Design Lover, Must Travel

By Kate Riley December 12, 2017

During the Cyber Monday sales, I booked several trips for the beginning of 2018 because flights were cheap. I can’t help it, travel is my healthy addiction, but I also know it’s beneficial to my design work.

I was asked by a friend who has some fears of traveling, why is it that you love to travel so much? I said to her, it’s not just to sink my toes in the sand on a beautiful beach, everybody loves that. I do take time to relax when I travel, but in truth I book so many trips because I seek to be inspired. It’s why I find I can’t sit still for long wherever I go because I’m curious what lies just around the corner or down the road. I’m a design lover who simply must travel.

That may sound exhausting for many, but for me it’s thrilling. Traveling is not so much about being on vacation, rather it’s about filling my brain with as much stimulation as possible, much of it driven by my passion for design. I always want to see something new. For me, travel and design are intertwined, and I must have both.


nimb hotel, copenhagen

Art is the ultimate expression of creativity and immensely inspiring to me. I’m always up for a museum stroll in any new city. It’s incredible witnessing the masterpieces of iconic artists. There is always a lesson to learn from them, the stroke of the brush, the palette they chose, the curvature of a sculpture. I respect the thought and emotion and work poured into each piece.


musee l’orangerie, paris


I try to support local artists when I can. Sometimes it’s $10 spent on a sketch or watercolor purchased on the street, but I’ve also spent more on original paintings or drawings found in small galleries or at exhibits in the park. It feels good to praise and support artists. Purchasing a work of art is my favorite way to recall the memories from that adventure. I bring it home and then the art becomes a part of my life forever.


rue st. amable, montreal


A favorite perk of traveling to new places is the exposure to so much architectural inspiration. Seeing unique buildings or structures or bridges is another one of the reasons I like to walk or bicycle in a city instead of rent a car.

public library, new york city



federation square, melbourne, australia


tower bridge, london


I can walk for hours if I know I’m going to see some amazing buildings or residences. Going at a slower pace that I control allows me more time to see the details on the exteriors of residences as they unfold around every turn. Staircases, shutters, window boxes, hardscapes, I just can’t get enough.


savannah, georgia


quebec city, canada


santa barbara, california

I’m a student of design solutions. I’m constantly studying structural supports, pipes and electrical wires, how to work with sloped terrain or with limited square footage, or the smartest floor plans to capture views or the best natural light. I notice it all. What I see when I travel teaches me so much about design, when I witness the innovation of creators around the world, the architects, landscapers, designers, engineers, artists.

Wherever the tourists go, the shops are always there. When I travel, I shy away from department or chain stores. I’m only interested in the unique, the local artisans, the makers that aren’t selling mass produced objects. While I do appreciate a well curated collection of goods, I do seek boutiques or shops that sell objects from the region.


shop window, munich, germany

In this modern world we’re all connected though the web. As a result I’ve noticed more globalization and I see what are now cross cultural similarities in shops, hotels, cafes, and pubs. I once walked into a brewery outside Melbourne and it surprised me just how much it looked like one in my hometown in California.

The internet allows us to all share design ideas and it can’t help but influence, so designs are infused in other countries. It’s another observation I’ve made as I travel, you see a lot of differences, but I also have noticed that one cafe can look very much the same as another I’ve seen on the other side of the globe.


shop in stockholm

Another favorite about travel as it relates to design is the unexpected details that reveal themselves to me. For example, I love when I check into an AirBnB or hotel and they hand me a set of old fashioned keys. I’ve had my share of hotels with modern keys, some so innovative that you cannot activate the lights until you insert your card into a slot inside the room (smart, it saves electricity!). I welcome that unexpected nature of travel and the fact that you never quite know what you’re going to see until you get there. It’s part of the charm.


hotel corridor, nice, france

Flooring inspiration is another thing I love to photograph. I’ve walked on the most beautiful river rock installations in Hawaii, gorgeous polished wood floors and stone patterns in Europe, and seen unexpected tile installations from Mexico to Australia to the Mediterranean. Tile and textiles stop me in my tracks wherever I roam, the mosaics, the patterns, the colors, the textures are all so intriguing.


surfer’s paradise, queensland, australia

Something as simple as a wall mural or tree trunk can inspire me too. This wave wall I saw in Oahu became the inspiration for one of my summer fabric designs a few years ago.


ko olina, oahu


Why do I keep planning trips to new places? Because I believe inspiration is born out of risk taking and it comes from putting myself in a new destination in a foreign place. At any given moment I can find myself in the sanctuary of an art gallery or museum, or somewhere more daring like an unknown city street that beckons me to come around the corner. I’m eternally curious.

In 2018, I’m headed back to Norway, also to Austin, Texas; Seattle, Washington; Charleston, South Carolina; also Czech Republic, Belgium, and perhaps Peru in the fall. My list of places to go is long and it keeps growing.

I believe good design is everywhere you look if you seek it and traveling provides endless sources for inspiration. I want to be exposed to as much of it as possible and for as little as it will cost me and I plan on sharing it here as I continue my journey in this big beautiful world.



  1. because…inspiration is born out of risk taking… I love this observation of yours! I love the whole post. I feel like I could have written it – I love to travel for all the same reasons, additionally seeing people in other cultures. They are endlessly fascinating and yet we are all so similar. Same needs, same love of family. One of the things I like about the internet is we find out there are other people out there just like us. Who feel that half the fun of travel is looking at the design of things and being inspired. My husband thinks it’s funny when I will come out of a ladies room and comment on the tile, sink, faucets, etc. – whether it’s Edinburgh, Scotland or Tulsa, OK!

