Travel without Traveling: 15 Ideas for Travel from Home

France_paris_rooftops in rain
Paris on a rainy day is better than no Paris at all.

Long before the World Wide Web brought travelers together virtually, and before over-tourism was a thing, travel ideas and artifacts of strange lands were bandied about in parlors. We’ve almost forgotten the magic and mystery of outdated geopolitical maps, faded photo albums, and dusty souvenirs.

Even just a couple decades ago, inquisitive people like our friend Christiane, who now splits her time between Paris and Massachusetts, went out of their way to invite travelers into their homes to share the energy and experiences of world travelers. The rest of us read books, browsed magazines, listened to stories, and imagined the people behind the images, if not ourselves in their midst.

How do we experience travel now, without the benefit of traveling?

In Christiane’s words, “Nothing has replaced traveling. I read, knit, watch TV and feel that I am wasting a lot of time, at a stage in my life when there is not that much time left. I plan to go back to Paris in December. I want to see Xmas lights, taste holiday food, walk the Tuileries near my apartment, visit my brother who got COVID and is slowly crawling uphill, and listen to my native language. I am not making any definite plans, but I have a list in my head that is getting longer by the week.”

Christiane, whose dual citizenship and COVID tests have allowed limited intercontinental travel this year, continues, “I am mad at USA handling of the virus. Being American is like having leprosy right now.”

Going into the winter months with a new terrible spike in coronavirus cases in the U.S. has forced us to renew our safety efforts and admit our near future–the coming year–will not include much, if any, travel.

We asked self-described travelers from around world, “How have you compensated for the lack of travel in your life?” We want to know what activities are replacing travel, or if some sort of travel lifestyle still exists, undernourished and dormant, but alive.

Whether you are looking back at travel or ahead, we hope you’ll find tips here for a happier existence at home and hopeful ideas for future travel. (Check out our Guide to Sheltering at Home from last March, too.) Have we missed your best tactic? Share your ideas in the comments.

A geocache container near Prague.

Travel in Your Own Backyard

Geocaching

By Adriana Plotzerová, Czech the World. Adriana is based in Prague.
Geocaching is a worldwide outdoor adventure game that can create some excitement in your life. The only thing you need to play is a smartphone with a Geocaching app or a GPS device to navigate yourself to find little treasures (containers) called geocaches.

There are over 3 million geocaches hidden all over the world––some probably very close to your backyard. So, you don’t need to travel anywhere far from your home to enjoy a great adventure. The geocache objects aim to lead hunters to remarkable destinations and beautiful places. Some locations may seem obvious, but others are a pure surprise for seekers. Geocaching is a great activity for everyone from families with children to the oldest explorers.

To start playing, go to the official Geocaching website and create a free account (you can also download the Geocaching app to your phone). Now, you can search for geocaches nearby you. Once you arrive at the designated place, look for the container; there is always a description of how big the cache should be. Once you find it, open it and sign the logbook. You may discover some “trade items” (e.g. small toys, etc.). The general rule is that if you take something from the cache, leave something of greater or equal value. After you return from the hunt, log your finds online.
Geocaching is simply a great way to satisfy your need for exploration even during these COVID times.

It helps to have a backyard like this. Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand

Exploring Your Own Country, sans Over-Tourism

By Maureen Spencer, So Many Places So Little Time. Maureen lives in Auckland, New Zealand.
In New Zealand, the borders are tightly closed, and for the first time in many years, we have had the time and opportunity to explore our own backyard, visiting places we had taken totally for granted.

New Zealand, surely has to be one of the best places in the world in which to be isolated. There is probably very little you can see overseas that you can't see here in terms of stunning natural scenery, and as the adventure capital of the world plenty of exciting things to do and experience. There are magnificent mountains, beaches of every size and shape, fascinating geothermal activity including geysers and hot pools, challenging caves, rolling green farmland, and rugged forests.

Some of the highlights for us have involved exploring our own city, Auckland, and doing the Coast to Coast Walk which gives us bragging rights to be able to say that we have walked right across New Zealand in just four hours

One of the biggest bonuses of all is that we have been able to visit all of these places without having to elbow our way through hoards of overseas tourists and cruise ship passengers. However, New Zealanders are keen to support our local tourism businesses and are out and about en masse on road trips and domestic flights, biking and hiking and taking advantage of discounts and travel deals on offer to the locals.

