Not traveling? Do this.

We thought it was over. It’s not over. The omicron variant is spreading like wildfire and I can’t tell you how many times in the past month my husband and I have cancelled or rescheduled our travel plans because we thought we’d been exposed to Covid. Blah! So this three-day weekend, we are, yet again, spending time at home. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). But, what’s challenging for a travel addict like myself, is that when I’m not traveling, I feel like I’m not living. I feel stagnant. Burdened by routine. I lose my sense of purpose, momentum and motivation for doing the simplest of tasks (yes, it’s that bad). But the truth is, I subscribe to the belief that “To travel is to live.” My spirit requires adventure. Or at least knowing that something exciting is on the horizon. And so, this weekend, I think I need to find ways to compensate for having no travel plans. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Explore options; dream: This is a no-brainer and something I do incessantly anyway. Most nights I lie awake and let my thoughts wander through the medina in Tangiers, through the souks to the old Cafe Tingis, where I sit by the open window, having Moroccan tea and people watch. Or, I’m back in Paris running up and down the steps of Sacré-Cœur. Or, having boquerones and a vermouth at Gran Clavel on the Gran Via in Madrid. Lately, I’ve been dreaming of Norway, Iceland and Canada, cold, dark wintry places where I can imagine the northern lights and a cabin by the sea in Lofoten.
  • Plot, plan and book something for future travel: this of course is my go to feel-good move when I am really dying to travel but can’t. What’s a girl to do? Plan! It’s the best way to lick your wounds. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Check out maps, Airbnbs, hotel booking companies, airfares. Did you know you can get to Ft Lauderdale for $88 from Philadelphia right now? I tend to start with an idea and then I check out the accommodations in the area. If I can’t find a decent hotel or airbnb, I move on to another destination.
  • Head into the nearest city and dine at an international restaurant: Part of traveling for me is the food. Actually, food is everything. My need to experience local dishes and connect to the people who make them is a sacred thing. It’s Anthony Bourdain-ian. I think of the (at this point overused) Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: Life is a journey, not a destination. I’d say, life is a journey through food, never mind the destination. So, if you live close to any big city, take a drive, book a cool restaurant. When I really need to get out of the ‘burbs and feel like I am somewhere far away, I typically choose one of three places in Philly: Figs, which is a fabulous Moroccan/Mediterranean restaurant near the Art Museum; Bistrot La Minette, on 6th near Bainbridge, for authentic French (Parc, on Rittenhouse is great too!); or Barcelona Wine Bar in Passyunk for a great glass of Ribera del Duero and some Spanish tapas. Don’t forget Chinatown or the 9th Street Italian market areas.
  • Take a mini drive: We live 45-mins from the city and 45-mins from the Atlantic. It’s a great in between point to get out and feel like you’re somewhere other than your own neighborhood, without having to drive too far. In fact, one of my fav winter drives is to Long Beach Island, where D and I (and now my grandson) love to walk on the empty cold beaches, watch the choppy dark ocean, and have a great seaside lunch at Daymark, down by Barnegat lighthouse. What a different experience from that of the hot summers. New Hope, Lambertville, Batsto Village, Princeton and Manayunk are also great spots within 1-2 hours drive.
  • Hike locally: Heck, walk around the block. It doesn’t matter where you live, get out and walk. Walking fulfills one of our most basic human needs: movement. It forces us to slow down, observe, think. I recently walked part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, a walk which many consider a spiritual journey, and I have to say, it was one of the best solo adventures I’ve ever taken. Since being back home, I don’t walk nearly as much as I did on the Camino, but I do walk with a renewed sense of purpose lately. I try to see the beauty in my own town and appreciate what this tiny point on the globe has to offer. Nature abounds here in southern NJ. Aside from just walking around the block, our go to hiking spots are the Batona Trail in the Pinebarrens, Atsion Mansion trail, and recently, we hiked the beautiful Wissahickon Creek Gorge.
  • Get thee to a spa, or get an in-home spa service: I know it can be difficult to enjoy a spa nowadays with a mask, or wondering if the spa is keeping up with Covid safety protocols. Many of my favorite places have completely closed or have limited availability. But in-home services are the perfect way to spoil yourself. Take a week day off, wait till the kids are in school, send the dog to the groomers, and lock the front door! A friend of mine offers spectacular Thai bodywork sessions, in your home, while using a special biomat to help you heal and feel rejuvenated. Yoga? Reike? Dinner for two? She does all that for you too.
  • Read a travel narrative: When I was in my 20’s, completely broke and unable to afford a trip to the next state, let alone Europe, I worked in the travel section of a bookshop. My eternal love of the Saharan desert, Province, Spain, north Africa was borne out of those early bookseller days. Graham Greene’s Journey Without Maps; Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky; Gerald Brennan’s South from Granada; Peter Mayle’s A Year In Province; Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises; The Lover, by Marguerite Duras and, on and on and on… My latest and greatest favorite travel-related narrative is a quirky ironic book by Enrique Vila-Matas called Never Any End to Paris. I had given it to one of my closest friends and to my husband to read and neither of them “got it.” Why on earth not, I will never know. It is my all-time favorite book.
  • Watch movies or documentaries that are travel-related: This is another obvious choice for those of us dying to go somewhere but unable. A few recommendations: The Darjeeling Limited; The Sheltering Sky; Amélie; Midnight In Paris; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; Out of Africa; The Lover; Up In the Air; Slumdog Millionaire; Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown; French Kiss; Eat, Pray, Love (yes, I am including it); Madame Bovary; India Song, Betty Blue, Much Loved (Zin Li Fik); any travel series with Anthony Bourdain (Parts Unknown, No Reservations); any of Rick Steves’ travel guides. Foreign language films are also a great choice!
  • Have an international dinner party: Want to go to Cuba? How about inviting a few friends over for Cuban night. Queue up Tito Puento on your mobile device (Spotify has a great “Classic Cuban” playlist). Get a copy of The Cuban Table, or simply look for Cuban recipes online. Make a few choices dishes and definitely buy a good bottle of rum for all those mojitos.
  • Make exotic coffees: If you’re anything like me, coffee (or tea, if you prefer) is the embodiment of travel. It is the lifeline of any place on earth. It is where people turn to rise in the morning, to socialize during the day and to close out the night. And the second you cross the threshold from the watered-down, Keurig coffee country of the USA to anywhere else in the world you’re in for a pretty sweet awakening. Sitting in a cafe in Madrid or Paris, sipping a cafe au lait, or a cortado con leche is and will always be a religious experience for me. And so, making coffee how the locals do, is probably the easiest way to pseudo-travel. I have done this with something as elaborate as making Moroccan mint tea (usually in the summer with hand-picked mint from my garden), to making more easily prepared versions of Italian espresso using a cafetera (Moka pot), or french press, and even attempting authentic Turkish coffee made in a cezve. Where do you want to go? Research your country’s drink of choice and make it. Authentically.
  • Open your windows: I know it’s winter. I know you’ve got heating bills. But, just crack open your window before hopping into bed. And when you’re snuggling under your covers, listen to the wind, listen to the rain, listen to cars passing by or dogs barking (hopefully) in the distance. With central AC and heat we tend to keep our windows closed all the time, and therefore we are entombed in our own personally-made environment. But let the outside in. Besides, it’s great for your health. Gene Marks in The Entrepreneur re-tells the story of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin traveling together, and because of limited availability of rooms at the Inn, were forced to sleep together in the same room. Adams retells how Franklin insisted on sleeping with an open window, even in the cold:

