Travel, at least the travel I engage in, forces me to think in whole new ways, and tackle problems that never happen in my day to day life. I find routine, though comforting, becomes mind numbing over time. I’m not forced to think as I act largely on instinct. When I travel I’m forced to navigate strange streets in a language not my own, while I wonder about contingencies if the ATM won’t work or the credit card is somehow unusable. I see things and experience points of view entirely different from my day to day existence.
I never travel to rest or have a vacation. I don’t understand the concept of traveling thousands of miles to simply sit by a hotel pool or hide away inside a spa. When I travel to a place I want to see, experience, and do as much as I possibly can in the time I have.
Where at home I am largely an introvert, abroad I approach strangers and ask them questions. I sit and watch people, observing their behaviour, style, and tastes. I document all that I see and experience.
It is during these times, and they have been far too few, that with a sketch book in hand I have had the clarity of thought to ponder whatever problem I am trying to solve. New ideas and new approaches emerge. If you are having trouble thinking through a new direction in your business, new product concepts or simply looking for a new perspective, going abroad, stepping outside the familiar helps immensely.
Though often exhausted, when I return from a trip I feel energised and full of crazy ideas.
The same applies to travelling abroad for extended periods to work, the freelancers dream of running a small business from the beach, working for long periods can help you reinvigorate yourself towards your work in all kinds of unexpected ways. Living and working in a foreign culture forces you to face different challenges daily over a long period of time, ways of thinking and ways of getting things done. It can only have a positive effect.
Jonah Lehrer wrote how travel is a basic human desire that makes you smarter, more open-minded and creative: “Why do we travel? It’s not the flying I mind – I will always be awed by the physics that gets a fat metal bird into the upper troposphere. The rest of the journey, however, can feel like a tedious lesson in the ills of modernity, from the pre-dawn X-ray screening to the sad airport malls peddling crappy souvenirs. It’s globalisation in a nutshell, and it sucks”. Because, “travel, in other words, is a basic human desire. We’re a migratory species, even if our migrations are powered by jet fuel and Chicken McNuggets. But here’s my question: is this collective urge to travel – to put some distance between ourselves and everything we know – still a worthwhile compulsion?”> Yes, “when we escape from the place we spend most of our time, the mind is suddenly made aware of all those errant ideas we’d suppressed. We start thinking about obscure possibilities … that never would have occurred to us if we’d stayed back on the farm. Furthermore, this more relaxed sort of cognition comes with practical advantages, especially when we’re trying to solve difficult problems”, and
cultural contrasts mean that seasoned travellers are alive to ambiguity, more willing to realise that there are different (and equally valid) ways of interpreting the world. This in turn allows them to expand the circumference of their “cognitive inputs”, as they refuse to settle for their first answers and initial guesses.
So my advice is don’t just go to your local coffee shop for a change of environment, go far afield, travel to someplace new. But forget club med, cruises and packages to Cuba; destinations that try to recreate the comforts of home. Instead, travel far and drop yourself in the middle of somewhere different and see if “distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity”.