Traveling Refills Your Creative Tank

“…I urge you to travel—as far and widely as possible. Sleep on the floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them—wherever you go.”

⁠—Anthony Bourdain

Traveling opens doors to countless new experiences: meeting new friends, trying out new cuisines, gaining new stories to bring and tell back home. 

With these new experiences, come a subtler and much less noticeable benefit—creativity. 

Writers have long sought inspiration from traveling. There’s Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, considered as one of the Beat movement and Counterculture generation’s defining works. There’s Alex Garland’s bestseller The Beach, which inspired not only a Hollywood film but a generation of Western gap year students to backpack across Asia. There’s Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild, an insightful read about the author’s struggles in escaping her demons in the quest to find herself. 

In recent pop culture, traveling has been heavily associated to finding one’s self, to moving on from a lost love, or a way to boost mental health. Local films like That Thing Called Tadhana influenced hundreds of domestic travelers to take their inner struggles to scenic destinations like Sagada in the Mountain Province. What some say escapism is simply soul searching. You contemplate on your life with a cup of coffee in a backdrop of nature’s finest greens and blues. In theory, you return home with a clearer head and overflowing inspiration. 

Traveling Refills Your Creative Tank |
A public art installation in a Taipei Metro Rail station

Psychologists and neuroscientists, on the one hand, have been examining the brain in relation to traveling more closely. Brent Crane quotes Columbia Business School Professor Adam Galinsky, “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms.” 

There’s a science to it. Inspiration to most creatives, however, can be a fickle thing. It doesn’t come overnight upon landing to a neighboring country’s airport, or even if it requires you to stay for 12 hours up in the air. Galinsky continues to say, “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation.” 

The Chopra Center cites the 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology to finding “a strong link between creativity and the traveler’s immersions into cultures different from their own.” The key word is immersion. Simply changing your physical location would not do much of a help. 

The sensation of acquiring new experiences, tasting cuisines and spices foreign to what is usually served back home, and learning values, disciplines, and traditions different from one’s own excites the brain. It is this deeper sense of learning which calls on you to pass it on to a more tangible appreciation of your newfound experiences. 

It calls you to grab a piece of paper to write down the events following your new friend’s crazy stunts while backpacking across Southeast Asia. It pushes you to pick up that paint brush and immortalize that divine Aurora Borealis the locals of a town in Greenland showed you. It tells you to add a bit more funk, like the obasan who owns the little takoyaki stand on the vibrant street of Dotonbori, in your next architectural design. 

Stepping away from your conventional and routine activities can lead to a whole new world of creative sources. The more sights, sounds, and stories you experience, the more untapped inspiration fills your creative tank. 

It works in the same fashion as how you collaborate with people from different backgrounds. Innovation can be born from sharing creative ideas with colleagues, offering feedback, and sharing suggestions inspired by varying experiences. Whereas one person may be great with coming up with ingenious ideas, your co-collaborator may have the cultural experience to execute it perfectly.

Realizing that asks the bigger question of how to maximize your travels to reach its utmost creative potential. Whether you prefer taking pictures, writing anecdotes, or bringing home locally produced souvenirs is up to you. The point is to keep a file of potential ideas either online, on mobile, or in physical form which you can pull out when in need of creative brainstorming. 

Of course refilling your creative tank is not exclusive to traveling abroad. Going out of budget and breaking the bank just to seek creativity is not very creative at all. Sometimes, all you need is a change of scenery– that includes a new neighborhood in the outskirts of the metro.

There’s a light to the recent pop culture phenomenon. Research suggests that a change in scenery, cultural and physical, boosts creativity. Or maybe the soul is indeed in search for a fuller life.  

Traveling Refills Your Creative Tank |
A man painting a mural across a foot bridge

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