12 life lessons traveling can teach a graphic designer

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller says it well. Travel teaches you all sorts of things, not the least of which is to look at the world in a different way.

The same is true of graphic design. It’s a way of looking at the world around you. The two have a lot in common, which means that it’s easy to take lessons from one and apply them to the other. Here we’ve taken 12 of the most meaningful and useful pieces of travel advice that speak to graphic design.

We hope that you can use this traveler’s mentality to expand your life. It will change the way you think and improve you as a graphic designer.

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1. Question the status quo

It’s something that a lot of long-term travelers have. A desire to question the status quo, to do something different than they’ve done before, or something different than what’s expected of them.

As a designer, you’re surrounded by rules and trends. A lot of people do the same thing, the same way. It works for many of them, but if you look through the work of the best designers out there, you’ll notice that they don’t stick to the rules. They play with them. You may never be able to completely throw out the rule book, but try doing something that you’re not supposed to do just to see what comes out of it.

2. You are never alone

Starting something on your own is a scary thing to do. Whether it’s taking a trip or starting your own design business, it doesn’t matter how much support you have from a family or community. It can sometimes feel like everything is dependent only on you. But when you start to feel alone, it helps to think that someone somewhere is a part of every decision you will ever make.

Knowingly or subconsciously, you’re following the example of people who have trod a similar path to the one before you. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you know that whatever your doing has been done before, and that it’s possible. Holding onto that encouraging thought when going off on your own will help you to feel supported.

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3. You don’t need as much stuff as you think you do

Immense industries have come up surrounding both travel and design. From fancy hotels, expensive airlines and travel-specific goals to expensive design technology and workspaces. In travel, a lot of people think that if they don’t have the money to experience the highest end of these options, then they can’t travel at all — the opposite of the truth. My personal experience has led me to often pursue the more inexpensive options, as it can be much more rewarding and authentic.

A lot of new, or even experienced, designers can get caught up in the commercialism as well. Thinking that the only way they can do their job is to have the best and newest technology. And admittedly, it’s a career that requires a certain base-level buy in. You have to be able to create certain file types, and have them be compatible with people you will be working with. But it doesn’t mean that if someone has a better computer than you, that they’re going to create better designs than you are.

4. It’s ok not to know something

A lot of times when you start out on a trip, you want to know as much as possible, where you’re going to go, what you’re going to do and when. But sometimes the best experiences come out of the spontaneous, or when you don’t know something.

It can be that way in design. Once you start in a certain style or genre, it’s easy to stay there. To keep working on the same kinds of projects, because you know you can execute them. But rejecting jobs because you’re not 100% sure you know what you’re doing isn’t always the right choice. Trying something new can invigorate your design, expand your skill set, and give you a reason to collaborate with the design community — ask for help if you need it! But take the calculated risk.

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5. Growth comes from experience

Reading about a place is one thing, experiencing it yourself is a completely different thing. A lot of times when you pick a place to travel to, it’s something you’ve read about before. But being there — hearing the sounds, smelling the smells, experiencing the culture, and seeing how similar and how different it is to where you’re from, is a completely unique experience.

Similarly, you can read about design as much as you want, but it doesn’t make you a designer. You have to try things out, determining what you enjoy doing and what you’re good at. Have you noticed that many of designers have a specific genre or style of design that they tend to work in? Most often, they didn’t just pick that out of a hat — they tried their hand at a bunch of things, and went with what they enjoyed and showed a talent for.

6. Mistakes are a good thing!

The best way to learn is through doing yourself, and that’s going to lead to mistakes along the way. In travel, it could be translating something incorrectly, then missing a train or going to the wrong place. The experience will raise your level of adrenaline for a little while, but once you calm down and correct the situation you’re much less likely to make that mistake ever again.

The same goes for design! You’re going to make mistakes, it’s inevitable. So you can have a panic attach and let the possibility of mistakes deter you from doing what you want to do, or you can embrace them as opportunities to learn and get better.

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7. Don’t build your life to impress people

Looking at social media, it can sometimes seem like the only reason people travel is to take selfies in new locations. To broadcast to their community how successful and exciting they are, whether it’s because they’re on a vacation or have made travel a storybook lifestyle. But that, as often as not, leads you to to doing things that you think other people will like, rather than what will benefit you.

Design involves working with a client, giving them what they need. But this doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice what you care about as a designer — what your aesthetic is, or what your personal values are. Don’t select clients solely based on how they’ll look in your portfolio. If you’re pretty sure that a client is going to be too different from you to work well together, maybe pass on that opportunity.

8. Nobody has it all figured out

When you’re starting out as a designer, it can be easy to be intimidated by more experienced designers or clients. It comes up a lot in travel as well, feeling like you’re the only one who has no idea what is going on.

So your challenge is to see the more experienced as inspirational, and yourself as bringing something new to the table. And to realize that it doesn’t matter how much they’ve done before, other people are facing the exact same problems as you are — the key is that they’re using experience to help inform them of how to solve them more creatively and efficiently.

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9. You can’t make everyone happy

Being a stranger in a foreign place does tend to make you want to fit in, to please the people that you’re around so that they welcome you into their lives. The people around you enrich your experience of a place, but it’s not always a positive experience.

As a designer, you’re never going to please every single client. If you begin work with a customer and it doesn’t seem to be going well, develop a set of skills to help you deal with the situation professionally. Adapt to finish the job, then when that project is finished, move onto the next (and hopefully more compatible) client.

10. It’s never too late to change

The whole point of travel is to change who you are as a person. Similarly, the point of design is change. As a designer you’ll constantly be changing the way an audience perceives certain brands. And you’ll do it in a different way each time.

People are often afraid to move in a single direction, because they think that once they start down a path, that’s the only path they can take. But life is never a straight path, it’s a branched one. Whichever fork you take in a road at any given time will lead you to somewhere you couldn’t have started thinking about, at the beginning.

So if you’re just starting out, you can think about your design projects that way. Even if you’re offered something that you don’t particularly have an interest in doing, you never know what other projects or connections it could lead you to. You can always make a change later.

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11. It’s not the end goal, it’s the journey

In the end, whatever it takes to get to where you’re going, whether it’s in your travel or your career, is what changes you. It’s important to have some sort of end goal, something to give purpose to your travels. To shape your decisions. But it’s your creative, emotional, mental, or physical journey is 95% of your life, where you end up is only the last 5%.

12. Chill out

We’ve dispensed with a lot of pretty serious advice over the last 11 suggestions, but the last one might be the most important. Stop taking things so seriously!

Any one decision you make is probably not going to make or break you — but stress is a killer. Your career is the sum of a lot of different experiences and decisions, so let yourself be guided by what comes up in your life rather than fighting it at every turn.

If you’ve spent time traveling, let us know how it’s helped you improve as a designer!

All images from Unsplash

The author

Kaitlyn Ellison
Kaitlyn Ellison

Kaitlyn is part of the Community Team at 99designs.com. She grew up in Boulder, CO and went to school at Northwestern University in Chicago. When she's not blogging, she spends her time having adventures and being generally creative. She's all about having new experiences as often as possible!

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