The eye has to travel
It was Paris that first made me feel it. The kind of hunger that can only be satisfied by swallowing the world whole and letting it sit and whirl and digest in your stomach. For Kerouac, the road was life. And for me that road led to Paris. I spent three weeks there. Endless spring days where the sun didn’t set until 10pm and life was all about newness. Once the days were up and I’d taken my last Parisian breath (for a while at least) I returned home feeling more inspired than I had ever felt in my life.
Nothing could break it. Not even the long flight. I sat beaming with energy and ideas for 40 hours. Thoughts morphed into lucid dreams and by the time I was back in my own part of the world I couldn’t sit still. Writing and reading and dancing and writing well past a sensible hour. Writing just to write. After a few hours’ sleep the energy and excitement still stirred in me.
Even the corporate droll of returning to work couldn’t calm me down. My co-workers pitied me upon my return – eyes glazed they asked ‘I bet you’re sad to be back huh?’ And while I mirrored their enthusiasm — or lack thereof — I was secretly glad. I beamed for the rest of the week, wavering only slightly when the inevitable jetlag and daily grind caught up with me. Day by day the zest Paris had given me began to fade; but for that window I was on a life high. Anything was possible. The world was mine. My dreams were in sight, and it was Paris. Paris that did it to me.
For my friend Kate Stein, it was India, Vietnam, Cambodia. Raised in Cairns and with a fearlessness about her; Kate’s the kind of girl that makes you want to drop it all and hitch a ride on the wind. For her, travel is less about a holiday and more like chicken soup for the creative soul. A time to live simply rather than splurge and to open her mind up to the new rather than switch off entirely.
“I always come back to simple living when I travel,” she tells me over Skype, sitting on the floor of her Bushwick apartment in New York, legs crossed cosily while surrounded by strips of leather sourced from her latest trip. An artist and stylist chasing dreams in the Big Apple, Kate channels her travels into her work, sourcing and hand-making wearable art collections based upon her new surroundings. For her most recent trip to Morocco though, sourcing materials was just one part of the creative process.
“For the first two weeks I had been recovering and getting used to my surroundings. And then the last five days I had so much inspiration and creativity come to me. I find each time I travel another piece of the puzzle falls into place for me and I find out what is important to my long term happiness. Right when I was about to come back I was beaming with creativity and planning my collection and how I was going to approach it and structure my days when I got back. In a way it was like a euphoric high. A feeling of intense energy, ambition and inspiration.”
The energy, the hunger, according to science, comes with geographical distance, with past research determining that the further away you are, the higher your level of creativity. A number of studies, including that of Jonah Lehrer, have reported that students who live abroad for extended periods of time are more likely to solve problems and think creatively than students who have never lived outside of their birth country. According to Lehrer, “the experience of another culture endows the traveller with a valuable open-mindedness, making it easier for him or her to realise that a single thing can have multiple meanings.”
Such an experience rarely comes with a mere holiday though. The kind that’s wrapped up in an all-inclusive package and with a familiar routine that involves little change other than a beach-side view and more time to read books. In his article ‘Why We Travel,’ Lehrer concludes that creativity comes less with a resort pool and more with the tedious lost in translation moments that travel inevitably throws at us.
“It’s not enough to just change time zones or to schlep across the world only to eat Le Big Mac instead of a quarter pounder with cheese,” he writes. “Instead this increased creativity appears to be a side-effect of difference: we need to change cultures, to experience the disorienting diversity of human traditions. We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.”
For travellers like Kate, the sentiment of a new perspective rings true. “I think what sparks my creativity and what was good for me about the trip [to Morocco] and what I really needed was to get out of New York and change my pattern of thinking. Seeing how other people live inspires a different way of thinking. Being in that spot in Morocco for five days and not moving or doing anything gave me a chance to let my mind wander.”
While her mind still manages to wander, albeit with many more distractions, Kate makes time to sit in her apartment surrounded by strips of leather, the memory of Morocco guiding her hands as she sews.
As for me, the furnace within me waits patiently for the next travel spark to ignite the fire. It’s comforting to know that it’s only a matter of time (and a plane ticket), before the hunger hits me again. Until then I’ll always have Paris.