Working as a creative is a blessing — whether you’re an entrepreneur, writer, designer or aesthete, it’s a gift to be able to work on engaging, right-brained projects daily.
But inevitably you hit a wall and that creative well feels like it’s just dried up. Most of the time, it’s possible to try and slog through those days (or weeks) when motivation and inspiration are lacking. But sometimes, it’s necessary to take more extreme measures.
Grab your sunnies; it’s time for a road trip.
As a nation, Americans fell in love with the idea of driving the open road and exploring the every inch of our nation’s topography in the 1920s when automobiles became a more affordable way to travel. And when the National Parks and highway systems expanded in the 1930s and 1950s, it was even easier to load up the family car and take off on an epic summer adventure.
The idea of a road trip is a bit dichotomous — yes, it represents wholesome Americana, but it’s also become an iconic life event for creatives and society’s outliers. The solo road trip is a totally different excursion than a family vacation. When creatives decide to go on a road trip, they’re quite literally taking a page from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. It’s the Call to Adventure, the last step in the “ordinary world” before the hero travels to the next level and crosses the threshold.
Answering that call can result in a powerful transformation and provide creatives with a whole lot of inspiration. If you’re trying to work through a creative block, or just need something to reinvigorate your soul, a road trip might just be in order.
Here’s why you use up those vacay days with an impromptu drive and how to get the most out of every mile:
Driving encourages your brain to think differently.
Ever arrived at work in the morning, stepped out of your car and realized that you were completely distracted during your commute and can barely remember how you got from your home to your office? Somehow, you went on “autopilot” — without being aware of it, you successfully navigated through roads and highways without hurting yourself or someone else. It’s uncanny that we can somehow operate heavy machinery without really focusing, because driving requires some serious multitasking: To break and accelerate, keep a vigilant eye out for pedestrians and cyclists, navigate to the final destination … and of course, toggle with the music until the optimal driving song comes on.
Like any complicated task, driving lights up the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Because the prefrontal cortex is the mind’s “control center,” driving (or any activity that requires understanding and applying rules) is particularly good at waking up the command center. The prefrontal cortex is also thought to be responsible for our decision making process, moderating social behavior, planning and goal-setting. It acts as the seat of our personality. A long drive effectively fires up the prefrontal cortex — which could help you think more creatively when you sit down to work on a project or inspire you to expand your thinking on a long-term goal or project.
You’ll gain fresh perspective.
No need to justify taking a few days off from work to explore a new place — studies indicates that immersive travel experiences encourage greater creativity in the workplace. According to researchers from Columbia University, the more time one spends living and experiencing a new locale and culture, the more likely that person is to be creatively successful. In their study, the researchers examined 11 years (or 21 seasons) of travel habits of the creative directors from major fashion houses. Those who traveled often and spent significant time exploring a new place were more likely to have critical success and positive reviews of their collections over the years.
The key, though, to unlocking that creativity and innovation seems to rely on getting down and dirty wherever you go. So grub down at the local diner, check out the dive bar next door to your motel and take some time to visit local historical sites and hear stories about the place you’re visiting.
… studies indicates that immersive travel experiences encourage greater creativity in the workplace.
Unscheduled time gives you mental freedom.
Whatever you do, don’t plan on being “traditionally” productive. Expecting to take a road trip and simultaneously write that new book/screenplay/next three months worth of content will just be stressful and likely disappointing.
Things happen during travel days. Inevitably, something goes wrong or takes longer than expected. Avoid sticking to a tight schedule, because it might just hinder your creative flow. It’s OK to have a basic plan or idea of things you’d like to see or do; but as often as possible, try to just follow your intuition. If it seems like a good idea to stop at that quaint little coffee shop that’ll take you slightly off your route, do it. No one can predict where that next spark of divine inspiration will come from.
The lovely thing about road tripping is that you’re totally in control of where you’re going and how you’re getting there — no airports to rush to or trains to catch. Keep your eyes peeled; the more you look, the more you’ll see and the more your path will become clear.
Avoid sticking to a tight schedule, because it might just hinder your creative flow.
Cultivating new relationships encourages us to look at ourselves differently.
Quiet alone time can be incredible. Sometimes, it’s the meditative experience that you need to work through a problem or brainstorm a new creative project. But getting a fresh perspective on life from a total stranger can be just as galvanizing.
Consider going on a solo road trip, it’ll force you to interact with people you might’ve ignored or just exchanged a few polite words with if you were with a friend. Learning another person’s story and worldview might make you reconsider yours.
Not quite sure you’re ready to travel on your own? Instead of traveling with a BFF or significant other, bring someone you care for but haven’t spent a lot of one-on-one time with. It’ll be interesting to share new experiences, bond over the crazy stuff that you see and get to know each other on a deeper level as you have multi-day conversations.
Okay, you’re in! Now how do you have the best, most inspiring road trip ever?
Keep it short. Have a destination in mind and only spend one to six hours on the road every day. Too much driving is exhausting and will inhibit your ability to experience the cool stuff in every place you stop! Before you go, make sure you’ve got a general idea of where you’ll spend each night.
Be flexible with your lodgings. Campgrounds can be reserved in advance, but typically during off-season (September to April) you’ll likely be able to drive up and find a same-day camping spot. Airbnb is also a great option for an affordable stay, as long as you’re OK booking a few days in advance. Finally, check out HotelsTonight.com for last minute hotel room deals. It might not be available for more rural areas, but most medium-sized towns list empty, discounted rooms on the site.
Expect to have spotty cell service. Despite the fact that it seems like the entire world is constantly connected to Wifi, you will lose service at some point during your trip. It’s kind of a good thing — losing access to emails, texts and Instagram will really force you to be in the moment! But in order to be safe, pull up directions and take screenshots every time you input a new destination and try to check in with someone at home (who’s not traveling) once a day.
Don’t plan too much. Already mentioned, but worth repeating. Don’t over plan. Know the general points of interest for your destination and then be flexible.