Get started on touring your own backyard with our tips for day hikes and city walks.

Adapting to Travel Restrictions

By Janet Oberson, Jan Adventures. Jan lives in Switzerland.
I have been on a handful of short trips this year within Switzerland and have discovered new places I never knew about. Being restricted from traveling afar has forced me to be creative and find ways to have adventure where I am.

Another thing I’ve learned this year is that we can reminisce and enjoy past travel experiences. Before this pandemic, I would go somewhere, enjoy it, and then forget about it. I would be so busy planning my next trip, that I wouldn’t reflect on all the fun places I went before. I’ve learned to appreciate the freedom and privilege of traveling anywhere in the world at any time.

An assortment of foods from Iceland, via International Snack Swap.

Experience Travel through Food

International Snack Swaps

By Heather Trimm, Trimm Travels. Heather is based in Birmingham, Alabama.
One way I've compensated for the lack of travel in my life is by participating in international snack swaps. It's a fairly new concept and a less-limiting take on the subscription box services.

Taking place on social media, these international snack swap groups allow for “travel without traveling” via food. Since food is one of the most important aspects of travel for me, I was ecstatic to find such opportunities. I've been able to swap with people in other countries for snacks in destinations I've visited and miss, and from those places I was scheduled to visit and had to cancel.

In addition to the snacks themselves, the anticipation of the package's arrival brings added joy. Although requests can be made, surprises are usually also included in the swap.  Plus, new friendships made with others around the world are priceless. Travel is all about the connections we make. When safe traveling is reinstated, I hope to visit some of these friends I've made in other countries.

Virtual travel with perks: cooking with experts via live online classes.

Creative Measures for Virtual Travel

By Sherry Ott, Ottsworld. After some 14 years of travel, Sherry found a home base in Denver just in time for the pandemic.

These times call for creative measures when it comes to traveling. I did travel domestically this summer, via road trips and outdoor adventures exploring the immediate areas around me. However, as the days get shorter and the COVID outlook gets a bit bleaker again, I’ve started to get more creative about how I get my travel fix. I have a mix of ‘travel-like’ activities I have planned, and travel research to keep me busy planning future travel!

Strangely, when I hear foreign accents, it scratches that travel itch a bit. I’ve signed up for a few virtual Devour Tours experiences. Devour Tours normally does in-person food tours in Europe, but they are offering their European guides up virtually now to teach you how to make food/drink of their culture. They do it on U.S. time, so the guides stay up late and happily show a group on zoom how to make things like tapas, paella, carbonara, bacalhau, vermouth, and they even host wine tasting events. During the online event, the host shares history, administers quizzes, and you come away with yummy dinner and learning more about that country’s food/wine culture. I’m planning a few of these virtual events for the holidays with friends and family.

In addition to the virtual travel-focused experiences, I’m trying to look ahead to the future of travel in 2021. I feel like news of a vaccine is positive and even though it will take a while to be distributed, that doesn’t stop me from planning and preparing for some big international adventures for late 2021 and 2022. I love epic adventures; they tend to take a lot of planning time as well as $$. I have my eye on a number of long-distance hikes that I’m starting to plan and save for now. The research and planning process at least keeps me positive about the future.

Wines transport us around the world.

Themed evenings with wine and a movie

By Constanza Fernández, Experiencing the Globe. Coni, who is Chilean, lives in Split, Croatia.
I was faced with quarantine time after coming back home from a trip at the end of February. After a few days of eating the leftovers of my pantry, I remembered that a vegetarian restaurant close by makes a delicious onion soup. So, while I waited for the delivery, I opened a bottle of French wine. After dinner I played Amélie, and suddenly I felt like I left my couch, at least for a little while. My mind was in France.

From then on, I’ve been inviting my boyfriend to occasional “trips” around the world. A bottle of Prosecco over tortellini with pesto and tiramisu for dessert followed by La Dolce Vita took us to Italy one week; a hearty mix of lentil dahl and mushroom curry while watching Indian Matchmaker transported us to India the next.

