Travelling through several countries on two different continents, living in eight different cities (and one island), switching apartments every couple of weeks and visiting dozens of parks, sights and landmarks nearby doesn’t sound like the ideal way to get creative work done.
To be honest, it probably isn’t. And still, while doing this over the course of this year, two books got somehow written.
Here’s the thing: Even though learning to be productive anywhere was quite a challenge for me, getting input and inspiration on the way – from the South American Andes to the Austrian Alps, from Caribbean beaches to Berlin’s club culture – was what fuelled my work more than anything else.
If you are a creative type and thinking about travelling the world to find inspiration, here’s my personal plea for you to get your suitcase packed and your ticket booked!
It’s also a plea for a different kind of travel, a plea for diving into local culture and moving off the beaten track. The right mix of connecting and disconnecting, getting lost and finding input, constant creation and conscious moments of leisure is what will provide you with plenty of fertile grounds for your creative endeavours.
1) Connect, Connect, Connect
When moving to a new city, the easiest way to get a feeling for the place is to connect with as many locals as possible.
Ask for their recommendations, and make sure to state you’re interested in things that go beyond the usual tourist spots: Which are the up and coming districts? Where does the alternative culture thrive? What about local events that are generally ignored by tourists?
If you’re shy or don’t speak the language, simply take some time to observe: Which are the places crowded by natives rather than tourists? Which medium of transport do they prefer, how do they deal with each other, which kind of food do they eat?
I had some of the best and most inspiring travel moments when attending champeta parties in the barrios of Cartagena, drinking draft beer in the shady bars around San Salvador’s central market, or trying to find the best ajiaco soups in the suburbs of Bogotá. I wouldn’t have experienced any of those places if I hadn’t connected with locals who invited me to accompany them.
2) Then: Disconnect
Disconnection is the second major element of being creative on the road for me. While it’s admittedly not good for blog traffic and social media presence, I have noticed that fully immersing myself in a new place will skyrocket my creativity.
This means: Ignore email for a while, close your Twitter client, even leave your laptop and cellphone at home and just start to walk around, being totally in the here and now. It’s hard to get a feeling for the area if you’re looking at a screen all the time!
3) Getting Lost: The Anti-Guidebook
Sure, you wouldn’t want to visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, but if you’re up for taking inspiration to a new level, don’t just stop there. Move beyond the photographic highlights and the recommended restaurants, even if time is short.
The easiest way to do this: Walk around your destination until you don’t have any idea where you are. Then, find your way back. Taxis are not allowed, unless you really are drifting.
Of course, this advice is to be taken with a grain of salt when you’re travelling in dangerous areas, but even cities like Medellín in Colombia provide plenty of opportunities to get lost without risking to get mugged on your way.
We’re living in a remix culture in a remix world. I believe that everything you see and experience on your travels will be reflected in your creative work in one form or the other, anyway – so why not embrace it consciously and create the craziest remixes you can make up?
Even if you end up doing this just for your personal amusement, it will be a relieving practice that will impact your approach to creative work. Bonus tip: If you’re interested in “meta remixes”, be sure to check out the immigrant quarters of the city you’re at: The amicable “clash of cultures” (like the meeting of Austrian and Balkan traditions in Vienna’s 16th district) will baffle your expectations and make your creativity thrive and prosper.
5) Your Travel Journal
Don’t just collect your receipts, photos and memories from the trip, do something with them! The classical format of this is a travel journal. But as this stuff tends to backlog quickly, experiment with keeping the journal regularly and in real-time, even when on the move.
You won’t have more time later, anyway – and if you need to get some photo prints done or copies made, you can do this in most cities in the world nowadays. The results might look a bit less polished than a journal created back at home, but the real-time process can trigger a lot of creative energy for your other projects.
There are many challenges when it comes to being creative on the road, but the principal one is the same as always: You have to do stuff in order to get stuff done! Trite but true – you have to get going in order to make some progress with your creative work! For me, the thing that tends to hold me back me the most is an exaggerated perfectionism and an all too serious approach to creativity. Thankfully, there’s an easy remedy: Be playful! The only thing that matters is to keep moving, to keep creating, to keep doing. Circumstances will never be perfect, but despite of that, taking small but real steps towards your magnum opus is the only thing you can do to make headway.
7)In Defense of Idleness
Adopting a do habit has a flipside, of course! While some people seem to thrive on crammed agendas and stressful lifestyles, I believe that most of us actually benefit from regularly enjoying some hours of idleness!
The reason for this is simple: Idleness gives your brain time to process all the input you permanently receive. It will lead to new connections, new insights, and new ideas. This is of course even more important if you are permanently traveling and exploring.
The things you see and experience will have an impact on you, and it could be helpful to give yourself the proverbial headspace to deal with them. And let’s be honest: Not only will your creativity benefit from some leisurely hours here and there. In a world of total work, doing nothing for a little while can simply be a delightful act of rebellion.
Wow, he has got around a bit hasn’t he?
Fabian’s new book Productive Anywhere is available now, and features great advice on travelling and getting things done as well as great interviews and other bonus info.
To get a free taster you can listen to or download a transcript of his interview with Chris Guillebeau, who currently runs a hugely successful online business whilst being well on his way to completing his mission of travelling to every country in the world by the age of 35. So yeah, probably worth a listen.
Disclaimer: I will get a cut of the profits if you follow my link to Fabian’s book and buy it, but the cost to you remains the same. Then once I’m filthy rich from I can travel all around the world like Fabian does, drinking the spoils away in a variety of Caribbean beach hut bars.