Wearing My Tourist Cap (Beret!): Travel Inspiration for Design + Life from Limoux, France

Travel Inspiration for Design and Life from Limoux, France

There are few sacred things in this world that bring us both immediate joy as well as unfettered, life-changing benefits as time goes on. For me, one of those sacred things is travel.

Travel exposes us to new cultures.

Travel opens our minds to new ideas.

Travel pushes us beyond our comfort zones to build our confidence.

Travel, in so many ways, is more than just the pictures you snap while you’re hiking that waterfall. It’s the conversations you have over authentic food; it’s the thrill of walking into the unknown of a new experience; it’s the sense of pride that comes with successfully navigating an airport in a foreign city.

Travel expands who we are as people. Fortunately for me, I’ve also learned to make travel essential to my design work.

Putting on my tourist hat in Limoux, France

For me, travel doesn’t just expand my mindset, attitudes, and knowledge — it also expands my work as a graphic designer for the travel and tourism world.

It’s one of the reasons why, no matter where I go, I like to put on my tourist hat. (Oftentimes, I truly do wear a hat.) I step into the role of tourist — sometimes more easily than others — to truly experience what someone completely new to an area might notice, do, and feel.

Playing tourist was easy this fall, as I embarked on my first-ever painting retreat, where I joined 10 other painters in Limoux, France, for two weeks of painting and culture under the leadership of one of my favorite artists, Lori Putnam.

Not only did this time dedicated to painting completely transform my techniques and outlook — it also gave me the chance to bring back some key lessons for travel and tourism experience design:

Simplify your maps. As I traveled around, in a land where the language was predominantly foreign to me, I realized the importance of simple maps — maps not overcrowded with every tourism attraction, ever — but simple maps pointing out the essentials: pharmacies, grocery stores, banks, and more.

Make the travel experience about more than just sights. Appeal to all five senses. Experience tastes (we enjoyed native breads, cheeses, cassoulet, and more); capture sounds (the flowing of the river and bustle of the people as we set up our easels and painted); inspire scent recognition with food, soaps, and nature. (By the way, French lavender is my favorite!)

Encourage local activism and pride. Engaging with locals who are excited to welcome you is one of the easiest ways to feel at home in a foreign place. Designing experiences that inspire people to interact and engage in conversation is the best way to go beyond the TripAdvisor “Top 10” and into the hidden secrets and local favorites. We were fortunate to have a local tour guide with us in Limoux who scoped out the best, sometimes hidden nooks and crannies of Southern France region for us to paint.

Provide opportunities to shop local. Taking gifts home that aren’t manufactured in China (unless you’re in China, of course), is a fantastic way to not only support the local economy, but to also have a true piece of that destination. For me, it’s a set of French-made baskets and soaps bought from a local artisan.

Make help easy and accessible. From the airport or train station signage to the individual information booths in villages, it’s imperative that, as tourists, we can easily get access to the help and information we need. For me, having tourism offices and information displays that were easy to find always gives me peace of mind.

When designing that experience, consider this: What might someone not know? The best way to explore the answer to that? By experiencing it yourself.

As long as my work calls for it, I will be a traveler. And even when it doesn’t, I have no doubt travel will be an essential piece of my life. I urge you to make time for it in yours — though the benefits might not seem obvious now, you’ll most certainly realize them over time.

Destination marketers: How will you design your experience?

Travelers: How will you experience your next destination, friends?