For my country’s national day I made Chilean empanadas, and when the numbers were under control and the lockdowns ended in our city, we went out for proper Croatian food. (My boyfriend is Croatian.) We’ve been all around the world, at least as far as the dishes we eat, from Ethiopia to Thailand and from Mexico to Japan.

Every time we “travel” somewhere, I recall my memories of the place or dig out some photos. If I plan an evening going to a destination I haven’t visited, I spend a while reading about the fantastic places that I have yet to discover. (I hope to visit Southeast Asia someday soon.) For now, our round-the-world wine collection has many more “trips” in store for us.

Having the time to cook candied citron.

Time for Cooking

By Lori Sorrentino, Travelinmad. Lori is based in Naples, Florida.
Avid travelers are always looking ahead to their next destination. But there are ways to enjoy experiences from past trips, too. We’ve been going through our souvenirs from Italy to find ways to relive our visits. That means cooking and baking from local recipes that we’ve collected, and using the cooking tools and last of the ingredients we’ve brought home. We put on Italian music, pour a glass of wine, and relive the moments.

Pasta alla Genovese from Naples is one hearty dish both of our grandmothers used to make, but we rarely make it as it takes so long to cook. Made from pork and a generous amount of onions, both are cooked for hours until they fall apart. The resulting sauce melts over a plate of cut pasta like rigatoni.

In any Italian home, there is always freshly baked bread on the table, and we enjoy that tradition by baking focaccia. There are lots of variations throughout Italy. Less than an inch thick, the flat loaf is brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt or herbs, and sometimes additional ingredients like fresh tomatoes are added. We start it in the morning, and by dinnertime it’s ready to bake.

Though it takes some time, we also love making candied citron or citrus rind. This is especially popular on the Amalfi Coast where citrus is abundant and delicious. We’ve candied orange slices and lemon rinds before, and recently tried using Buddha’s Hand citron. The process produces a sweet/bitter aromatic treat that is enjoyed with a savory dish or after a meal.

Learning

Turning Lockdown into an Adventure

By Leyla Alyanak, Women on the Road. Leyla tackles the guitar from her home in France.
Years ago when I was a full-time journalist, we went on strike for eight months. I spent the time watching reruns, fully expecting to be back in a few weeks. Once it ended, I promised myself that if I ever again had a chunk of unexpected ‘free time' I would try to achieve something. So when March 2020 rolled around and France went into full lockdown, I was ready.

More than 50 years ago, I had learned to play guitar, a common pastime for teenagers then. Now with time on my hands, I found a guitar teacher online. That he was in Baltimore and I was in Eastern France made no difference. I may not be as good as I used to be, but I'm on my way–and I'm having a ball!

While fun, this wasn't enough, so I decided to launch a new travel website. Wait, travel? How crazy can that be in a lockdown? Here I was, living in France, and I'd been so busy traveling internationally that I neglected my backyard. I decided to fix that, and on May 1st I launched Offbeat France, where I look at France's more unexpected and unusual facets.

What these two things – the guitar and the blog – did for me was to turn my lockdown into an adventure that made me feel energized and purposeful. I may not be able to change my circumstances, but I can certainly change the way I look at and deal with them.

Using local environs to develop new skills

Seeing the Everyday in a New Light

Steve Rout, Ski Resorts Network. Steve is honing his video skills from his home in Austria.
I had always viewed personal travel videos as the shaky and somewhat blurred descendant of those endless holiday slideshows that some of us endured in the past. Yet the replacement of a my trusty travel camera along with travel restrictions led to me explore new techniques and skills that will change the way that I share my travel experiences in the future.

My freshly purchased camera features options that were new to me, such as 4k video, image stabilization and integral neutral density filters, all in a tiny package that I could slip into a back pocket. As I searched for instruction videos online, I also discovered a host of travel video creators focused on sharing techniques and styles.

The videos that really spoke to me were those that emphasized the development of skills through exercises and practice that could be undertaken in my own house or local countryside. My practice lessons took me to nearby trails, woods, and water, and led me to explore textures and light as the seasons slowly changed.

Learning to shoot video was not just restricted to the shots themselves (the equivalent of the ‘slides’ from a previous era) but the way that they could be edited, cut and fit together–something which forced me to think about what I was trying to convey to an audience, rather than just documenting an experience.

