When you find yourself in a creative rut, how do you usually get past it? You might read a book, play a game, work out, talk to a friend, or grab a coffee at a local cafe. These are great ways to step away from your problems and hectic schedule to let your brain have a bit of a break. Removing yourself from your problem is one of the most significant ways to relieve your creative block and get a better understanding of that problem.
However, there's another way to distance yourself from your problems that is scientifically proven to boost your creativity and cognitive abilities, and that's by actually going away from your problems and traveling abroad to another country!
What pops into your head when you hear the word "traveling"? Do you think to yourself, "going on vacation," "luxury hotels," "way too expensive," or even "absolutely not"? Traveling can be a very polarizing topic for many people. Some love it and will travel anywhere in the world no matter what, and some only want to take a week off at a resort in Fiji if they can get the time off. Then some have no interest whatsoever in going abroad or leaving the country. While all of those are entirely valid, it’s hard to deny that traveling and going abroad can jumpstart your creative thinking skills!
Now before you go, "oh great, I have to spend thousands of dollars to go on vacation just to be more creative, yeah, no thank you." that's not the type of traveling we're talking about at all. You don't have to go to some luxury resort that costs a thousand dollars a night. You can simply stay in the cheapest place possible (as long as it's somewhere culturally different than where you live now). As a result, your creativity begins to bloom again, and that creative block will be kicked to the curb.
What is a Creative Block?
What exactly is a creative block? A creative block is "a phenomenon best described as an overwhelming feeling of being stuck in the creative process without the ability to move forward and make anything new." (Masterclass.com) Many of us experience this feeling, some without even knowing that's what it is. Think about a time when you needed to know what picture to paint, what words to write, or even simply not knowing how to finish your final project for school or work. That's the creative block working its evil magic.
However, don't just think that because you went on a quick vacation, you'll be coming back as the next Van Gogh or Jane Austin. There's a little bit more to it. According to creative researcher Adam Galinsky, "The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. 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 engages in the local environment." Traveling alone won't make you any more creative than you already are. It's when you actively visit someplace new and commit to living and experiencing the unique culture around you.
Committing to Creative Travel
Don't be the kind of person who travels to Rome and ends up eating at a McDonald's. Go and get yourself an authentic Italian Margherita pizza. (Eat it with a knife and fork, though, don't use your hands, it's a lot more common than you think in Italy.) Or better yet, take a professional pizza-making class and become a master at using a wood-fired pizza oven.
Traveling this way is what the experts mean when they say you must authentically travel in a new culture to break away from your creative block.
When you take the risk of staying in a hostel in Peru for a month or living with a group of fishermen off the Italian coast for a year, you'll start to find your creative blocks dissolving away. Going to that all-inclusive resort with endless Pina Coladas might help you relax. But it won't necessarily give you that creative jump-start you've been looking for.
Traveling abroad long-term and exposing yourself to new cultures and ways of life around you is what's really going to get those creative juices flowing again. For this to work and to give your creativity the boost it needs, you need to commit and truly experience the place or places that you are traveling to, don't travel like a tourist. Travel like a local and be a Risk Facilitator like our friends at Curiosity 2 CREATE always say; get out of your comfort zone and into your creativity zone!
Not to mention that timing is everything. Staying in one place for a month or even longer will help your creative juices start flowing again. A week in Cancun, however… not so much. While it's hard to deny that a week away anywhere can still help boost your creativity, that's more so because you are relaxing and able to decompress. Taking a break from work has been proven to help, but does it necessarily make you more creative? Or does it just help you restart your brain for a minute until it happens again?
Most studies agree, and so do we, that it's about more than just being anywhere for an extended period. It's about actually partaking in and experiencing the new culture and environment around you. Trust us when we say that figuring out how to get around a new country while not knowing the language or how anything works is not exactly relaxing. But oh boy, does it pay off once you finally get where you need to be. After dealing with that ordeal, you'll be able to handle almost any problem heading your way.
If we still need to convince you, let's look at what some experts say about this creativity-boosting travel phenomenon. One of the best studies to date is that of William W. Maddux of INSEAD and Adam D. Galinsky, a Professor at Northwestern University. They explored the idea that traveling and living abroad can lead to increased creative thinking and problem-solving. Using five different tests, they discovered that those who have lived abroad could solve those tests more efficiently and creatively than those who haven't. Furthermore, simply having the participants think about their time abroad significantly increased their creative problem-solving skills!
In fact, they discovered that the more time someone spent living abroad, the more creative they became, as people with two to three years of experience traveling were more creative than those with only one.
Being a part of a new culture is one of the most unique and rewarding experiences a person can have. Yet living there isn't enough; you have to LIVE there! Again, staying in a five-star hotel will give you a different experience than living in a small local town, meeting new people, trying new things, and speaking their language. All of these new experiences involve a form of risk-taking, which help to bring you out of your comfort zone—making it easier for you to think outside the box and find solutions that may not be considered "normal" from where you originally lived.
If this sounds like something you need but don't know how to go about it, or you're thinking, "how the heck can I even afford this?" don't worry! Next week we continue this topic and dive into how experiencing new cultures is the butter to traveling’s long-term bread. In this four-part journey, you will learn everything you need to know to give yourself the ultimate creative boost you’ve been looking for.
Trust us. It's a lot easier than you might think. At the end of this four-part series, we will give you tips and tricks that help make this kind of traveling much easier AND cheaper than you might expect. So stay on the lookout for our following guest blogs on Curiosity 2 CREATE.
In the meantime, come check us out and say “hi” over at Alpacka My Bags to get some tips and tricks right away! You’ll also be able to see how traveling and being in new cultures has helped us grow creatively too! If you need a starting point check out our blog on the top 10 tips to start traveling now as a beginner.
See you soon!
We are AlpackaMyBags and our goal is to help encourage you to go and explore the world that's around us, whether that's through food, culture, history, art, or even adventures in nature, we want to encourage you to be the best version of yourself while becoming a worldly explorer.