We’re headed for the holiday season in the USA, which is normally a busy time for traveling to see relatives. Then people normally take a lot of vacation trips in the new year to tropical destinations to escape the cold. There’s nothing normal about the times we’re living in though. For safety’s sake and due to the economic slump, most people are stuck staying close to home.
Just because you’re stuck in the same old city or home, however, doesn’t mean you can’t go exploring. Here are some ideas to jolt you out of your routine and at least give you a taste of the world beyond.
Eat at a Different Ethnic Restaurant
Is there a place you could go eat out, or get take-out food from, where you don’t look like anyone else in the building? A great way to feel like a foreigner exploring a different culture is to eat some authentic ethnic food from another country.
When I was a child, the small city I grew up in had one Mexican restaurant, one Chinese one, and…that was it. Times have changed quite a bit though. Now in almost any U.S. city of 50,000 or more in Canada, the USA, or Europe you can find food from far-flung places like India, Vietnam, Ukraine, or Ethiopia. If not a restaurant, at least a food truck.
Sure, you can cook exotic food yourself and that can be fun. Chances are these ethnic restaurants could really use your business right now though, so help out a family and eat something different. At least your taste buds can take a trip even if your feet can’t. You could even make this a weekly routine and experience four different countries each month.
Stroll and Shop in an Ethnic Neighborhood
If you’re in a city of any size, chances are there’s an area of a few blocks or more where English is rare. The population might be Mexicans, Syrians, Chinese, Koreans, or Hmong. Chances are you won’t be able to read their signs and movies will be playing on screens where you don’t understand any of the dialogue.
Visiting a neighborhood like this is a great way to feel like you’ve gotten off a plane in a far-off land. Go shopping in their stores and buy something strange. A serious gift or a gag gift even. Pick up some groceries in the ethnic market. Eat from a street cart or food truck. Buy one of their incomprehensible newspapers and flip through it while you’re having whatever they drink in their home country. It’ll be a fun adventure that didn’t require eight hours in a plane.
Go Somewhere Different That’s an Easy Drive
When I lived in Tennessee and Florida, I would frequently buy or check out a guidebook for my state and see what was around that I had never heard of before. This is a great method for new discoveries, for getting beyond the famous places and landmarks, Chances are you’ll discover something odd, interesting, or crazy that is less than two hours from where you live. Like this place where I went kayaking in Florida:
There’s a series of state books with Weird in their name, like Weird Wisconsin. Some are out of print so you’ll have to get a used copy, but others are still available new. There are also books telling you where you can get to on a tank of gas from a major city and some states have a good website with excursion rundowns. Atlas Obscura can be a great online source too for oddball sites and attractions.
Find a place close to home in there you have never heard of before, maybe one that you can drive to in an hour or two. Go there, take pictures, soak up the atmosphere. Be a tourist. You can even cash in some hotel points and make a weekend of it without spending a bunch of extra money.
Just remember your mask. And a spare.
Travel Through Foreign Films
If you scroll deep into your favorite streaming service, you’ll find plenty of foreign films and TV shows that aren’t in English. You can turn on the subtitles to know what’s going on, but you’ll have a window into a foreign land and culture without leaving the sofa. It’s especially easy to find films from Europe, Argentina, Mexico, India, and Korea, but keep going deeper and you can travel to plenty more places. Look up past foreign film Oscar nominations if you want quality, but some of the comedies can be quite good too.
If you want to really do it right, get something to drink from that country (or make an exotic cocktail) and order in some food for dinner and a movie. Or visit the ethnic grocery store for that area and pick up some of their snacks. A Bollywood film and vindaloo? Roma with some tacos? Parasite with some bulgogi and soju?
Sure, none of these actions quite measure up to jetting off to another spot on the globe with new sights, sounds, and smells, but they’re a fun and affordable alternative in these times of limited movement. This kind of micro adventure resets your brain and breaks up the dull routine. Shake things up on a regular basis and being “home” is not so boring while you save and wait for the big trip abroad.
What have you done locally to satisfy your wanderlust while staying close to home?