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by Lynn S. Schwebach

Authors working at the start of the 20th century— Henry James, Edith Wharton, Somerset Maugham—traveled widely throughout the U.S. and Europe, often residing in different “summer” and “winter” locales. Many of these writers’ iconic characters did the same, which added to their complexity and interesting lifestyles.

Creative individuals of all genres romanticize this type of vagabond lifestyle, but point to lives  with economic constraints, families, jobs, and the practicalities of daily life keeping one at home.  Commercial destinations such as Walt Disney World or fancy beach resorts often come nicely wrapped in packages that require little planning – but often end with large bills.

This is not to say that themes parks or beaches aren’t fun or beneficial for relaxing. Yet many desire to immerse themselves into a city or town different from one’s own without spending exorbitant sums of money – and acting as a typical tourist.

Thanks to today’s information technology, creative travel options abound, giving every type of traveler the possibility of different types of extended stay options. For instance, those with virtual jobs such as computer programmers, educators with summers off, and entrepreneurs, are now able to work from remote locations for weeks or months at a time.

I Wanted a Home Not a Hotel

I recently used a website to locate a long-term rental in Chicago, a common destination for me because of friends and family. However, I wanted something that provided a more home-like environment so that I could bring my writing and painting with me, and which gave me the chance to work and live in this vibrant city.

You might ask what the benefits are of working or living for more than a week in a remote city or country. I personally believe that the benefits are essential, but that’s just my opinion. However, creativity researchers now support my personal hypothesis. What authors knew more than a century ago, scientists and researchers now prove: travel helps fuel creativity. In other words, it’s a cerebral boost for helping our minds expand and think differently, giving us the space we all need for breakthroughs and new, novel approaches to solving problems. (Also see the article, Why Cutting Arts Funding is Lethal.)

William Maddux, associate professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD in France, studies how cross-cultural experiences affect individuals’ creativity. He, along with Adam D. Galinsky, professor of ethics and decision in management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, studied and compared students who live overseas to those without that experience.

In a published article, they reported that students who had lived overseas solved problems better and faster than those who hadn’t traveled. Their findings led them to conclude that foreign travel directly contributed to open-minded thinking, which led to better problem-solving abilities.

The good news is that other researchers have found that any type of travel – overseas or within one’s own country or even within one’s own mind – generates new ways of thinking.

Lile Jia, a PhD graduate student in psychology at Indiana University (IU) Bloomington, showed that merely thinking about distant places helps expand creativity. In his studies, participants never physically leave the campus. Rather, he has them solve problems by imagining how someone in another country or a different part of the United States might derive answers to a specific task.

For example, he gave brain teasers to different groups of students. He told one group that the brain teasers came from individuals living in California. Compared to students who thought the brain teasers came from those on the IU campus, or weren’t told where the brain teasers came from, those who thought the brain teasers came from California did much better at solving the puzzles.

In another study with similar results, he told one group of participants that other students studying abroad in Greece developed a task that derived different modes of transportation. He told another group of participants that students living on the IU campus actually invented the modes of transportation task.

He then asked both groups of students to try and match the modes of transportation developed by their peers. Those participants who thought that students in Greece developed the task came up with significantly different and more transportation options, and they were much more creative options than the group who though that IU students developed the task.

Psychological Distance

In summary, Jia hypothesized that increasing psychological distance, even by simply stating that the source of a problem came from another state or country, increased creative thoughts and insights.

So are you wanting to get away to increase your creativity but you’re not crazy about the sterile environment and often high cost of a hotel room? And you don’t want to merely travel within your thoughts?

The website Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) is a great place for creative travel alternatives. The site lists privately owned homes, apartments, condominiums, cottages, and cabins that individuals rent on a usually a weekly or monthly basis. Depending on the location, size, and number of travelers, the prices can be much less expensive than staying in a hotel.

Coloradoans Mary Halcomb and her husband Gary used VRBO while traveling in Spain, staying in apartments in Madrid and Barcelona.

“We love VRBO because you can read traveler reviews, find tips for restaurants and sights, and plan access to public transportation before you even get to your destination. It is wonderful to have a ‘home’ feeling while traveling, living in a real neighborhood, instead of a hotel environment. We enjoy the opportunity to shop in the local markets and cook some of our own meals.”

This autumn, they plan to use VRBO while traveling to Prague, Krakow, Budapest and Vienna.

TripAdvisor is another website that offers both hotel accommodations and rentals by owner. This is where I found a property “North of Chicago” offfered by Maggi. Her cottage has been an ideal retreat for me to pretend that I’m a real writer,  living like Edith Wharton or Henry James, finding inspiration in  my summer lodgings.

And yes, I’m more creative in a neighborhood that is walking distance to Lake Michigan and restaurants, where a full-size sculpture of a horse sits in the front yard, and a Kandinsky poster hangs on the living room wall – and I can peer out my kitchen window at Maggi’s idyllic garden.

I give it five creative, unusual stars. I call these stars hoof prints. I’ll let you know how many hoof prints my next destination receives.