Buff Up Your Creativity: Ten Creative Capabilities Enhanced by Travel


Florence from the top of the Duomo inspires creativity

I gave this article to my Curious Boulder participants to remind them that travel itself is a creativity workshop. Formerly published in 2009 here, I offer these perspectives to you again, so your summer travel may incite your creative juju.

Creativity is a combination of skills, qualities and perspectives that allows someone to bring ideas into form. Identifying and cultivating those capabilities allows you to be more effective in life and work.

It’sno surprise that the rigors of travel build our creative capacity. Both
endeavors push us to our physical, mental and sometimes emotional limits.

Travel and creativity aren’t for pansies.

After a year as a creative nomad in Europe, and from observing the changes I see in my Curious Excursions participants. I have charted ten ways that travel sparks our creativity. Check out the following ten creative capabilities to see how travel has contributed to yours. 

The wrong! capacity is strengthened. When you travel, you find yourself off targetat least five times per day. You have an inaccurate address, incorrect
opening hours for the museum, you say something inappropriate, you pay too
much…it’s endless. Creative pursuits involve a lot of wrong turns and dead
ends. The wise creative person knows that being off course has nothing to
do with intelligence. You’re not an idiot but you’re going to be
wrong a lot.

Willingness to be uncomfortable. Travel andcreativity both require a person to be comfortable in the uncomfortable,or better yet, to even forget the notion of a comfort zone. We travel andcreate to surpass our known world, and we might as well embrace discomfort rather than try to contrive environments where we feel too ‘safe’. Shrug off your attachment to your comfort zone.

Ability to process and decide easily. Whiletraveling, you amass thousands of new impressions daily. You have to makedecisions based on limited information. Travel forces you to sort, filterand critically assess information easily so you can simplify decisionmaking. I use my creative travel tools to jot lists, capture names, and render in quick sketches what Iwas experiencing around me. Strengthen your ability to sort and process new information to keep what’s useful and discard what’s not.

Heavy lifting en route to Berlin

Flexibility. If you’re not flexible while traveling, you’re going to be frustrated a lot. So you missed that train in Florence. Do something unplanned; it won’t kill you to veer off schedule. The ability to quickly shift from one approach to another is a sign of a developed creative mind. So the structure of your book isn’t what it was when you started; adjust your expectations. Be nimble – but not flaky -- in your creative process or you’ll be very miserable.

Surrealism. Experiencing life in another place can provide fresh solutions for problems you’re facing at home. Creative people are adept at taking one thing and pairing it with another for afresh new idea. The surrealists have a penchant for pairing disparate items for the sake of jolting the mind out of its predictable path. Cultivate new associations based on what you’ve seen elsewhere.

Ability to relax dualistic thinking. We’re naturally prone to comparisons that lead to judgments. But that can hinder insights. If you’re caught up in thinking that it’s better in the US because shops are open on Sunday, you’re missing the opportunity to seewhat could result from doing things differently. Your willingness to set aside a comparative or competitive mindset makes life richer. Creative thinking goes beyond black/white or reductive thinking. Compare for the sake of opening your mind rather than solidifying an entrenched mindset.

Random in Rome

Ability to adjust your pace. Perhaps the places you’re swim upstream, defending your own pace, or you’ll adapt and enter the flow. Creativity has its own timing and pace, and being able to adjustaccording to the ebb or flow makes things much easier. Be responsive to the flow of life around you.

  1. Randomness. I call this juju – when unexpected connections surprise me. Juju appears most often when exploring with little or no plan, or as the French say, flaner. I always encounter something remarkable that sparks a new idea for my work or art. Random or unplanned occurrences are gold for the creative process. Don’t try to control your circumstances or projects too much; leave room for creative juju.

Physical fitness. Travel is tough on the body. Hauling luggage over cobblestones, eating too much strange food, and sleeping poorly can take a big toll. When your body is strong and resilient, you’re able to think beyond your basic physical needs. The same is true for creative work. If you’re not taking good care of yourself, chances are you’re notable to produce your best work. Build a strong physical foundation so you have energy to create and explore.

Bonus: Math smarts. Travel calls for all kinds of quotidian math. Calculating currency conversions, estimating costs, and juggling timetables all build your numeric literacy. Any creative project – writing a book, launching a business, or publishing a blog calls for a nimble numbers mind. Don’t leave math behind; make it work for you and your projects.

The next time you embark on a trip, know that your journey will build your creative
capacity. You don’t have to do much other than hit the road and be open to the
world’s gifts. 

Take time to list a few travel memories that you have. Next to that list, write a note about how that experience contributed to your creativity. Please drop a comment  and let us know how travel has grown your creative capabilities.


Ready for anything in Venice

This article is part of my year-long series of top ten lists to celebrate ten years in business at Original Impulse. Subscribe to Impulses for free.


  1. says

    I found myself nodding at each of those items and had travel flashbacks, saying: “Oh yeah, that situation requires math/flexibility/physical strength”
    So true – we don’t even think of how much we need those skills while travelling!

  2. says

    Getting lost leads to the greatest discoveries! Time to chat with the old ladies in the bus stop, ask a cute man for directions, eat an extra ice-cream while waiting for the next bus, seeing a sunset you never would’ve caught if you had arrived at your destination.
    Love your list. Am inspired to use Dan’s aptitudes to explore my Portugal journey. http://tiny.cc/8l1kH

  3. says

    I’ve just returned home after helping to run a 10-day writing residency (master’s degree program). Although the travel did not take me more than a few hours from home, I can relate to many of the creativity strengthening aspects in your list. What a bonus to add to my photos from Star Island! I can’t wait to share your list with our student body and faculty, many of whom traveled great distances and navigated unexpected snaffoos while enroute.

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