    • Yes I agree, meeting people from other cultures is immensely inspiring to me, I feel more connected to the world by putting myself out there. The internet does help us connect as well. Talk about similarities, I do the same thing when I come out of well designed bathrooms, wherever they are!!

  2. Kate, you took the words right out of my mouth. I couldn’t have said it better. I too plan to go back to Norway and Finland in the late Northern Spring.. Plus I am headed off to the East Coast of Canada in September and to Chile and hopefully Antarctica in January 2019. Travel gives me so much pleasure just seeing how the rest of the world lives. The world really is wonderful. I seldom buy souvenirs as I prefer to take photos but I do buy are sketches, small artworks and fabrics by local artists. I live 45 minutes away from Surfers Paradise yet I have never seen that floor!

    • Cool itinerary Alison! You’re like me, your photos and a small piece of art or a collectible is all I seek when I travel. The experience is the gift and I bring it home with me with my pictures and the smallest of souvenirs. :)

    • Oh forgot to say… that floor is from a restaurant on the main street facing the water in Surfer’s Paradise, it has Mexican/Spanish flavored food.

  3. What websites do you use to book cheap travel? I can never seem to find good deals that aren’t super uncomfortable – for example I refuse to take a flight to Europe with 3 stops and no baggage just because it’s $500 cheaper. Is there anywhere that lets you book normal flights for cheap? I’m soooo looking forward to our British Airways hub opening here in Nashville so we can finally do nonstop trips to the UK (I go almost every year)

    • I love non-stop too but it’s not always possible. I’m flying Norwegian Air for the third time because it’s convenient and cheap, I can get from Oakland to London (or Copenhagen or Stockholm or Bordeaux…) for around $200 and come home from a different city for the same price, as long as it’s not the high season. It just depends on the airline hubs that are close to you. See my other comment to Barbara about websites that feature cheap travel. :)

  4. How fortunate to have the opportunity to see the world. I regret not traveling in my earlier years. Traveling is an amazing thought provoking experience. Best of luck and will look forward to your travel posts. I enjoyed reading about your last trip to France. I hope to visit Provence next year and explore the area even if it’s just a week.

    • Good for you Sheila! I also believe you don’t have to travel far to reap the benefits, it’s just about going someplace new, whether it’s a town nearby or a new shop opening up, inspiration is everywhere we look :)

  5. Someone with two children and a husband being able to travel so often, I admire you. I don’t know how you fit it all in and do your job at the same time. You’re a true inspiration to us all. I thoroughly enjoy reading about it.

  6. Wonderful! I need to travel alone more often. There’s a lot to be said for it! I booked a flight for France in April and paid twice what I did the year before. Either the rates have really gone up or I’m a terrible buyer. I should have waited for cyber Monday, as you did. Any particular travel sites you go to for best rates? Happy travels!, Barbara

    • Hi Barbara, I like Kayak for cheap flight updates and I subscribe to a lot of travel website pages on Facebook and they are always posting “cheap flights to….” updates that I take advantage of when I see them.

  7. I couldn’t agree more! We just got back from Spain and it was a breath of fresh air! If you have time while you’re in Austin I totally recommend Emmer & Rye, Le Politique, or Otoko. The food and the design at all are spot on. There’s also a graffiti park that can be fun if the weather is nice. Looking forward to hearing about all of your travels this year!

  8. Kate, I love your descriptions of how travel inspires & fulfills you. Your perspective about traveling the world really resonates with me and makes me want to book a trip asap!

    Would you do a post about where you find the best travel deals and how you decide on where to go & stay?

  9. Someone already touched on this, but I wonder how you can actually do it with a husband and children. I assume you must have an extremely reliable backup system for yourself? I think that is what we would all like to know. Not being snarky, just genuinely curious.

    • Yes! I came to the comments section to see if you had responded with the logistics of leaving your home and kids for regular travel (even if just to Las Vegas). Your husband is obviously capable, but how else do you facilitate your trips?

  10. Let’s have coffee when you’re in Charleston! I’m excited for you that you’re visiting this beautiful city that I’m lucky to call home, or as some say “I get to live where you vacation.” Obnoxious, but true :) You will have no shortage of architectural wonders, amazing gardens, history, incredible foliage and nature, and of course, FOOD! I suggest you plan on Spring or late Fall as our summers are brutal, as you may know. Look forward to your blog on us!

  11. Super post. When my young children are a lot older, I plan to take travel weeks for myself. I did quite a bit in my 20s before work and home responsibilities changed my life patterns. I’ve definitely started to think of my “when I’m 45 I will be able to…” list and am looking forward to it!

  12. Kate, you have so beautifully articulated the “whys” of travel for you–thank you for expanding our own thinking about why and even how to travel. I’ve occasionally traveled by myself internationally and it’s a guilty pleasure in a way–I love not having to consult another about what/where/for how long to wander and enjoy. So I’m toasting you right now (and thanks for previous recommendations of a raincoat, travel slippers, etc–I immediately bought several things and LOVE them!).

  13. Your comment about the keys hit home with me! My daughter and I just returned from a trip to the Christmas markets in Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland, and Leichtenstein. We checked into a lovely, rustic old hotel in the Black Forest and they handed us one of those round electronic keys you tap on the lock, attached to a worn, felted key fob. What a paradox! Like you, I thoroughly enjoy all the details I see as I travel………I have so many pictures of doors, door/window hardware, details in cobblestones, textures of walls, interesting signs, and more, and I love the inspiration they provide as I decorate my own home.

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