JAIME L. KUTZ: When a Staycation Is Your Only Option

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Jaime Kurtz Ph.D

The losses we’ve had to bear as a result of COVID-19 are countless. A missed vacation is, admittedly, far down on the list. That said, the disappointment is real and it’s valid. The loss of a much-desired vacation, one that filled us with anticipation and vitality, can leave us feeling deflated, frustrated, and restless.

To help combat these feelings, here are some ways to satisfy your wanderlust while staying close to home.

1. Reminisce on past travels.

One reason travel is so rewarding is that it adds so many rich memories to our lives. But how often do you really reflect back on your past travels? How often do you look at all of the photos you’ve taken over the years, or reread a travel journal? Maybe a part of you was preserving all of those precious moments for now: for a time when you aren’t able to travel.

Set aside some time to look back and relive these good times. Share the memories with the people you traveled with. Reconnect with people you met while traveling. Or maybe this is the time to finally make that scrapbook, or to print, frame, and hang some favorite travel photographs.

2. Bring the world to you.

What do you love most about travel? If it’s trying new foods, try experimenting with the cuisine of a new culture. Get a cookbook. Learn the techniques, the unique spices, the ingredients. Or recreate a favorite dish from your travels. (Scent is powerful — nothing will take you back like the smell of something you ate while traveling). If you miss the atmosphere of a foreign city – the sounds, the architecture, the fashions — watch a foreign film or documentary set there. If you love nature, you can visit the U.S. National Parks here, or indulge your passion for museums (without the crowds) here!

Finally, jump on the jigsaw puzzle bandwagon and work on a puzzle that features a favorite place you’ve visited or want to visit. Chances are, as you stare at the pieces for hours, you’ll look much more closely and process the scene much more deeply than if you were physically there, rushing or distracted.

3. Invite the kids.

As parents know well, entertaining children during this time of isolation is one of the biggest everyday challenges. My neighbor is an avid traveler and has come up with many creative ideas for fostering a love for travel and an appreciation for other cultures in her 8-year-old son.

During what would have been a spring-break trip, they decided to “travel” to a different country each day. They would choose one country and learn the basics: things like the capital, flag, currency, or any special landmarks. They would also “visit” the country on Google Earth. They would delve into the culture by playing their music, watching a TV program or movie set in the country, reading a story, playing a game, making a craft (there are many ideas on Pinterest), or learning a few words of the language (Duolingo is fun and kid-friendly). Dinner would feature cuisine from that country, either homemade or take-out.

For example, one day they focused on Japan, which meant playing with Pokemon cards, making a cherry blossom painting, eating ramen, and watching the film, My Neighbor Totoro. Another day focused on France. They made crepes, read The Little Prince, took a virtual tour of the Louvre, went bike riding in their own Tour de France, and watched the movie Ratatouille. At the end of each day, her son would get a stamp in his specially-made passport to document his “visit” as well as his newfound knowledge of a foreign country.

4. See home through the eyes of a traveler.

In my book The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations, I write about the advantages of a staycation and offer advice on how to see your home as a traveler. Never has that advice been more useful.

What can you (safely) explore that’s right nearby? Hike a new trail. Learn about the native plants and flowers that are probably coming to life right about now. Really listen to the different birdsongs you hear each morning. Learn the history of your neighborhood or town. Your curiosity doesn’t need to be reserved solely for your travels. If you have the time and the motivation to really look, you might be surprised at what you discover right outside your door.

5. Look ahead hopefully.

While the questions of when and how are unanswerable, we have to believe that we will get to travel again. And when we can, it will be even more special and exciting than before. Don’t be afraid to envision what your next adventure may be. Fantasize about it with your family and friends. If you’re so inclined, take action now to make your next trip even better. Start learning the language, for instance, or take an online travel photography class.

While my suggestions may pale in comparison to strolling a white-sand beach or idling away an afternoon at a Parisian cafe, I hope they can help cushion the blow while also giving you some fun distractions. Now is the time to redefine what it means to travel and try to live by the words of Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”