There are times in life when you just can't travel.
There are a lot of factors that can stand in our way, either for specific periods of time, or more permanently. Financial constraints are a big and very common barrier to travel, but so are mobility challenges, physical or mental health issues, family or work obligations, and, as we recently experienced, public health crises.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t embrace the spirit of solo travel from where we are.
Without leaving home, we can still learn about other cultures, view new landscapes, hear new sounds, and discover perspectives of people from around the world, all through the wonders of technology. It will never beat the real thing, but over the last few years a lot of companies and individuals stepped up to make our self-isolation more bearable, more productive, and more entertaining, and many of those initiatives continue today.
Here, with the help of readers, friends, and colleagues are some wonderful options for feeding your wanderlust during times when you can't travel.
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Travel Alternatives You Can Enjoy Right Now
I recently asked members of the Solo Travel Society, “What is one thing you always do when traveling that you never do at home?”
Their answers, as always, were interesting.
Many people spoke wistfully of the things they miss that they only do when they are in another place.
It got me thinking: how can we capture some of those feelings without traveling far? Are there things we do when traveling that can be adapted when we're at home? What are some interesting and fun travel alternatives?
Herewith, a selection of travel-inspired activities to be enjoyed close to home.
Activities You Can Enjoy Near Home When You Can't Travel
Here are some things you likely do when you travel along with some travel alternatives that you may be able to enjoy in your own area, without spending much money or straying far from home.
1. Talk to Strangers
Federica loves to talk to strangers when she travels. “When I talk with foreign people everything sounds so interesting and incredible.” Amy shared that she talks to almost anyone she passes who is engaging in a similar activity.
Strangers are inherently interesting, wherever we encounter them. And if you discover otherwise, it's easy to just keep walking. Try striking up a conversation with someone you don't know next time you're out. Maybe you can also have a pleasant chat and discover someone new.
In the wake of the pandemic, I realized I had not met anyone new in many months, due to being at home for so long. In addition to not making new friends, there was an absence of the random, passing acquaintances that happen so easily when we're traveling – waiting for a train, at a concert, on a walking tour. In those cases, we have one initial thing in common with each person. During times when we can't travel, why not look for something like that from home?
I recently attended a virtual book club meeting, and it was fabulous to meet a whole group of strangers from different places and walks of life, with whom I had only one thing in common: we had read the same book. The stimulation of engaging with people with different perspectives from my own was energizing and reminded me of the excitement of meeting people while traveling.
2. Browse Supermarkets
I know I am not alone in loving to spend time in grocery stores or at local markets when I travel. As Federica says, “You can learn a lot about a culture by just wandering around in a supermarket.”
If you live in a city with a variety of types of grocery stores carrying ingredients from different cultures, pick up some products and try a new recipe, or enjoy some ready-made snacks or sweets. If browsing a local store isn't an option, order some spices or condiments online and experiment with new dishes. You might even try recreating a dish that you first tried on a previous trip.
3. Wake Up Early
A number of solo travelers mentioned that they like to get up and out early in the morning in order to visit very popular sites before they become crowded with other tourists. This could be a good idea near home as well.
I live near the beach in Toronto and later in the day the boardwalk can be very busy. Early mornings make for a more relaxing stroll and an opportunity to take it slow and pay more attention to your natural surroundings. The photo at the top of the page was taken when I stopped to look up while walking in the park adjacent to the beach.
When traveling, Mary likes to “take an early morning walk through the neighborhood, coffee in hand, before breakfast. Everything looks different in the early morning.” This might be a travel alternative you could consider: getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the sun rise, take a peaceful walk in your own neighborhood, or explore further afield.
4. Walk – A Lot
“Toss the map and wander around all day with no plans at all. Live in the moment and decide then. Eat whatever I want.” These are the things that Angela loves to do when traveling that she doesn't do at home.
Walking all day without a plan is a wonderful activity that we think nothing of doing while traveling, but maybe not so much at home. Pick a starting point in your city and just go where the day takes you. Drive to the next town, park the car, and wander. Take the streetcar or bus to the opposite end of town and explore, stop when you’re hungry or see something interesting.
5. Stay in Local Hotels When You Can't Travel Far
A couple of people mentioned that one thing they only do when they travel is stay in hotels. This may seem obvious, but spending a night in a hotel close to home can give you an opportunity to see your city as a tourist. And a change of venue can offer a nice break, making it feel like a holiday.
