroad and don’t be afraid to try new things. If you’re not terribly adventurous, take baby steps and try to go somewhere familiar so that it is easier to assimilate to the culture. The more comfortable you become with being uncomfortable, the more unique your adventures become and the better connections you will be able to create. After all, what better muse is there than a new experience?
PHOTO by Liza Goncharova, near Kjalarnes, Iceland (on an iphone 6 sans editing—yep, it’s just that beautiful there)