But the most important lesson for me has been realizing the essential elements that draw nearly all travelers onto the road: exploring something different, taking a fresh look at the world, learning new skills, discovering what you are capable of – and transferring those things into everyday life. My hope is these new abilities will give me another way to look at my destinations when and if travel opens up again.

Learning a language is not nearly this risky. Start today.

Learn Languages Online

By Ingrid T of New Mexico, Second-Half Travels.
My favorite form of slow travel is language study. Attending a language school and staying with a local family allows me to spend a significant chunk of time in one place, forming lasting friendships and taking a deeper dive into the culture.

Fortunately, with a little creativity, we can create our own immersion environments at home. In these times of travel restrictions, I've found satisfying online substitutes in language classes, individual language exchanges, and group conversation practices over Zoom.

My current project is relearning French after almost 30 years of neglect! I'm also maintaining Spanish and Portuguese. I take one-on-one lessons with native speakers on iTalki or Verbling. These are convenient, reasonably priced online teaching platforms. After taking trial lessons and finding a teacher I like, I buy a discounted package of lessons and meet with them weekly over Skype.

You can also take an online self-guided course by one of the many popular language teachers with podcasts or YouTube channels. These courses usually have a social component like Zoom conferences or a Slack community. For example, right now I'm taking an excellent course by InnerFrench.

Try an online language exchange for a free learning method that often results in long-lasting international friendships. You can find partners using sites like My Language Exchange. Or, HelloTalk is a mobile app that allows you to connect and chat with native speakers and help them with your language in return. I meet for an hour with my language exchange partners. We spend half the time talking in English and half in the other person's native language.

You can also attend online group conversation practices. Most language practice groups on Meetup meet over Zoom now, so check if some exist in your area. Language teachers sometimes organize group Zoom meetings too. Online annual language conferences like Women in Language or the Polyglot Gathering are also a great way to connect with fellow language enthusiasts and join regular conversation practice groups.

Time to read, time to escape.

Carried Away by Books

Travel into different worlds with books

By Nadine Maffre, Le Long Weekend. She writes to us from France.
As someone who normally travels internationally every few months, I've had to distract myself with other hobbies this past year. One such hobby I've resurrected is reading. I love a good book, but now more than ever it allows me to travel in my head, to different times, places and even into other people's minds. It's a wonderful distraction, especially if recent events have left you feeling anxious or fretful for the future.

Some of the titles I've been enjoying this year are American Dirt, which saw me accompanying a mother and son on a harrowing journey from a gang-ridden town in Mexico to illegally entering the USA. Marian Keyes' Grown Ups took me to the writer's native Ireland and deep into the inner workings of a dysfunctional family. English journalist Bryony Gordon made me take up running with her hilarious and inspiring book Eat, Drink, Run. Jodi Picoult did her usual trick of entangling you in the lives of her characters with A Spark of Light. And my current page-turner, Where the Crawdads Sing, is taking me back in time to the 1950s-60s, and propelling me to a small town on the North Carolina coast.

Here in France, we're back into our second strict lockdown of the year, and these books are really enabling me to escape in my own head while my physical self is stuck at home. Other than reading, I've found looking back over past travel photos and appreciating the adventures I've already had has been a lesson in gratitude. But I cannot wait to be able to look forward into a world where travel is possible again.

Home and Family

More time with Dad

By Sophie Clapton, We Dream of Travel. Sophie has found her silver lining while being grounded in London.
After traveling non-stop for 4 years, being grounded back in London and living with my Dad has been quite the turn of events. Furthermore, my fiancé, whom I was spending all my time with traveling, was back home with his family in the U.S. Like the rest of the world, we hadn’t expected to be in this situation. What was supposed to be a couple of months back at home has turned into a very long year!

However, it’s not been all doom and gloom. With travel off the cards, I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with family. I have created healthy routines and focused on self care. It has allowed me to form an even deeper relationship with my Dad as we have both been working from home throughout this time.

During the pandemic, health has been on the forefront of our minds. My Dad and I have worked out or been for walks together almost every day. We’ve both seen the physical benefits of being more active and my Dad has now lost over 30 pounds (13kg). He's the fittest he’s been in about 30 years!

