Hemingway knew it.
George Orwell and Mark Twain did too.
And because they incorporated this truth into their lives, it gave their writing that special sauce that elevated the quality of their work.
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, this truth will help you too.
Traveling to lands far and new is not only super-glamorous and sexy, it makes you a better writer as well.
And if you’re serious about improving your own writing skills, you should prepare to do some traveling too.
How travel makes you a better writer
Many have long believed that travel has a positive impact on our minds. And now the results of recent research, and commentaries by respected writers, helps to explain why.
1. It adds sparkle to your dusty old shoes.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – TS Eliot
Ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut, writing about the same problems in the same old tired ways?
If so, put some distance between yourself and your work, and go explore someplace new. You’ll come back with a fresh view of the familiar.
Here’s what various studies showed:
… a larger amount of research exists on construal level theory (CLT), a theory that states the closer individuals are to things, problems, and ideas, such as being in the “here and now” and “up close” with problems, the more concretely, literally, and unimaginatively they think about these problems. The theory states that by getting far away from problems or issues, even if it’s just at a perceptual distance, the more abstractly individuals think.
Author Jonah Lehrer expanded on the explanation in less scientific terms:
The larger lesson is that our thoughts are shackled by the familiar…Distance helps loosen the chains of cognition, making it easier to see something new in the old.
Don’t let the familiar shackle your creative mind. Breathe new life into your mundane world, by looking at it with new, well-traveled eyes.
2. It destroys your boxes
This is why I believe in the discipline of travel. It does something to the soul that no other activity can touch. It stretches your mind and perspective in new and extraordinary ways.
– Jeff Goins
A few years ago, I taught entrepreneurship for a week at an all-girls school in rural Kenya.
In just five short days, I experienced life lessons that would’ve taken me much longer to learn had I stayed in the comfort of my normal surroundings. Here are a few:
- I spend way too much time thinking about my hair.
- My concept of “fresh food” was flawed.
- Free public school, hot showers, and internet access are luxuries I took for granted.
- Where you’re born tremendously influences the course of your life.
- Teenage girls are teenage girls, no matter where they live in the world
My mind was blown with how much I learned about myself, human nature, and the world.
Travel does that to you. It expands your perspective.
And that broadened point of view enables you to be more innovative. Science backs that up too.
One study compared creative directors of high-end fashion houses.
Those who’d lived and worked abroad consistently produced more creative fashion lines than those who hadn’t.
Another study showed that students who had lived abroad performed better on puzzles and problems than those who hadn’t lived in a foreign country.
According to the researchers, the students who’d lived in another country had superior results because they were better at open-minded thinking. They noted:
This type of thinking takes form in foreign countries as individuals realize that there are many different—and valid—ways of living in the world. There isn’t one right way or viewpoint, and a single issue or problem often has multiple viewpoints or solutions.
Do you spend a lot of time thinking inside a box? Let travel get rid of the boundaries you operate in. Then you’ll be free to explore in your writing ideas that are far from your norm.
3. It helps you get a life
Life may sometimes imitate art, but more often, life inspires art. – Glen Long
Great writing flows from great ideas. And where do amazing ideas come from?
According to Glen Long, managing editor of Boost Blog Traffic, they often come when you’re spending time away from your laptop:
Life experiences are the fuel for authentic and powerful writing. Go out of your way to meet and understand different types of people—it will build your empathy muscle. Put yourself in new, even challenging, situations. Absorb everything.
Traveling to unknown lands will give you plenty of challenging situations. It’s also the ultimate empathy booster.
Japanese author Haruki Murakami explained how his experience living in the U.S. impacted him:
During the four years of writing The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, I was living in the U.S. as a stranger. That “strangeness” was always following me like a shadow and it did the same to the protagonist of the novel. Come to think of it, if I wrote it in Japan, it might have become a very different book.
Are you living fully enough to allow life to inspire your work?
If not, traveling will give you a boatload of life experiences and stories to keep you stocked with unique ideas for eons.
5 Ways to travel (options for every budget)
Travel can do wonders for you as a writer. So if you want to add some special sauce to increase the quality of your work, you need to do it. Often.
Here are five ways to make travel a regular part of your world. No matter what your budget or life circumstances are.
1. Change your address
Living in another country will take you far from your comfort zone. Even the simplest of things can turn into an adventure. As a result, you may have many “are you kidding me?!” moments.
But that’s part of the process to giving you better writing skills.
And if you’re going to live abroad, don’t cheat and hang out only with expats. Immerse yourself in the culture to get the most out of the experience.
Bonus points if you move to a country where the native language is different from your own.
2. Ditch the resorts
Living abroad not an option for you at the moment? Don’t fret. A vacation can bring great results too. That is, if you vacation the right way. Which means, don’t hang out only at the resort, or stick to the tourist attractions.
Wander around a bit.
Engage with the locals.
Eat where they eat.
Travel the way they travel.
It will change how you experience the country, and how you view and understand what life is like for the people who live there.
3. Skip the long customs lines
Living and traveling abroad can get expensive. So if that’s not in your budget at the moment, try a short trip to another city within your own country.
Remember, studies showed breaking your routine by adding in some distance was one of the ways to unlock your creativity. So go explore what’s going on in other parts of your homeland.
New York City is vastly different from San Diego. And San Diego is worlds different from Birmingham. There are lots of culture shocks to be had across city, county and state lines.
4. Become a local tourist
Travel budget running low? Then consider not even leaving your own city. Just go to a different part.
Cross the tracks.
Spend a Saturday exploring a part of town you’ve never been to.
Instead of going to that restaurant you always visit, try one with people who run in different circles than you.
Become a tourist in your own ‘hood. I bet you’ll marvel at how much of your city you haven’t experienced.
5. Engage in mind travel
If none of the other options work for you, you can still let your mind travel to lands far away. Even if your body stays put in the comfort of your home.
Immerse yourself in documentaries and books on other cultures. Get lost in the stories and imagery as you educate yourself on people in other places.
It’s time to pack your bags.
You already spend a ton of time working on your craft. And that hard work pays off.
But if you want to see an exponential increase in your writing skills, you need to shake things up a bit. You need more colors to paint with. You need to venture outside the comfort of your familiar world.
As prolific traveler and writer Chris Guillebeau notes: Travel is disruptive and forces you to think differently.
Thinking differently from the way you did yesterday is just what you need to improve your writing skills.
So pack your bags.
Your writing, and your readers, will thank you for it.
How will you incorporate travel into your writing life? Share your plan in the comments.