It’s not a new theory that getting out of your comfort zone to travel can inspire creativity and innovative thinking. A recent study continues to support the idea that a change of scenery is strong fuel for creativity, whether your travels take you far or near. But what is definitely critical in boosting your creative powers is the level of cultural engagement when you travel. Hanging out at a resort hotel in Costa Rica will have much less of an impact on you as opposed to spending time with locals as a volunteer on a Costa Rican coffee plantation.
But you don’t need to jet off to far away locations or do a gap year to reap the cognitive benefits of travel. There are plenty of interesting ways to refresh your surroundings and dig into a new experience:
Be a tourist in your own city
Traveling outside your comfort zone doesn’t have to mean flying across the globe. You could hop on a bus or take the subway and head to a part of town that’s new to you. Walk through a neighborhood that you usually drive through, go to a museum or ethnic restaurant you’ve never been to. The websites of your city and state tourism boards are excellent sources of information on attractions, tours and upcoming events that you might never have heard about. You can probably even score ticket discounts through the tourism board as a local resident.
Research low cost travel options
Check out summer sales on low cost airlines like Southwest or JetBlue, and choose an attractive fare to a city you’ve never visited. If you like staring out the window on long road trips, Megabus is a reliable and inexpensive bus service (in the US, Canada and western Europe) that even offers free wifi onboad. Book early enough and you can snag tickets for just one dollar! For your lodging, rent an affordable room or apartment on Airbnb, or stay for free with a CouchSurfing host—this is also a great way to get local insight and make a new friend, especially if you travel abroad. If you have a frequent flier account or use a credit card to earn points, you can learn how to travel for free or almost free here.
Know your neighbor
So close, yet so far away. It’s too often that we don’t even know the people living in our apartment building—and the same goes for our neighboring communities. Take a day trip to the next town to see what it’s all about, and if you have more time, visit your bordering state or country.
Be a volunteer
Lending a helping hand to those in need can really change your perspective about the world—and yourself. Help is always needed wherever you are, so you don’t need to travel across the world to contribute–start with your own community. If you plan to spend a good chunk of time traveling (domestically or abroad), look into volunteering options with a program like Workaway or HelpX.
Keeping your creative powers sharp can be hard work. You’ve got to stay curious, avoid getting stuck in a routine and find time to pull yourself out of familiar surroundings once in awhile.
Essentially, the whole point is to try something new to refresh your brain. Who knows–you may not fall in love with the experience, just as not all travel adventures are amazing. But at the very least, you’ll come away with a new perspective.