I’ve always believed that traveling is a highly creative act. And after reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, I’ve decided that creativity is actually another word for traveling well. Liz asks, “What is creativity?” and answers that it is, “The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.” When you travel well, you are absolutely tapping into those mysteries, and you feel more alive as a result. You give something of yourself, and you connect with the people and places you visit. You learn things about the world, and about yourself. You come home with powerful memories and ideas you can’t wait to act on. And your experience may echo the experiences of others, but, just like creativity, its power and meaning is unique to you.
While Liz’s book is about how to embrace your own creativity, she also weaves in the impact of travel on her own life, along with tales of Brazil, Bali, Philadelphia, and other places you might visit. Throughout the book, she explores how living as a creative being often means beginning in one place and being willing to end up someplace else – figuratively, and sometimes literally.
Liz writes about how the four concepts below apply to creativity. As I read her words, I thought about how they also help us turn travel into an art form.
If Things Don’t Go the Way you Plan,
Try Something Else
A few years ago, we took a family road trip from Vermont to North Carolina. My husband and I planned to drive to Delaware and spend our first two nights camping on the beach. Our kids gleefully anticipated roasting marshmallows, counting the stars, and falling asleep to the rhythm of the waves. Instead, we all waded through hours of nightmare traffic until well after dark, and were told upon arrival at the campground that there was no admittance after dark, our site had been given away, and there were no available hotels within a two-hour drive. Eddy and I expected some tears, but instead the kids got pretty excited about having a “picnic” in a Safeway parking lot at midnight, and then climbing into their pajamas so we could keep driving south while they slept in the car.
Just yesterday, two years after that road trip, I overheard my daughter telling a friend how great that picnic in the parking lot had been. Of the whole road trip, she said that was the most fun thing we did.
Being open to the experience that’s in front of you, even if it’s vastly different from the experience you had planned, involves bear-hugging your sense of creativity. And it leads to those indelible-ink kinds of memories that make us want to travel more and more.
When You Do Your Inner Work, Your Experience in the World Changes
In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert writes about using meditation as part of the creative process. She notes that “when you push past the difficult, you end up with a raw, new, unexplored universe within yourself.” Although travel isn’t a traditional form of meditation, travel often leads us to being fully present, right where we are. And when what’s happening where we are is unfamiliar or makes us feel uncomfortable, we get to choose whether we’ll push on into new levels of awareness or withdraw into judgement.
Once, I was alone in Barcelona, and feeling totally immune to the city’s charms. I was lonely, and I kept tripping myself in an internal dialogue about where I should live and what work I should be doing.
Frustrated with my thoughts, and wanting to move beyond them, I started roaming aimlessly. As dusk neared, I climbed old cobblestones to the top of a hill crowned by an old church. By chance, someone told me that a poetry reading was about to begin, and I wandered inside. Everyone read in Catalan, which I did not understand. The reading lasted for over two hours. It was the first time I had spent so much time listening to a language I didn’t speak without hearing a translation of anything. I had no idea what anyone was saying, but I was struck by a felt sense of what language means to people, and of collective consciousness. I felt the power of what was being said as a visceral force, and I could see its impact on the people around me.
After the reading, I could have asked someone to explain some of the poems to me in Spanish. But I felt compelled to let the experience be what it was. When I left the church, my problems seemed farther away. I felt at peace with the strangers along my path, with the stars that lit my way, and with my own self.
If You Learn to Appreciate Trickster Energy,
You’ll Feel Better
I realize that a lot of my best travel memories involve events that seem rather disastrous. And then hours, days, or maybe even years later, I realize that those disasters were actually some of the best parts of the trip.
That’s what trickster energy is all about. In folktales from around the world, a trickster is a character who embodies opposite energies, and who helps to transform a situation for the better. When we create and when we travel, our own perception is the shape-shifter that determines the outcome of our experience. Especially when we’re in a place where the language and the customs are different from our own, when we are tired or confused, and when we have expectations or make assumptions about an experience – whether we intend to or not, that experience is seldom what we initially perceive it to be.
When I travel I tend to take local transportation, rather than anything designed for tourists, because I like to get a sense of what’s it’s really like to live in a place.
Once, my husband and I took a local ferry at dusk to a tiny Costa Rican town, with the understanding that there was a bus on the other side, waiting to take us to a beach town. (hmm…dusk, beach, I’m beginning to recognize a previously unnoticed theme in my travels) The promised bus never materialized, the return ferry had already left, and darkness was imminent. We seemed to be on a road with no houses, no businesses, no pay phones, and a sign saying that the beach was a good 20 kilometers away. We found ourselves standing in the dust with locals who didn’t seem to know how they were going to get to the beach town either. They talked and laughed and shared pineapple empanadas with us.
Finally, someone’s cousin’s uncle came by with a red pick-up truck, ready to take all of us to the beach. We packed ourselves onto the bed of the truck, and held onto our neighbors and laughed hysterically when the ruts in the road threatened to toss us toward the trees.
When my husband and I stepped off the ferry, we were frustrated that we were told there would be a bus but there wasn’t. We could have let our fears take over – we were in a place we didn’t know, with people we didn’t know, and we had no understanding of how to get, well, anywhere. But relaxing into the experience let it become a little party. We could feel like adventurers rather than like bumbling tourists. And that part of our trip became more interesting, and even more memorable than the beautiful beach.
Recognize Your Gifts and Keep Moving
Toward the end of Big Magic, the author encourages us to “make space for paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul.” When we travel, we constantly come up against beliefs and ways of doing things that are very different from our own. We get to face our fears, our judgements of ourselves and others, and the possibility that how we live is going to be turned on its head. When we can let all of these things be true, our creativity flourishes, and we grow. And we start dreaming about where we’ll travel next.
Hi, I'm Deidra
To me, transformative travel means traveling in a way that connects you to places and people in a profound way., being real and present with what is happening while you travel and recognizing the impact travel has on your life beyond your journeys.