Struggling with writer's block? Then maybe it's time to pack your bags and hit the road (if you have the means to do so) and find a new adventure — you might be surprised to find out how much traveling can inspire better writing. There's nothing like a new journey to help you finish (or maybe start) your book.
Ever since I was a little girl swept away on family vacations, I have loved traveling to new places. Whether it was a week at the lake up north with my parents, a camping trips to the woods with friends, or a road trip across the country to visit potential colleges, I have always counted down the days until my next adventure — especially it if meant I could bring a good book, a sharpened pencil, and a blank notebook with me along for the ride. To me, nothing inspires good writing more than traveling.
I don't know if it's the simple change in scenery, the interesting strangers I meet, or just the relaxing feeling of being unchained from my desk at home, but traveling has always helped me start and finish my writing projects. It was a family vacation that got me to jot down my first short story as a kid, a trip to New York City with friends that inspired me to work on stories for my high school newspaper, and to this day, my travels are what keeps me writing as an adult. Just this spring alone, I have plans to travel to the Florida coast, New Orleans, northern California, Oregon, Montana, and Colorado, and you better believe I'll have my notebook (OK, and my computer) with me the whole time. There's just something about going new places and seeing new faces that refreshes me, encourages me, and keeps me driven to create the very best work I can.
Let's face it: travel is a huge privilege. To be able to do it for pleasure requires a certain amount of money and freedom, two things that aren't guarantees for so many people. For those who are poor, disabled, or undocumented, leaving the country isn't as simple as buying a plane ticket. Traveling abroad is an impossible feat. For other people, travel isn't a privilege, but a necessity. Trips away from home aren't vacations, but hurried escapes. I know how lucky I am to be able to find this inspiration, because I know my ability to travel is a privilege granted to me because of my class, my race, by citizenship in the United States. To be able to come and go as I please, to be able to afford to leave home and take time off from work, to be able to travel to different parts of the world without fear or prejudice is not something everyone else has the ability to do. But if you do have the opportunity, the privilege, to hit the open road, you can't imagine how much it can help your writing, and how much it can change your life.
If you're thinking about starting, or need help finishing, a project, here's how traveling can help inspire better writing, no matter where you go.
1. Meeting new people can help you create new characters.
Every new person you meet in your life is an opportunity to create a new character in your writing. When you travel, those chances increase exponentially, because you never know the kind of person who will sit next to you on the plane, serve you food at a restaurant, or meet you in a hotel bar. Each stranger, complete with their own life stories and experiences, looks and attitudes, beliefs and personalities, are like unofficial writing prompts that can help you create the perfect heroine or hero for your own story. Just ask J.K. Rowling, whose own incredible characters were inspired by real-life people the author met. You never know when you'll bump into your very own Hermione Granger.
2. Unknown places can become future settings.
Much like how meeting strangers while you travel can inspire you to create incredible characters, visiting new places can also help you develop the perfect setting for whatever writing project you're working on. Whether it be the breathtaking beauty of nature's own wonders, the hustle and bustle of a new city street, or the unique look of a foreign restaurant, each new place you stumble upon could be the setting for your next great story. Take in everything you see, from the grand backdrop to the smallest details, because you never know what you can use in your writing.
3. Exploring different cultures can inform your stories and make you a more inclusive writer.
Whether you're visiting a small town in the U.S. or a major city somewhere else in the world, every new place you go to is another opportunity to be immersed in someone else's culture. From the food and the language to the art and the religious customs, every location has it's own set of norms, standards, practices, and beliefs that you can explore and experience first-hand while you travel. The better you get to know a place, the better you get to know the culture and the people in it, and the better equipped you are to write about people in general.
Traveling and exploring different cultures that can truly help you create more authentic characters and experiences in your writing, characters and experiences readers all over can relate to. Just make sure you do the necessary amount of research and hire sensitivity readers — you want to make sure you're respectfully portraying these places and cultures.
4. A little R&R never hurt a writing project.
Finding new places, meeting new people, and diving into new cultures can certainly shape your writing for the better, but the rest and relaxation that comes with traveling doesn't hurt, either. Every writer, whether they're a political journalist or an aspiring poet, needs a little break now and then if they ever hope to create the kind of writing project they dream of. Traveling is the perfect chance to carve out time to do just that.
5. It forces you, and your thinking, outside the box.
Nothing is worse than a writer's rut, and everyone has a different way of getting out of one, but my tried-and-true solution is always travel. When you travel, you are literally forced out of your comfort zone, away from the place you always write, the people you always talk to, and the experiences you always have. It's a reset button that throws you head-first into something unfamiliar, which can help you see your life — and your writing — from a whole new angle.
6. It's an educational experience unlike any other.
The best writers never stop learning. They are constantly reading work by others, challenging themselves to learn new skills, and filling their already genius brains with even more information to improve their writing. But not all writers can afford to be academics their whole lives, which is why traveling is an excellent educational experience alternative. From the critical thinking skills it gives you by forcing you to come up with travel plans and vacation agendas beforehand, to the historical and cultural lessons it teaches you while you're there, the world of traveling is like a classroom you can find anywhere, any time.
7. Nothing is quite as inspiring as nature.
No matter what you're writing, whether it be a feminist manifesto, a collection of futuristic short stories, or you soon-to-be famous memoir, nothing can inspire your writing quite like the beauty and power of nature. Traveling can help you reconnect with Mother Earth, appreciate the wonders around you, and reset your mind in ways the world of smartphones, 24-hour news cycles, and social media never could. It's a literal and figurative chance to get a breath of fresh air, and then use that to breath new life into whatever writing you do.
8. There's always time to read.
Of all of the writing advice I've heard, read, or even shared, there's one common suggestion authors across the board will tell you: if you want to be inspired to write, you have to read. Traveling presents the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Whether you're waiting at the airport for your plane to board, lounging on a beach over summer vacation, or relaxing in the woods with a campfire and a good book, reading is practically a requirement of traveling. Use your on the road TBR lists to inspire not just what you read, but what you write next.
9. The journey itself is a story.
From On the Road and Travels with Charley to Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, authors have long used their own travels to create stories, both autobiographical and fictional. Use your journey, whether it be with the family to the beach house, with friends to a new city, or by yourself to an entire different world, to jumpstart your next writing project.
You know the old saying, "write what you know." If travel is what you know, don't be afraid to put it down on paper.