The wanderlust hasn’t gone away though! To celebrate my birthday in May, I took my first post-lockdown trip with my Dad to the White Cliffs of Dover. While restrictions are still in place, now is a great time to explore places closer to home. You never know what local treasures you may find!

A wall of memories or wishful thinking.

Compensating for Lack of Travel with Home Decor

By Lindsey Puls, Have Clothes, Will Travel, lives in northeast Wisconsin.
Being unable to travel, I have instead been focusing on ways I can bring travel into my home. Prior to COVID, my husband and I were constantly on the move and had not spent much time on decorating our house, beyond the essential furniture. This time at home has given us an opportunity to get creative with our décor and relive some of our favorite travel memories, from climbing Mount Fuji to lounging at some of the best places to stay in Jamaica.

I'm having fun decorating with vintage suitcases, old globes, and interesting map-themed items I find. My favorite projects, however, involve creating things that remind me of our past travels. I have done this by making a “time zones” wall. I just found some inexpensive clocks and put stickers underneath them to designate which time zone the clocks were set to. These cities are all places we had lived prior to COVID.

I also created a wall that has some of our favorite travel photos arranged around a metal map I purchased from Etsy. I used thick, black yarn and small magnets to create lines leading from the photos to their place on the map. This has been a really fun way to display our travel photos from over the years.

My next project is to create a shadow box with our old ticket stubs from airlines, museums and shows. I’m a bit of a hoarder of this stuff and have tons of tickets from prior travels. This is another great way to relive the travel memories and make use of some of our travel memorabilia.

Embracing Home Life

By Lara Hartog, The Best Travel Gifts.
I’m an all in or all out person. So, when the pandemic dictated that I was all out of traveling, I decided to focus on the good things about being home rather than compensating for my lack of traveling via websites, books, movies, or podcasts.

And one of the best thing about that is seeing friends and family on a regular basis. For me, this meant that I was home when my first nephew was born, and I can see him grow bigger by the week.

Small things that make me happy at home include having access to my full wardrobe of clothes, the comfort of my own bed, my own bathroom, a fully equipped kitchen, and spices and herbs I am familiar with. I like being able to read and understand all the product labels in the supermarket, and being able to fill my water bottle with water from the tap. Try to focus on those daily moments, for when you are traveling you will miss exactly those things.

I am not replacing traveling, it will always be my favorite thing to do. But now that I can’t blow all my money on traveling, it’s a good time to appreciate home, start settling in, work, and save up for the next trip, which I am sure will come.

From the kitchen to the neighborhood, spreading happiness.

Reaching Out to Others

Spreading Happiness

By Nisha and Vasu, Le Monde The Poetic Travels. They report from Maharashtra, India.
My state of Maharashtra in India has topped the list of coronavirus cases ever since the pandemic started. We've had several lockdowns and are still under some more. Our neighborhood was a containment zone for a long period, meaning we received limited supplies of essentials. So I decided to take advantage of the war-like situation rather than sit idle.

First, I started growing vegetables in pots on my balcony. Tomato, turmeric, mint, garlic, spinach, fenugreek, chili, some varieties of gourds, and so on. But they don’t grow in one day. It was taking time.

That made me turn to ‘Best out of Waste' and improving my reuse practices. The best place to implement was my kitchen. I started experimenting with the peels of fruits and vegetables. I made delicious chutneys from banana peel, and a condiment with watermelon peel. Orange peels & rinds were excellent for a spicy, tangy jam which would go well with flat breads. Scraps of bitter gourd were used to make instant pickle, and peels of bottle gourd were used to make dessert.

Also, looking around our building complex occupied by many older people, I saw that those who used to walk in the park in the evenings were now sitting in one place, masked, just looking at the surroundings and one another. This is the generation who hasn’t used smartphones for most of their lives and it was difficult for them to pass the time. I slowly encouraged them to hone up their phone skills, and taught them the basics of Instagram. Initially, they were wary of it. Now they have bright smiles on their faces as they joke with each other and wait to show me what they clicked during the day.

Our advice is to stay positive even if your day wasn't good, and keep learning, be it cooking, art, some language, or some technical stuff. Spread happiness; it'll come back to you.

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