Travel

4 ways to scratch the travel itch during social distancing

A person makes guacamole with avocados and a wooden mortar and pestle

Where can travelers direct their wanderlust until it’s OK to travel again?

There’s no substitute for immersing yourself in a new place in person—if there were, travel wouldn’t be such a big industry. In fact, recent research suggests a correlation between visiting new places and experiencing more positive emotions.1 With that not an option, we look at the next best thing: Activities you can do to immerse yourself in other cultures and experiences and perhaps get some of those positive emotions—without leaving home.

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1. Learn a new language

Trying to speak a new language while you’re abroad is one of the fastest ways to get out of your comfort zone. Practicing at home can’t match the thrill of using your hard-won vocabulary in real life for the first time, but it can help you live out the fantasy while you perfect your accent.

Language-learning apps that allow for easy daily lessons have proliferated in recent years, including Duolingo, Babbel, Memrise, and Rosetta Stone. Pronunciation dictionaries such as Forvo can help you hit the right notes on specific words and phrases, or just hear what other languages sound like.

If you really want to strut your stuff, download a translation app like Google Translate or iTranslate Converse and speak into it to see if your language skills are good enough for the app to understand. 

A person makes bruschetta with a number of fresh ingredients

2. Cook the cuisine at home

Bringing the flavors of far-away lands into your kitchen is a double benefit: Not only will you be living out a little slice of travel, you’ll also spice up your grocery list and recipe rotation after months of social distancing. Getting started is as easy as looking up your choice of dish or cuisine on your favorite recipe website. (Not sure where to begin? Popular cooking sites Allrecipes and The Spruce Eats have directories where you can search by region.)

One easy way to jump into world cuisine is with meal kit service Blue Apron. Subscribers sign up for a weekly delivery of 2- or 4-portion meals, and can select from a menu of at least 7 recipes each week, many of them inspired by dishes from around the world. For the week of July 6, options included Italian chicken with prosciutto panzanella, Korean pork and rice cakes, and vadouvan shrimp with sweet chili sauce. Even better, AAA members can get $63 off their first 3 boxes.

The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt

3. Travel digitally with virtual tours

If the tastes, smells, and sounds of travel just have you wanting more, live vicariously through the many virtual tours you’ll find on the web. These include:

And those are just scratching the surface—you can also virtually ski the slopes of the Dolomites in Italy, explore the interior of the cruise ship Viking Star , and even do some interplanetary travel by visiting Mars, courtesy of NASA’s Curiosity rover.

A sitar instrument

4. Transport your ears with podcasts & music

Streaming makes it easier than ever to transport yourself to far-away soundscapes. Services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music offer playlists of world music, even down to very specific genres such as French cafe music and classical Indian sitar. If you’re looking for live radio, apps like iHeartRadio and TuneIn let you listen to music and talk stations from all over the world (another great way to put your language skills to use).

Travel podcasts offer a more guided experience, and there are as many podcasts as there are destinations. Podcasts are available on an array of platforms, including the ones mentioned above, as well as podcast-specific apps. Why not start with AAA's very own Well-Traveled with AAA? It's available for free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Each episode features local experiences and travel options to help you feel like you’re actually there. 

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1Heller, A.S., Shi, T.C., Ezie, C.E.C. et al. Association between real-world experiential diversity and positive affect relates to hippocampal–striatal functional connectivity. Nat Neurosci (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41593-020-0636-4

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