how to travel like an interior designer

Travel like an interior designer: get the most out of your vacation

It’s a commonly accepted fact that traveling makes you a better designer. You get to see more cultures, experience different types of architecture and design, you learn more about yourself, and so much more. It helps you approach design from a more creative and nuanced perspective. Ultimately, it helps you carve out a more unique and thorough personal style. And when you purposefully travel like an interior designer, you’ll definitely notice the benefits.

When you approach your travels through the lens of a designer, you actively seek out inspiration. This helps you to soak it all in. It also creates a much more fulfilling, unique, and memorable experience. Because oftentimes, it gets you out of the resorts and into the actual community. Experiencing the local culture and the authentic, non-curated-touristy stuff is what can really give your vacation that extra flare.

So how do you travel like an interior designer? Well, as an interior designer myself who has picked up a lot of tricks in my recent travels, I’d love to share my perspective!

Make your own architectural tour

One of my favorite things to do when I travel – no matter where I go – is to do a little DIY architectural tour. This is super obvious in places like Paris, Budapest or Tel Aviv. But I would encourage you to seek it out wherever you go. You’ll probably be surprised.

For example, on my trip Palm Springs, the highlight was strolling through the iconic mid-century modern residential neighborhoods. And in Cancun, the residential spaces, Mayan spots and downtown alike all had their own unique vibe that was exciting to see. I snapped so many pictures that I can look back on not only for the memories, but for inspiration when I need a little creative boost.

large and historic church in a colonial spanish village outside of Cancun, Mexico
Church in a Spanish Colonial village

Sometimes, just taking an afternoon to walk or drive aimlessly and seeing what you stumble upon is one of the best ways to come across some hidden gems. But you can plan it out a little beforehand to make sure you don’t miss anything incredible. Doing a quick Instagram search is a great place to start. Look up the location you’ll be heading to and scroll through the picture to see if any spots cross your mind. Consulting travel blogs and Pinterest can give you some good leads, too.

Pro tip: talk a “walk” on Google maps

Another tool not taken advantage of enough for this purpose: Google maps. I’m currently in the process of moving across country, so I use this to “walk around” prospective neighborhoods. But it’s perfect for scoping out good spots to hit on your vacation, too! Just go to the areas around which you’ll be staying, drag the little yellow guy to a street and start navigating around and see if anything stands out to you that you wanna see in person!

How to travel like an interior designer - taking a virtual walk on Google maps in Rome, Italy
View of Rome, Italy on Google Maps

Even if you’re more passionate about interiors than architecture, seeing the architectural styles that are popular in the spots you’re traveling can inspire you in ways you may not even imagine. Whether that’s new ideas for patterns, color schemes, art, or whatever else it is. All forms of design are so interconnected.

Scope out instagrammable places

Everyone wants to get some good pictures on vacations. That’s why I always go on a sewing rampage right before I go on any trip to make sure I have the right outfits. But an instagrammable place offers more than just a good backdrop for a photo. It’s also an amazing source of creative fuel.

Think of how many times, as a design enthusiast, you walk into a store, restaurant, etc. and instantly start running through ideas of how you can incorporate bits of it into your or your clients’ houses? Moments like these are what help a designer find out and experiment with their personal style. And traveling is a massive opportunity to jam pack some of these inspiration sessions in.

Interior design in Taboo Cancun - natural features with a wood panelled ceiling, rattan light fixtures, mood lighting and lots of stone
Taboo in Cancun
Interior of a restaurant in Sao Paulo with biophilic design
Restaurant in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Whether it’s a restaurant, coffee shop, bar, store, or other gathering spot, to travel like an interior designer, you should make it your mission to find all the most instagrammable places. Of course, use them for backdrops, but also take lots of pictures of different views of the spaces that you can later reference, post to your socials, and even use on mood boards.

Instagram is a perfect place to start, clearly. Look at locations, hashtags, etc. to see what you can discover. You can also look up some local travel guides. There is no shortage of travel blogs online. And while some may be more focused on adventure and outdoor activities, I guarantee that a good amount of travel guides will include some really well-designed destinations.

tiktok is your greatest tool

But here’s my best suggestion: Tiktok. I owe so much of the fun that I have in my free time to tiktok. Whether I’m looking to discover new things in my city or when I’m traveling, tiktok will give you more suggestions than you even know what to do with. YSimply searching “bars in [city name]” or “things to do in [city name]” will garner tons of results. Even try searching phrases with “instagrammable” in them.

Another easy solution for finding instagrammable inspiration: any art musuem!

If all else fails – or if you just want to live more in the moment – just walking around is always an option, too. Give yourself the freedom to stop in a random coffee shop. Pop in the store that has a cool sign out front. Flexibility and the willingness to discover new things will make a world of difference.

Stay in Airbnbs/Vrbos or boutique hotels

This is one of the easiest ways to travel like an interior designer! Instead of staying in a run-of-the-mill Marriott or Hilton, look for a more unique stay that reflects the design of the city you’re staying in.

People love to hate on Airbnbs or Vrbos, but I always enjoy these experiences more than a hotel. They’re often part of a residential neighborhood that’s fun to explore. And they usually have a homier, more uniquely designed vibe.

Outdoor terrace in our airbnb in Cancun with Aztec wooden patterns on the walls
Outdoor terrace at our Cancun Airbnb
Mirror selfie in our Palm Springs airbnb with funky art deco accents
Our Palm Springs Airbnb

One reason that these airbnbs often feel more authentic is because the best ones are designed by an actual local person. Not a global design team as is often the case in hotels – unless they’re crazy expensive.

If you are one of those people who just doesn’t like the idea of Airbnbs, I would totally recommend a boutique hotel. These are smaller than the big chains and oftentimes have a more design-forward mentality. And they usually have a bigger focus on the local culture. And that’s what colors the design inspiration when you travel so much more.

Wherever you stay, if you make the effort to book somewhere unique and well-designed, you will get a breadth of inspiration. And if you’re looking for inspiration for residential interiors, this is where you’ll get a lot more ideas for this specific use. Because while you can easily take notes from places like shops and restaurants and apply them to your home, the ideas will flow a lot more naturally from a residential space.

Take home some trinkets!

Unique accents are an interior designer’s sauce. When you travel like an interior designer, you’re not only accumulating knowledge and inspiration, but actual, physical products when you can.

One huge part of your personal style is having meaningful items around your home. And some of the best meaningful items are treasures from your travels. Whether you’re more of a maximalist or a minimalist, these little trinkets give your home so much flavor.

I always make sure to leave a little extra room in my suitcase so that I can bring home a couple of fun things I come across. If there happens to be a street fair or flea market going on when I’m there, it’s like heaven. The very best places that you can find really authentic decor that you can’t find elsewhere are little local shops and artisans.

The easiest items to pick up are smaller, more packable things like art prints and little tchotchke. But if you find an incredible piece of furniture – say a rug, a side chair, or table – that you truly can’t find anywhere else, you may want to consider shipping it home. While this will cost you a pretty penny, it may be worth it if it’s truly priceless to you.

Are you ready to travel like an interior designer?

For some more travel inspiration, check out some of my travel diaries below to see some of the ways that I travel like an interior designer and use every trip as my own personal interior design and architecture tour.

Palm Springs, CA

Palm springs travel diary
Palm springs travel diary

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