Something new that has cropped up as hotels have lost some business travelers due to the fact that we now make such liberal use of video meetings and as many more people are working at home than ever before, is the idea of a hotel day pass or work pass. Designed for people working from home who need some peace and quiet – not to mention an appealing spot for a nap – these day passes can include special treats like afternoon tea delivered to your room. At a minimum they offer a clear desk, internet access, coffee and tea, and a spotless space that you won't have to clean or share with anyone else for about 12 hours. And if you don't have to work and don't need a room, you can get an amenities pass and spend your day swimming, getting a massage, or laying by the pool. All the perks of travel, but you still get to sleep in your own bed at the end of the day.
You can find an assortment of these offers on ResortPass, but you can also check directly with hotels to see if they are offering daycation rates.
Travel Alternatives that Don't Require Leaving Your Home
1. Attend Museums and Concerts
“I go to a lot more museums and attend concerts or other performances which are usually a lot less expensive than in the US or free,” said Carole. I think this is very common. Even though I have access to wonderful theaters, concerts, and galleries in my home city, I don't take full advantage of them. But when I'm traveling? You bet!
Although the experience will be different in the sense that you won't be able to be in the same room, right now we have unprecedented access to, and deep discounts on, access to arts and culture from all over the world, on the same device on which you are reading this article.
You can look both locally and internationally for live and recorded performances, virtual tours of art exhibits, behind the scenes interviews, and more. Just search the name of the gallery, concert hall, artist, theatre company, exhibit or play to find out what is available. As an added bonus, most events are offered online at a fraction of the usual cost, or even free. I recently watched a play recorded live in a London theatre, and Vivaldi's Four Seasons performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
2. When You Can't Travel, You Can Still Enjoy Special Meals
Whether it's a big breakfast before starting a day of exploring, indulging in wine at lunch, or splurging on a spectacular dinner, enjoying special meals seems to be something that a lot of people save for their travels.
Why on earth would you limit yourself in that way?
Sharon says that when she travels, she will “Eat a larger breakfast, usually scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, maybe pancakes or French toast or biscuits, maybe oatmeal also. At home I usually just have oatmeal with pecans or walnuts.” Susan agreed, saying, “same here, I always go for the hotel breakfasts and cappuccino, never do that at home!” For Lacy, it's a beautiful dinner featuring steak and whiskey.
There are so many options to take advantage of here. Local restaurants will appreciate your business now more than ever, and many of them have upped their dine-at-home game as well. Missing the cuisine of a particular culture? Look for a restaurant that specializes in it and order in.
Is there a favorite meal that you enjoy while traveling, like Lacy's steak and whiskey? Go for it! If you enjoy cooking, make your own, exactly the way you like it. Prefer to leave it to professionals? Order in the steak dinner from a restaurant and save a ton of money by buying your own special bottle from the liquor store. No restaurants close by? Connect with friends or neighbors and have a potluck or do a meal swap; you can each cook a specialty from your own heritage or something you first discovered while traveling.
Also, there's nothing stopping you from dressing up for dinner or setting a beautiful table at home or splurging on a spectacular bottle of wine. What's your next solo destination? Explore the wines of that region, to get a taste of things to come.
3. Receive Compliments and Support
Sharon said that one thing she only does while traveling is “listen to people tell me how brave I am, or ask me how scared I am or whether I'm worried about being on my own.”
Carol remarked, “I love how concerned people are about our wellbeing when we're traveling solo but don't have that same concern when we're performing our everyday lives solo.”
When we’re traveling, we are busy making arrangements, taking in new sights, figuring out transportation systems, languages, and customs. It may be more challenging to be alone without all that stimulation and focus.
If the recognition and support from others feels good to you, maybe you could consider reaching out to someone else in a similar way. You may find you feel just as good giving it as receiving it.
And if it helps to hear it from someone who is in the same boat, riding out day after day solo, then let me tell you: You are a star. You will travel again. And when you do, you will be even better at it and appreciate it all that much more.
How to Embrace the Spirit of Travel When You Can't Go
Here are some free or inexpensive suggestions to illustrate this idea for those times when you can't travel.
Read books by authors from a country you would like to visit, to get a feel for how they see their homeland. Read books about individual travel experiences. Read books or travel guides to help prepare for your next trip.
