What a Life of Traveling Taught Me About Being Creative

photo by Andy Hayes
photo by Andy Hayes

This is a guest post from Andy Hayes.

Have you ever wondered if Italians are more creative since their ancestors created such amazing chapels, galleries full of paintings, and other fine works? Or maybe Dutch people are better painters?

While I don’t have an anthropology degree, I do speak three languages (none of them terribly well), have lived in three countries, and my airline reward points programs tell me I have traveled over a million miles in airplanes. I suppose that does give me some clout to reflect on what a life (and career) of traveling can teach you about being creative.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
— Henry David Thoreau

You probably take for granted what is normal.

I suspect a lot of the things that are your everyday life you are taking for granted as “normal.” You probably know those Italians drink espresso instead of an ultra-enormous latte every morning, and you probably have a sneaking suspicion that they dress better than you do, but what about the simple stuff? Did you know Italian refrigerators are smaller? That they don’t refrigerate their eggs? And yes, my friends, they often eat cake for breakfast. (If your Italian flair only falls under that last item, I won’t tell anyone.)

My point here is that little things can be so different in faraway places, but you don’t have to travel thousands of miles to experience and appreciate the subtlety.

I have some ways for you to shake up your creative norms right at home, starting today:

  • Sleep on the opposite side of the bed for one night.
  • Go out to dinner a restaurant with a themed cuisine you don’t know anything about — Afghan? Ethiopian?
  • Go on a walk. Leave the (head)phones at home, but bring pencil and paper. Look UP. Look down. Write down what you see.

These exercises are just to shake that brain of yours so it’s paying attention to what’s right in front of you.

Ever been working on something and threw your hands in the air, decidedly feeling too distracted by other thoughts on your mind, or just too tired? We’ve all been there.

I remember a rather ridiculous travel week for my old employer, criss-crossing the globe for a series of workshops. I walked into our Irish headquarters office, looked out the office window at a drop-dead gorgeous view of Dublin, perhaps one that rivals that of the Guinness brewery (sans the beer taps, naturally). I was too tired at the time to even appreciate it, and I kick myself because that was truly a view worth honoring.

I’ve been to Paris maybe twenty times. I’ve sipped beers with Belgian nuns (you had to be there). I have been on some truly wild experiences. Despite that, I’ve stopped worrying about being impressed and started worrying about appreciating the effort. You don’t have to paint a Monet to invoke a feeling or emotion in someone. You don’t have to be Thoreau to write a book that spurs someone into action — a two paragraph blog post can do that.

Make less comparison to the past and spend more focus “in the moment.”

I close my international ramblings with a thought on language — or, perhaps better put, naming. Here in America we talk a lot about “flow” and “creative state of mind” and “inspiration.” Sometimes we get our heads so wrapped up in these words and phrases that we feel weighed down by them, as if a mysterious psychologist has deemed us unfit for creative service.

You shouldn’t feel that way, so I’m going to leave you with my favorite international phrase: joie de vivre. It’s a French phrase that means the “joy of living” — but like many of these phrases, it’s not about the words but about what’s underneath. It’s a great phrase, and wide open, so guess what? We’re all capable of being creative experts in joie de vivre. (Feel free to update your resume.)

Who knows, maybe if you try on a bit of an international perspective for your creative efforts, you’ll find what you’ve been looking for.

– – –
Andy Hayes is a creative web producer now based in sunny Portland, Oregon. He’s the founder of the upscale living magazine Plum Deluxe. Be sure to connect with him on his other usual hangouts, Twitter and Pinterest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *