I'm on a short vacation right now which included a 10-hour road trip. After a long discussion with my husband about how the picturesque landscape we were passing was going to figure into his novel-in-progress, I started thinking about travel as a writing tool. Here are some of the ways travel can make you a better writer:
1. Improved settings.
Let's go with the most obvious benefit first—there's nothing like actually experiencing a place to help you write about it effectively. Tools like maps, internet photos, and travel books can help, but it's going to be difficult to describe the heady smell of a French patisserie or the way desert air feels on your skin if you haven't been there in person.
2. Reduced stress.
It's harder to let the words flow when your day-to-day life is loaded with stress. There's nothing like a relaxing trip to refresh and rejuvenate your muse, even if you don't write a word.
3. More realistic characters and plots.
Meeting new people from all walks of life and being willing to experience new situations is essential for any writer who hopes to accurately depict the human experience. Don't just stick to guided tours or pre-defined paths. Most of my richest (and most useful) travel experiences have directly resulted from wandering around small neighborhoods or living like the locals.
4. A broader view.
We can all think of a book with a too-narrow worldview. Don't let this happen to you. Experiencing different cultures, exposing yourself to different points of view, and being open to new ideas will always result in better, richer writing.
One thing I wish I was better about is keeping a journal or diary when I travel. There's really no excuse for it now, either, since I always have my phone with me and can jot down notes when there isn't a scrap of paper in sight.