Here are some books recently recommended by members of the Solo Travel Society:
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Coffin Road by Peter May
- Walking the Nile by Levison Wood
- Jane Austen's England: A Travel Guide by Karin Quint
This is a great time to dust off that library card if you haven't been using it. Many libraries offer a range of digital resources, including e-books, audio books, movies, and music, in addition to the physical books on the shelves.
Watch films that are set in locations you dream of visiting. Check out movies about challenging journeys you might like to undertake, such as Wild, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, or The Way, about walking the Camino. If you enjoy exploring the world through food, try television or streaming service series hosted by chefs and travelers. Check out this list, compiled from recommendations made by members of the Solo Travel Society: Top 10 Films about Solo Travel.
The Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital (DCEFF), the largest environmental film festival in the world offers online access to hundreds of films from previous festivals. Most of them are free, though some may require accounts with video providers such as Netflix or Amazon in order to view them. Films cover environmental issues around the planet.
Check out our interviews with travel experts and solo travelers who have done extraordinary things. From travel insurance brokers to house sitters, a travel doctor to a digital nomad, and an expert on volunteer travel to an expert on solo travel to India, you're sure to find something of interest.
3. Tour (Virtually)
Google Arts and Culture is a massive treasure trove of photos and virtual tours of museums, galleries, attractions, and landmarks around the world.
Explore cities around the world with 360 Cities. They have the world's largest collection of 360° images and videos.
You may not be traveling to Italy now but you can access these wonderful virtual tours of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel.
4. Surf and Dream
When stuck at home we can still dream about future travel. Browse travel-related websites. Google “(country or city name) + tourism” to find the tourism board for a destination. Check out some of the Solo Travel Destination posts we have published, all written by solo travelers, on our Destinations page.
Scroll through the astonishing photos taken by the winners and runners-up of the Travel Photographer of the Year Awards. Get inspired by the work of the entrants and the locales where the photos were taken. Consider entering some of your own photos in this year's contest.
Check out next year's offerings from travel companies to dream about future trips you might want to take. You can see a list of trips on Solo Traveler, or check out the winners of the 2019 Solo Travel Awards for links to companies that cater to solo travelers.
Listen to music created by musicians from around the world. There is so much music out there, free for the listening. I just googled “music of Africa” and am now listening to traditional music as I work. Check out the playlists on the World Music Network.
Discover radio stations around the world. Pop from Istanbul, Jazz from Paris, traditional music from Ireland, Bollywood sounds from India: there are well over 3,000 radio stations available for the listening on radio.net.
Are you relatively new to solo travel? Do you know someone who is? Take the Wits and Wonder Travel Course or gift it to someone who would appreciate some help developing travel skills, building travel confidence, and learning to infuse their travels with new richness and fun.
Learn a new language, or help someone else learn yours. You can prepare for an upcoming trip by taking an online class in the language of a country you’d like to visit, or volunteer online to help someone who is trying to learn your first language with their conversational skills. Here is a list of 49 Free Language Learning Websites.
Museums and art galleries offer incredible opportunities to learn about a culture through art and history. I have a particular interest in contemporary art—I love to see what today’s artists are working on—but you may be more interested in historical pieces. Some major galleries have made tens of thousands of pieces of their collections available digitally, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, and London’s British Museum. Art UK contains images of over 200,000 British paintings.
8. When You Can't Travel, Prepare for When You Can
There are plenty of things you can do now to help prepare yourself for a future trip. One is to review your credit cards and loyalty programs to ensure that you are getting the best rewards to help you travel more. Consider this your accumulation time. Janice has done the math to find the best credit card for her lifestyle and travel style and shares her 5-step process to help you do the same in How to Choose the Right Credit Card for Travel.
Check your passport expiry date. Is it still valid? Has it recently expired? You may want to renew it now so it's ready to go when you are. Check the updated information for your country. In some cases, it can take a few months, so if you're not traveling now, this might be a good time to take care of it. Here are links to passport renewal information for a few countries:
9. Stay Curious
During those times when you can't travel, I encourage you to embrace the spirit of solo travel in any way you can. Keep learning, keep discovering, keep virtually exploring. Stay curious. The elements that make you a good traveler will serve you well and make your life more interesting during your time between physical journeys.