I recently traveled outside the country for ten days to explore Budapest, Amsterdam, and Paris. The last time I was outside the country was over four years ago--and during those four years, I never once traveled outside of Chicago any farther than Wisconsin, or took a vacation from work for more than three days.
Needless to say, I was long overdue.
The reason I went so long without traveling or taking time off was because I was devoted to my goals. I had things I wanted to get done, projects I wanted off my plate (like publishing my first book), and I was willing to sacrifice whatever necessary in the short term to see the long-term payoff.
The things I set out to accomplish, I accomplished them. But they came at a price. And I didn't seem to realize that price until finding myself staring up at the Louvre in Paris.
There's something about traveling that does wonders for the soul. Creativity is a fickle friend. One day, she's madly in love with you. The next, she can be stand-offish and shy, or frustrated with you all together. It's the reason so many artists and creatives complain of things like "writer's block." Those are the days creativity won't return your calls, and if she does, refuses to crack a smile.
That's because creativity requires a different sort of time and attention. Unlike work, which operates closer to a driven man in business attire, creativity does not want to sit at a desk all day. Creativity does not care whether the lunch is at an expensive restaurant downtown.
What creativity craves, and what many creative entrepreneurs seem to forget (myself included), is inspiration. Input. Long walks through a museum. Nights in an underground jazz club. Quiet mornings spent reading with a cup of coffee. The last thing creativity wants is to be held hostage by long work hours.
Creativity needs time to play.
As I said, I spent four years putting in a lot of hard work in order to achieve the goals I had set for myself. And I can see now that the biggest challenge I faced along the way wasn't the work itself. It was balancing the things that "absolutely had to get done" with the very opposite request falling from creativity's lips: giving myself time to play and let my mind wander.
While traveling out of the country, I remembered how inherently travel forces this behavior. It rips you from your comfort zone, so much so that you have no other option.
Here's why that's magnificent for your creativity.
1. In a new environment, you are forced to relax.
Call it a human survival instinct, if nothing else, but when you're in a new environment you cannot help being hyper aware of where you are. Especially if you're in a country so foreign from your own, you enter a state of relaxation through the simple act of sightseeing. And while you might think you're just "taking in the sights," a few days of this and you'll find your creative juices overflowing.
Why? Input feeds the soul.
2. You can't use your cell phone as easily.
Chances are, if you're traveling abroad then you won't have cell phone service--and while there are moments where that can be annoying, there is a hidden benefit: you cannot escape the present moment.
I found ten days without being able to scroll through my social media apps whenever the compulsion hit me to be extraordinarily relaxing. And in not being able to do so, my head was much more clear, and all throughout the day I found myself exploring ideas that would have otherwise been cut short by a sudden and random need to refresh my Instagram feed.
Traveling is a detox from this tech-reliant behavior.
3. History is humbling.
As an American, one of the most humbling parts about traveling is the vast historical differences that separate the country I am from and other countries in the world. For example: looking at the architecture around Paris makes you realize just how young our country truly is, and how much more of the world existed long before, say, people began immigrating to New York, etc.
Once you get past the realization of what sort of history other countries hold, you then realize that their art and their churches, buildings and statues are so much more than tourist attractions. They are archetypal representations of human life from a very, very long time ago.
That, in itself, is bound to give you a new perspective and a few new ideas.
So remember, there is a time and place for putting your goals first and working hard to see them through. But in order to stay inspired over the long term and allow your creativity to flourish, it's important you take time to step outside of your comfort zone.
And one of the best ways to do that is to travel.