Vacation=More Creativity? Maybe

catinsuitcaseTake a vacation and increase your creativity! Sound too good to be true? Perhaps not.

I had to smile reading an article by researchers from The Netherlands, Finland, and Germany in which they examined the role recreational travel may play for working people. The authors asked workers from varied professions to complete a creativity test before and after a vacation of at least two weeks.

They found that after a break from work, the vacationers were better able to think flexibly, regardless of vacation hassles or workload on return to work. However, despite the increase in flexible thinking, participants did not generate more original ideas, at least as defined by the creativity test. Still, as I’m in the midst of double-time summer teaching, the thought that a break may boost my flexible thinking is encouraging.

I was particularly interested to read that those who had vacationed outside their home country scored slightly higher than those who vacationed in their own nation, even though the differences weren’t significant. It tied to other research that suggests experiences with other cultures may enhance creativity. Sounds good to me!

What does that mean to those of us who may have the opportunity for less frantic schedules during the upcoming summer months? First, perhaps, we need to let go of the thought that vacations are frivolous. ShanghaigardenAmericans, in particularly, are notoriously bad at taking time away from work. It may well be a false economy—at least as far as our minds and imaginations are concerned. And how many jobs could we do better with a bit more flexible thinking?

Second, we can use a little creativity in thinking about what constitutes a vacation and how we can experience other cultures. Last summer my husband and I were able to take a glorious 40th anniversary trip to China, including Lhasa, Tibet. It was wonderful, and fueled my imagination for years to come. But we’ll be saving for a few more years before we do anything like it again. This year we will “vacation” at home. I don’t think we’ll actually go anywhere. But we plan to explore parts of the community we don’t usually visit, check out what’s new in regional museums, and try some unusual new restaurants. Even those small ventures from our usual routines can jog our cognitive pathways, make some new connections, and perhaps push us in more creative directions. Practicing openness to experience in our own communities can be glorious fun, as well as a good creative strategy.

What are we waiting for? Let’s start planning our next adventure.


de Bloom, J., Ritter, S., Kühnel, Reinders, J. & Guerts, S. (2014). Vacation from work: A ‘ticket to creativity’? The effects of recreational travel on cognitive flexibility and originality. Tourism Management, 44, 164-171.

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