Kerouac's On the Road, Van Gogh's Cafe Terrace at Night, Chopin's Winter Wind: all these incredible pieces of art were inspired by travel. Finding inspiration in a creative field can prove difficult, with many experiencing a form of writer's block in their respective field. Often, the solution is as simple as going somewhere new and having new experiences. In these new surroundings, you may experience a renewed inspiration to get you going again. You may even enter a 'flow state,' in which you completely lose yourself in your work and complete a creative project without even trying.
Many travelers experience this boost in creativity when abroad, but this isn't just anecdotal evidence. Several studies confirm the cognitive and neurological impact of travel. By taking surveys, conducting psychological experiments, and scanning brains, a reliable boost to creativity has been shown to affect those who embrace new experiences through travel.
Neural Pathways Can Be Molded By ExperienceNeuroplasticity is the concept that the makeup of the brain can change over the duration of a person's life, regardless of age. As the brain changes, so too do your cognitive abilities. It almost seems like a superpower when you put it like that. Sure, some people might be naturally more creative, but you can make yourself into a more creative person with the right mental stimulation.
Certain activities can strengthen or weaken neural pathways associated with different characteristics, while also increasing or decreasing the proportion of grey matter. Traveling presents new challenges to overcome, new cultures to adapt to, and languages to get your head around. It is this strain on problem-solving areas of the brain that is likely to strengthen a person's creativity skills.
Adam Galinsky's Study into International Travel and CreativityColumbia Business School Professor, Adam Galinsky, has conducted more than one study into the link between travel and creativity, but his latest one is particularly interesting. He looked at 270 creative directors of fashion outlets and looked at how novel and useful their products were considered to be by audiences. Trade journalists and independent buyers were asked to rate how creatively innovative the products of each fashion brand were. It turns out that those who spent time abroad would consistently come up with more creative and useful designs.
Travelers are More Confident and Open Minded
Creativity is a complex trait, made up of other qualities. One of these is open-mindedness, which is one of the Big Five personality traits. Julia Zimmermann and Franz Neyer carried out a study on language students. They all took a test to find out how they rate on the Big Five personality traits and then sent half the group to study abroad and half to stay at home.
Those who went abroad for an extended period were shown to have increased openness to experience when re-taking the test on returning. Meanwhile, the control group, who stayed at home, showed no such change. Openness is a key component of creativity since it allows you to explore all ideas and come up with something novel.
Dips in creativity can also come from a lack of self-confidence. Traveling can help to boost confidence and resilience levels so that you can get on with that art or business project. Law Professor at ECU Business School, Sam Huang, asked 500 backpackers how their confidence levels were affected by travel. 80% said they were now more able to perform well when the going got tough, 88% thought they were better at problem-solving, and 89% believed that their communication skills had improved. Despite this increase in confidence, travelers have also been shown to be more humble. This is an excellent combination for doing creative work.
How to Make the Most of Your Time Abroad
Traveling in itself won't boost creativity. If anything, it will just make you tired and therefore, less productive. However, travel in the right way will. To really push your brain to become stronger at finding connections and solving problems, it is important to immerse yourself in the local culture. Don't just head to the most touristy locations, but try going to some local bars and restaurants or choosing a homestay over a hostel.
Doing voluntary work is another good way to stay social and gain an understanding of the local community. Although this may not be directly related to that book you've been putting off, it is bound to inspire new ideas. A deeper understanding of other cultures, including the problematic elements of them, and the interconnection between human beings can help to inspire your work. Being surrounded by new sounds, smells, sights, and ideas are all new concepts to feed into your creative projects. Voluntary work has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing age-related conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's, revealing real and lasting changes on the structure of the brain.
Travel is good for many things, but perhaps an overlooked benefit is the effect it has on creativity. Through immersing yourself in an unfamiliar environment, you are helping to strengthen the neurons that like to make connections, solve problems, and embrace new ideas. This will feed into your work, with your new surroundings offering inspiration. Be sure to really explore the area for a bigger boost to your creativity, and you'll be more likely to experience that exciting, productivity-filled, flow state when you work.
Written by Thom Brown