Creative Rituals While On The Road

There is this age-old truism that travel is inspirational. Travel shakes up the stale thought patterns and brain grooves, jumbles them together and allows something fresh to emerge.

This is true. But there are the practical realities of traveling as well, apart from the theoretical creative benefits. Bad food, depressing hotel rooms, too much time spent in motion- all elements that can be anti-conducive to productivity.

Traveling means that one must spend nearly double the time as usual on daily tasks, such as lodging and finding food. The lack of routine means more time spent on simple things: determining where to sleep, where to eat, and where to get essentials. That is extra time that can’t be spent writing, sketching, or otherwise creating.

The travel that I’m referring to, of course, is traveling for work.  Sometimes that essential partner is located in a place that doesn’t have the type of food, hotel or whathaveyou that you prefer.

Then there’s the practical reality of medium, of media. You can’t bring your studio with you on the road. As a creative whose tools include several hundred pounds of machinery, there is literally no way to be “making” while traveling.  Yes, people have this fantasy of van life with a home sewing machine, but once you’ve used an industrial, you can’t go back.

The solutions?

Chunk time into projects. Structure for intensives.

There’s a romantic appeal to the creative who makes work everyday, faithfully entering the studio and producing. But there’s another way of working, and that is project-based creation: intensive programs of focus that last a week or two, and can be equally or more productive that the everyday format.

The key is having a series of different projects to swap between depending on your environment.

For me, there is time for studio work, time for creative direction, and time for business shaping. These are related tasks, which inform and improve each other, but they are tasks that use wildly different toolsets. Thus, when traveling, I optimize for the latter two.


I have tiny sets of pattern making tools that come on the road with us (for those last minute adjustments!) as well as small notebooks for planning, article writing, and ephemera. I also carry a Pantone swatchbook so that creative direction (transforming that perfect color into a number that can be communicated across the continent) can continue.2017-05-23 14.53.49-1

First Drafts

Think in terms of layers of perfection. True, when camping or hiking, it is unreasonable to finalize online pieces, emails, or designs. But, with the lowest tech of objects, you can be productive almost anywhere.

Some of the most inspirational moments I can remember have occurred in a very specific setting: a nice hotel room, morning, when there is nothing on the schedule except to travel later in the day. Daniel spends days like that sleeping in, and I get deeply caught up in my thoughts and notebooks. Those days feel so useful to me that I now consider how to optimize to create such opportunities.

Utilize Spare Moments

Easy opportunities for creative flow and productivity abound while on the road, including:

  • doing laundry
  • waiting to check-in
  • breakfast
  • coffee break
  • train rides and plane rides (for those who don’t get motion sickness!)
  • any and all delays
  • tea time
  • happy hour
  • after dinner drinks


Don’t Run Out of Tools!

Always, always, always have on hand your favorite pens and paper, or your preferred recording device, or something- whatever it is- that you use to create. My current packing list includes:

  • 8-10 muji pens, size 0.5, various colors, though my favorite is blue-black
  • 3 Field Notes notebooks, blank, plus the one in work
  • Pantone swatch book
  • Small scissors, pencil, eraser, ruler
  • Extra Pattern paper
  • Folded up drafts of whatever pattern is in work

2017-10-20 11.07.44

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s