5 Tips for a Traveling Improv Mindset

February 1, 2024
A woman in a pink dress plays in the Caribbean Sea

Improvisation by definition is the art of accepting unforeseen circumstances. When referring to improvisational theatre, that resource is a script. So imagine a few actors with a few chairs and 25 minutes to fill. By being in the moment, listening to each other and working together, the actors are able to discover their purpose on stage and communicate it to the audience.

Similarly, travel is also about breaking down barriers (internally as well as externally) to create experiences. By embracing the unknown, learning how to be present, and being open to discovery, travel becomes the greatest example of improvisation – only without an audience. We’re able to enjoy greater depth and more meaning with our travels when we explore – and co-create – the experience with who (and what) crosses our path. I would even bet that transformation is available to us if we open up to letting the place affect us, rather than just being ourselves somewhere that isn’t our home.

Improvisation isn’t just an art form. It’s the art of making something from nothing. Travel – when done outside of mass tourism – is also about creating something from nothing. Here are five suggestions to be successful in both spaces:

1. Be flexible. Unscripted play requires the ability to go in a new direction at any given moment, as no one really knows what might unfold. I remember once performing a love scene in a church – that’s not where I thought I was, and I went with it anyway. The same can be said for authentic travel. In order to embrace the local culture, flavor and traditions, we need to let go of what we imagine the place will be like and embrace how the place actually is.

2. Be a “yes, and” person. In improv we embrace the gift our partner extends to us by accepting it and building on it – together. It makes action happen in a co-creative way, and, it keeps things interesting. When on the road, there will always be opportunities that arise where the go-to answer is “no.” Once, I had the opportunity to explore the Alpine Loop in Hinsdale County, Colorado. It’s a windy, steep mountain road that requires a four-wheel drive vehicle. It’s completely out of my comfort zone and I’ll admit to having an anxiety attack (or two) en route, and, skipping the experience would have meant missing out on the crown jewel of the San Juan Mountains.

3. Be here now. The most important moment in improv is right now. The past is over and the future hasn’t happened, so this moment is what matters. While traveling it’s often easy to lose touch with the present moment by being consumed with taking photos, videos, selfies etc. and planning for the next activity. Be sure to take time to put down the travel guide, get off of social media, and be fully immersed in whatever is happening – even if it’s nothing. I remember being in Lake City, Colorado, watching the sun set over the lake. I took a few photos and then I put the camera down and did nothing but sit and watch the view. After all, travel takes us into environments that we can’t access from home, so the experience of the sunset over the lake will always trump the photo.

4. Be doing it. I’m a visual person, so I love to see stuff. Stuff can be an improv show, a mountain-view or street art. It’s easy to become passive and let the stuff happen around me. However, what’s even better is being a part of the stuff. Actually playing, moving, and doing makes for an immersive shared experience. And, the bonds you form with others participating in the experience will be special because experiences create connections. My improv partner and I still get a laugh out of a scene we did many years ago about Ovaltine. And, being eaten alive by bugs while camping in Tikal, Guatemala bonded me with my travel companions – especially the ones with anti-itch cream.

5. Be good to your partner. Ever see an improv show where an improviser responds to their scene partner with dialogue that makes no sense? Not only have I seen it, I’ve done it. It’s a classic example of not doing right by your partner. The best cooperative play happens when people are listening and making each other look brilliant. When traveling, ask locals about themselves then shut up. Let them give you details about their favorite thing to cook, or the local corner restaurant, or what the island looked like when their grandparents arrived. You’ll learn more about where you are, your experience will be richer, and you just might make a friend. I had a cab driver on Isla Mujeres, Mexico who pulled out old photos of the island while he was giving me a ride. It was totally unexpected – and amazing!

Get out there and play – on or off the stage. And remember, life is unscripted so we’re all improvisers. It’s when we remember, that magic unfolds … no matter where we are in the world.

-Amy Angelilli, Owner + Ringleader, Third Space Improv