OK, every year can't bring a capitol letter Vacation (like last year's 3 week trip to northern Italy). Every month can't include even a weekend outing to someplace a bit closer to home (though I apparently think so with April's trip to Rockport, June's to Corpus Christi and this month's trip to see my sister in Salida, CO). BUT, even with gas prices what they are (and I don't want to hear another word about that as long as y'all are out there drinking bottled water), travel is truly broadening and amazingly good for the creative juicer whether it's in real time and space or a virtual trip across the universe via web sites and other-people's-trips.
Think about these possibilities:
First of all, whichever trip you take, take a sketchbook and journal, ideally a digital camera, along with you. Collect ephemera and souvenirs, take photos, better still sketch and watercolor, interview the experts and the locals. Be adventurous. Don't stick to the tourist destinations, but find out how people live, what they create with their hands, what is eaten, what it' s like to live under that sun. Write in a cafe or under a tree. People watch. Try the contour drawing trick (Pt. 2 of this series.)
Prowl the downtown and tourist destinations in your own community. I am never more flabbergasted than when I ask San Antonio residents how recently they have visited the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and hear that its been a.) years, or b.) never. Hey, some people pay big money and take lots of time to come visit some place you drive by every week. One little day trip or weekend outing can cost little in time and give you an enormous boost to creative visioning when you travel with that intent in mind. You can even take public transportation to a lot of these sites.
Choose a country, city, natural wonder or other vacation destination to study for a month or a season or even a year. Pick some place that fascinates you for its visual, historical or symbolic power. Check out books from the library, even audio tapes and movies. Go to museum exhibits and concerts that originate in your vacation place. Learn a little of the language. Start an imaginary itinerary. Keep a travel journal "as if." Draw from photographs, literally and figuratively for your muse.
Spend just a weekend at a retreat center, state park, or natural area, or an out-of-town workshop venue (like my El Cielo Studio retreats), or some place else that takes you away from your ordinary day and your ordinary city/suburban life. The place might be a spa, it might be a swimming hole or a river raft trip. If you can't afford to go further, spend an entire day at a city park. Take food, drink, books, a quilt to lie upon. Listen, look, experience the weather from dawn to dusk. Live in the natural world, so that means no cell phone chatter, no IM, no radio or ipods. I think of this as a trip away from technology. You can even do it in your own backyard or on the balcony.
Start planning and saving today for that dream trip next year, or the year after. Be realistic, but not too realistic. My experience has been that once I commit to a plane ticket, I will find both the time and the money for everything else, even with the EURO rates lately. It is all too easy to think you'll never have the money or time to see a part of the world that calls to you. First step (if your destination is out of country, get that passport this month). It always helps me to do this one with companions, then its harder to back out.
Eavesdrop on someone else's travel. There are tons of web sites where intrepid travelers tell you all about their wanderings, and then there is Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations on the Travel channel. Another great trip I've taken lately has been with Bill Buford in Heat, a great audio book or read about his education as a cook with Mario Bateli and in Italy. You may notice a trend here, see the next suggestion.
Cook your way around the world. Try a different recipe from a different country each week. Seek out an ethnic grocer if you can in order to buy the ingredients, or order them from an ethnic grocery supplier online. Cooking and art go together in my mind. I think of ingredients the same way I think of colors. I like to look at new ones, and new combinations of them. I eat visually as well as with my mouth. Food is an amazing way to explore another culture, country or part of the U.S.
Then, what to do with all this input. Create with its energy. With the new eyes you had to have. With its content -- sketches, paintings, fabric altars and quilts, photo albums, amazing travel journals. Artist's postcards and ATCs, you'll figure it out!