What Improv Comedy Can Teach Us About Travel


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I’ve always been a performer. I was in my first play at the age of 5, and participated in musicals throughout my childhood. Then, I went to college and studied musical theatre. My days were spent singing and dancing. In fact, my nights were also spent singing and dancing (my friends were all theatre kids). When I look back on college, it’s a blur of laughter, dance classes, voice lessons, and themed parties. It was amazing and truly one of the best times of my life.

I haven’t really performed much since I graduated in 2010. I often miss it, but it’s tough to get involved in shows when you’re traveling so much. This year, however, the plan is to stay put in Asheville, NC until next summer. With some free time on my hands, I decided to look into doing something again.

I don’t know if I’d listened to one too many comedians or if reading Amy Poehler’s book Yes, Please had gotten to me, but something in me suddenly told me to go look for a class in improv comedy. I was thrilled to find out Asheville had one, and I registered myself immediately, and just in time. Class began the following week.

I’ve since taken a few levels of class, loved every minute, and learned a ton. But I’ve come to realize that the knowledge we gain in different areas of our lives isn’t exclusive. Those lessons can be applied to nearly every facet of our daily experience. I started to connect what I’d grasped in improv class with another significant passion: travel.

And what I’ve discovered is that improv comedy has a lot to teach us about traveling boldly and living fully.

travel is a “yes, And” experience

In improv, there’s a basic premise known as “Yes, And,” which refers to how you should respond to your partner(s) in a scene. When an actor suggests a direction for the scene, your job is not only to say an enthusiastic YES to him or her, but to provide the AND; to take it a step further. This allows the scene to continue and grow and become something whole and hopefully very funny. The “Yes, And” is not necessarily verbal, but is reflected by your willingness to engage and support their ideas.

Travel is much the same. Even if you’re not traveling as a couple or with a friend, you can say “Yes, And” to the world. When an opportunity presents itself, you embrace it wholeheartedly, bring some of yourself to it, and see where it can go. This is the best way to remain open and responsive to whatever your travels may throw your way.

You can say YES, AND to the world.

it’s all about letting go of control

In the same vein, both improv comedy and travel are about letting go of a certain degree of control. This is more difficult for some people than others. Improv, by its very nature, is unpredictable. It happens organically and is a product of unique participants, circumstances, and ideas. You can’t guess where a scene is going to go when you begin. In fact, if you try to force every moment, the improv is stale, awkward, and painful to watch. When you let a scene unfold naturally on the other hand, what transpires is something unexpected and much more humorous and enjoyable than you could ever have anticipated.

When traveling, consider the same approach. Trying to nail down every second of your itinerary will only drive you crazy and suck the fun out of your trip. Instead, have a loose plan of action and stay open to new avenues. This is how the best memories are made.

Trust me.

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details make comedy (and travel) come alive

In my improv class, we learned that the more specific you can be, the better the resulting scene. For instance, if a scene begins and I’m just standing there talking and moving like my normal self, that is vague and lacks guidance. There’s nothing for me (or my improv partner) to work with. However, if I start the scene limping and hobbling around the stage and speaking with a Russian accent, well then I’ve just created a character. Those very first moments of improv can set you up for success, because you’re giving yourself something to expand upon.

Those details are what bring the improv an authenticity and an aliveness. It’s much more believable and pleasurable to watch. So how does this relate to travel?

When visiting a new destination, discovering the little details about the place will be instrumental in making the most of your trip. This likely means researching the region before you arrive so you have a good idea of what you want to see and experience while there. Learn about the culture, food, and people of your destination so that you can fully immerse yourself in it all. This makes a world of difference between a life-changing adventure and your average tourist experience.

The magic happens when you do something that scares you

My very favorite moments in improv class have been when something unexpected has occurred. This is nearly always when I throw caution to the wind and allow myself to do something a little bit scary. There’s a rush of adrenaline when you take a risk and do something that feels uncomfortable. Sometimes it falls flat, but more often than not, you’ll realize you made the right choice. In improv comedy, this means going over the top or out of your comfort zone and hearing a big laugh as your reward. There’s no greater feeling.

It’s the same with travel. I am not suggesting you put yourself in a dangerous situation. Rather, take those little leaps of faith that enrich your travel experience in remarkable ways. Try a strange new food in a foreign country, strike up a conversation with a friendly local who doesn’t speak your language, or consider traveling solo when you normally go with friends. All of these are small steps in the grand scheme of things, but they can truly be transformative if you let them.

take the pressure off

One of the worst things you can do to yourself in improv comedy is to think “I HAVE to be funny.” When you put that much pressure on a scene or a moment, you lose sight of the techniques it takes to actually get you there. You’re not in the present and responding to what is going on around you, nor what you’re getting from your partner. In fact, you might miss some of the more humorous opportunities because you’re so zeroed in on making others laugh.

PS: You can’t control if others will laugh. Their response is their own business. Your job is to use your well-honed skills and comedy instincts to create the best scene you can.

Boy, do we ever put pressure on travel! Like any big event, a wedding, birthday, etc., it’s far too easy to claim that “this trip will be the BEST EVER,” or decree that your holiday will be the “adventure of a lifetime.” When you plan for your travels to be “EPIC”, how can real life even begin to measure up? So, as in the world of improv comedy, loosen your grip on the reigns, and watch as your flexible (and less intense) expectations are exceeded by this beautiful planet.

you have to live in the moment

What it all boils down to for both travel and improv comedy is this:

Mindfulness.

Being present in this very moment.

There’s no other way to get the most out of a scene, a meal, a destination, an experience. You must live fully and boldly, opening all your senses to what is going on around you and inside you. Then, you can respond in an authentic and genuine way that turns each moment into something original and unforgettable. It is then and only then that will you find what you are really looking for.

x Amy

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