Our small group wound through narrow cobbled pathways, across colorful plazas, and over many arched canal bridges, following our hosts with excited anticipation.
For me, this was a dream I had held onto for years… the chance to visit Venice's Piazza San Marco. When we stepped through the final archway into the sunlight, I burst into tears.
“I need a moment,” I said to the group.
The sheer size of the space, the architectural beauty, and the fulfillment of a heart's desire hit me with such force that it stopped me in my tracks. I felt overwhelming gratitude. What a gift to be here!
This entire trip was a dream come true, a chance to allow my curiosity to wander at will and to let my creativity loose to play, like one sunny afternoon when I was blessed with a block of time to relax and sketch Venice’s Grand Canal.
This enchanting waterway was for centuries the main thoroughfare for all the merchants that made Venice a wealthy city. The canal is lined with their palaces and busy with vaporettos and water taxis, gondolas, and working watercraft. There's an incredible view of this stretch of water from the top of the Accademia bridge, where I happily spent a half hour allowing myself to admire and sketch the exquisite scene in front of me.
As the author of this article so wonderfully put it...
“Creativity needs time to play.”
And travel is the perfect playground for your creativity.
If you need extra encouragement to book the trip you’ve been dreaming of taking, here are 4 ways travel inspires creativity. After all, it’s good for your heart and your art!
Travel inspires creativity
by opening you up to new experiences.
When you travel, you’re offered new experiences that you otherwise wouldn’t have at home. These novel encounters with new places and people not only make for great memories to reminisce on, but they also have positive effects on your brain.
As this Atlantic article notes, “new sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.”
So that sweet sip of Italian prosecco, the low din of unfamiliar words drifting throughout the crowded cafe, the creamy bite of mozzarella di bufala, the slow wander through ancient cobblestone streets… all these experiences spark the soul and open the mind.
Researchers completed a study on college students that proved this aptitude for openness that travel can offer. Half the group studied abroad, whereas the other half remained home. Before departure, all students took a test to measure particular personality traits. At the end of the study, both groups once again took this test. Those who had studied abroad showed “increased openness to experience,” whereas the group who stayed at home did not.
This willingness to think outside the box is an integral part of the creative process.
Travel inspires creativity
by strengthening problem-solving skills.
Thinking outside the box leads me into… problem-solving skills.
An essential component of any creative endeavor is problem solving. When you are given a blank canvas, you are presented with the “problem”—what to create? Since creativity doesn’t follow a set template, it invites the brain’s problem-solving skills into the process.
Travel, too, requires a level of problem-solving. When you are in a foreign country, there might be a language barrier: how will you communicate with locals? When you are exploring an unfamiliar city, you might make a wrong turn: how will you get back to the hotel? If your flight gets delayed, how will you rearrange your itinerary?
While thinking through some of these potential plans-gone-awry might cause you to question whether you’re capable of travel, don’t let that deter you: these problem-solving opportunities are good for your brain AND good for your creativity.
A study from Indiana University found that even the mere suggestion of “far away places” produced more creative thinking among study participants. Participants were given a series of puzzles to solve; when told that the puzzles were from California, as opposed to Indiana, the participants showed higher levels of creative problem-solving.
Travel inspires creativity
by heightening your sense of awareness.
When we go through the motions of our daily lives, we’re often on autopilot; our days can easily fall into a familiar pattern. When we complete a routine task, our brains go into “habit” mode, meaning the brain uses less “power” for that habitual action in order to reserve energy for non-routine tasks that may come up in the day. This means you’re less likely to notice your surroundings as you engage in this habitual behavior.
For instance, consider your daily drive, whether it’s to work, to the grocery store, or maybe to your granddaughter’s home. You are likely so familiar with the houses and stores along your regular route that you may get to your destination only to realize you didn’t notice a thing about the journey.
But when you are in a new location, seeing things for the first time, your brain is acutely aware of the details, allowing for a richer, more memorable experience. Instead of autopilot, you are treated to a heightened sense of awareness, making you more likely to notice details—like the way the sun hits a building’s ornate facade or the way the steam rises from your coffee as you watch passersby at an outdoor cafe.
Travel inspires creativity
by building a stronger sense of self.
When you do anything outside your comfort zone, you give your sense of self a healthy boost. And a stronger sense of self—this knowledge of who you are, what you believe, what you are capable of, and what interests you—leads to creative benefits.
When you have higher self-confidence, you are more likely to take creative “risks”—to take the unfamiliar class, try the new art form, or sign up for the creative retreat.
Traveling to a new place is a chance to step outside your “safety zone” and experience something new, boost your confidence, and inspire your creative risk-taking.
But creative inspiration
doesn’t come with just any kind of travel.
Not just any travel will do when it comes to igniting your creativity.
When you try to recreate the comforts and routines of home in a new place, you miss out on the extraordinary benefits of travel.
According to Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School who has studied the connection between travel and creativity, in order to truly benefit from travel, you must immerse yourself within the new culture.
“The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation,” he says. “Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.”
When traveling, have the courage to open yourself up to the new. Seek recommendations from locals rather than sticking to the tourist hot spots only.
Sure, seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night is a must-see, but what restaurants are locals gathering at for a delicious dînner? Local-approved locations will offer you authentic experiences of the culture, so don’t be afraid to ask!
Another tip: let curiosity lead.
My time in Venice taught me that allowing your curiosity to guide you—rather than a rigid itinerary—is also a serendipitous way to explore a new place.
Our hotel was a refurbished monastery right near the Giudecca Canal, the widest canal in the Venitian lagoon. It was an ideal spot to view the sunset, and on our first night, a few of us decided to sit by the water, watch the boats, and enjoy the colorful sky. We were exhausted, jet-lagged, still in the clothes we had worn for about 24 hours, and giddy with excitement. We weren't ready to call it a day yet.
“I wonder what's down there?” one of us said, and we walked to it.
That gave way to “let's see over there,” and so we started wandering… past shops and restaurants with open-air tables and musicians strumming guitars, over bridges and through narrow alleyways.
I bought a slice of the most delicious pizza I’ve ever had and nibbled while we explored. I was captivated by the quiet… bits of conversation, strains of music, lapping water, the scent of roasting garlic.
I believe I fell in love with Venice that night, even though we became hopelessly lost during our wanders. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
So… does that shopfront look intriguing? Take a peek inside. Does the architecture down that particular side street catch your attention? Take a detour down the road. You may stumble upon hidden gems that can’t be found in any guidebook.
Creativity and travel go hand in hand. If you find yourself in a creative rut, a trip to a new locale might be just what you need!
We are going back to Venice this October, and there are just a few openings still available. Interested? Here is more information: