5 Reasons Travel Can Improve Your Design Work

Traveling rocks. Practically everyone likes to travel, whether by land, sea or air. And why not? You get excited to see new environments and people, try new things, and be surrounded by fresh and inspiring surroundings. But did you know that traveling can actually help your design work as well? Yep, there are at least 5 reasons travel can improve your design work.

Now, to be clear, traveling doesn’t directly help your designs (except for reason #4 below). Rather, travel can indirectly improve your design work by improving yourself. When you become better/happier/more excited, your work becomes better as well. It’s like fuel for your brilliant work, and traveling constantly refuels you. The reasons explained below will show you just how traveling does that.

Without further ado, here are 5 reasons travel can improve your design work:

1. You have more effective and focused work sessions

Due to less work time, you’re forced to focus and finish a design or project within that time. It’ll be a more intense crunch-time style work session, but you won’t needlessly stretch out your designing time. You save time that you can put into more work or, y’know, taking in and enjoying the rest of your day.

You know how, when given a deadline, most people finish a project at the deadline? If you have all day to finish something, that’s how long it’ll usually take you. But if the deadline was given for the next day, or even later that day, you’ll find a way to finish it then. We humans have some weird ability to hyper-focus in a crucial situation.

By traveling, you’re self-imposing these stricter deadlines, finishing your design work in less time – and freeing up more of your day for other activities.

2. You constantly get fresh inspiration

New things almost always yield fresh inspiration. You’re seeing and experiencing something for the first time, which gets your ideas and creative juices flowing. Just think back to the first time you saw a radically new design, or watched a new film, or heard a totally different style of music.

When you travel, you can get constantly inspired from new cities, architecture, nature, trains, diverse culture and fashion, and so forth. Besides indirectly getting inspired from all of these new things, you can also pick up some direct visual design inspiration from how some new building is constructed, or the colors of it, or new fashion styles or signs you see around you.

The more you travel, the more new things you expose yourself to, and the more frequently you give yourself doses of fresh inspiration.

3. You keep yourself easily motivated and excited

By having diverse sights and activities during your travels, you can keep yourself easily motivated and excited. Why is this? Well, too much of one thing runs your creative well dry.

Think about it: when you listen to only one style of music or watch one type of film or browse through one kind of visual design style, you eventually start to get bored. And why not? It’s more or less the same thing, over and over. No one can stay motivated and excited with that.

4. You meet new designers and clients

This is a reason that can actually directly improve your design work – or get you new contacts, which can result in new clients or visitors and users. The more you travel and explore new places, the more new fellow designers and clients you can meet. Whether in coffee shops, co-working locations, at conferences, or in the offices and shops of local businesses, you’ll be assimilating yourself more in your field.

The new fellow designers you meet can expand your horizons, whether creatively or through a potential partnership or lead. And meeting new clients speaks for itself.

Nothing – nothing – beats a face-to-face meet and a handshake (or even better, a high-five or fist bump). Not a phone call, not an email, not a Twitter message, nothing. You bypass all those noisy channels by directly meeting a potential new client in person. You can let your (hopefully) likeable personality shine through, and the client will be much more likely to hire you for some work you actually want to do. He or she has sensed what kind of a person you are, in a way that you couldn’t have expressed through an email or even a phone call.

And if nothing else, you can use conferences as an excuse to start traveling more. A web, tech, or design conference is an obvious place to potentially expand your horizons creatively and network-wise.

5. You keep your setup light and lean

Who wants to lug around multiple monitors, some big tablet, and external hard drives? Practically no one, that’s who. They’re luxury items for the most part. And guess what – most designers don’t need much of that stuff. By traveling more, you are forced to trim your tools down to only the essentials.

So you have a laptop, some earbuds or headphones, your select few accessories, and not much else. A pretty simple, clean, and slimmed down setup, right? What you’ll find is by having less, you’ll often actually get more done. Less distractions, less stuff to plug in and turn on, less things to pack and unpack, less things weighing you down. Storage is getting bigger – both on devices and online via tools like Dropbox – so external hard drives aren’t as essential as they once were either.

You don’t have to choose which tool to use, or dread having to plug something in again when you remembered you forgot to tweak something in your design. You just pop open your laptop, fire up Photoshop or a text editor, do the tweak, and bam, you’re done. Yeah, that huge monitor is nice, but you don’t really need to see a few extra lines of HTML code or whatever. Again, luxury item. Yes, yes, it might seem essential, until you go a week without it – then you realize you could do without it. The tradeoff is a lighter setup to carry, which will make your traveling a lot easier and more enjoyable.

Travel Can Improve Your Design Work

Traveling isn’t only fun, exciting, healthy (both physically with all the movement you’ll be doing, but mentally by stimulating yourself with new sights and experiences), and the cool thing to do (the ladies dig travellers), but it can also help improve your design work. It’s a win-win situation.

Also, don’t think of traveling as some all-or-nothing affair. Simply driving or biking around your surroundings you haven’t explored yet is a great start (or if you live in a big city or gorgeous nature environment, a destination unto itself that others would envy). The point is, do something, anything, to explore something and somewhere new. Your design work – and by extension, your clients and/or visitors and users – will thank you.

To recap, here are the 5 reasons travel can improve your design work:

  1. You have more effective and focused work sessions
  2. You constantly get fresh inspiration
  3. You keep yourself easily motivated and excited
  4. You meet new designers and clients
  5. You keep your setup light and lean

Do you travel? What has your experience been in regards traveling positively influencing your design work and workflow? Feel free to share in the comments section below.


  1. says

    Awesome. I just stared my freelance business with dreams of hitting the road and working on the go, so I’ll definitely keep these things in mind.

  2. Anonymous says

    Being a traveling designer is one of the best situations I have found myself in. I lead the UX and design teams for couchsurfing.org, and am constantly relocating to a different country every three to six months.

    It is true that changing scenery, experiences and people create an open mind when it comes to design tasks, and the simple setup that travel forces on me keeps me working within restraints. There are a few tools I have come to depend upon while traveling that make it easier to work this way.

    – 13 inch Macbok pro
    – iPad
    – Homemade iPad stylus (http://www.benhanna.com/2011/01/18/ipad-stylus/)
    – Skull Candy earbuds w/ inline mic
    – iPhone

    – Adobe CS5
    – Skype
    – imgur screen capture
    – Air display
    – UI Sketcher / Draft

    The iPad has a variety of uses, and has become part of my travel workflow. It functions as a touch screen second monitor with the AirDisplay app (think cheap Wacom Cintiq) and allows me to set up with two displays in any cafe.

    UI Sketcher (ipad app) and draft (ipad app) allow me to get ideas out of my head quickly with the same experience as pen and paper without the additional baggage. I can then share them with my team in real time using 37 signals online tools set of Basecamp and Campfire.

    Good headphones and a mic are a must, as they allow you to tune out distraction and communicate with ease with clients and team members.

    The iPhone keeps me located, allows me to share photos quickly, and lets me record thoughts for later.

    Everything packs up into a nice, small backpack or laptop bag and weighs just over 6 pounds.

  3. Anonymous says

    Hi, wonderful article, clearly written, I’ll retweet!

    Mine is a all-or-nothing affair. My wife and I own a design agency, and took it to the next level by travelling *all the time*. Call it permatravellers if you will. We started in May 2010 and doing well so far. As someone truly involved in this field, I can testify that your article is spot on. Not only are we more focused when we work, we also adopted Agile methodologies to deal with our projects. You can check us out at http://graphility.com

    I’m also curious about what led you to write this. Do you travel yourself? What is your experience?

  4. says

    Great Article and great timing! I’m just about to take a plunge and start my journey moving around the world…first stop in Spain (I’m currently living in the Uk!) I’m very sure a new focus and inspiration can come from the travelling – the excitement, the change and the new environment just gives you everything you need to stay sharp with your design/ development skills!

    nice job

    renaldo ~ http://btbmedia.co.uk

  5. says

    I personally like the 13inch MacBook cause it’s lighter. It is pretty small for designing, but it does the job if you have to use that. I had a 15inch before and thought it was a bit too heavy and I find I can design just as much with the 13inch now – it just takes a little getting used to I guess :)


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