“According to David McCullough’s biography of the second president, the two men “argued fiercely” over whether or not to keep a window open that night. “The Window was open, and I, who was an invalid and afraid of the Air in the night blowing upon me, shut it close,” Adams wrote in his diary. “Oh! says Franklin don’t shut the Window. We shall be suffocated. I answered I was afraid of the Evening Air. Dr. Franklin replied, the Air within this Chamber will soon be, and indeed is now worse than that without Doors: come! open the Window and come to bed.”

Franklin basically argued that no one ever caught a cold from an open window. In fact, the air outside was far healthier than the air inside a closed up room.

While in Madrid, I always keep my window open a crack when I sleep at night. I can hear the distant sound of the metro and the urban line alerting their arrival at the Delicias station. I can hear a late night piano practice at the music school on the corner of my block. I hear toilets flush and the whoosh of steam from the gas tanks from the apartments in my building. If I am lucky, I hear the man who lives above me sing in English with his Spanish accent, as he washes the dishes.

  • Follow favorite destinations on Instagram: I’m extremely particular when it comes to my Instagram feed. Facebook is for friends, but Instagram is for dreams. In fact, my entire Instagram feed follows only four topics: travel, tiny homes, Madrid and art. More specifically, I follow specific destinations by hashtag. #spain #italy #lofoten #luxurytravel #besthotels #moroccantours…You get the point. And so, this is often how I travel, when I’m not traveling. Through images. Deeper cuts: most of those images have links in the bios to travel recommendations, hotels, restaurants, stories, and so on.

Which brings me back full circle to my first top two points: Explore options, dream, and Plot, plan and book. And if I can kill enough time looping through this list, eventually, I will end up somewhere else in the world, other than my own backyard. Fingers crossed it won’t be too long. 🤞🏻🌎🤞🏻

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