How I’m Armchair Traveling These Days

Nearly five months into isolation, there can’t be many people who aren’t dreaming of their next big getaway. Whether a tropical escape, mountainous hideout, or foreign backpacking tour, just about anywhere but the walls in which we’ve been stuck for the last 18 weeks sounds divine.

In ordinary circumstances, I’ve almost always got a trip brewing. Having something on the horizon to plan and get excited for energizes and orients me in the same way that a big race does. I feel stir-crazy unless I’ve got something in the works–which is why the seed of my next trip is often planted before I even touch down from my current one.

But these days, my thoughts are disproportionately lingering on a spinning globe, visions of overdue reunions, exploratory runs, and an endless coffee drip swimming through my mind. The fact that foreign travel isn’t really possible right now just adds to the sense of urgency I already felt about seeing the world and experiencing all I can.

Since none of us know when it’ll be safe to travel again, nor how different it’s going to be when it is, I’ve been finding ways to scratch my travel itch that don’t require a passport or an airplane. None of these, obviously, come close to the real deal. But small doses here and there are helping to keep my wanderlust stoked until borders reopen and public spaces are deemed safe.

Here’s how I’m armchair traveling these days:

COOKING // Ever since I traveled the world, my kitchen has been a bridge to faraway places. In addition to cooking some of the recipes I gathered on that trip–some of which are included in my book, lately I’ve been having fun trying new dishes from cookbooks such as Marcus Off Duty (Ethiopia), Bondi Harvest (Australia), Jerusalem (Israel), Aarti Paarti (India), Vietnamese Home Cooking (Vietnam), and endless globally inspired recipes from the rest of my cookbook collection plus food blogs such as Green Kitchen Stories.

I also splurged on a few international spice blends from The Spice House (Alton Brown-approved, so must be legit) and have been incorporating za’atar, berbere, and Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese 5 Spice) into meals whenever I can.

READING // For me and many others, books offer an escape from reality and immersion into a different world. I find travel writing and books set in foreign countries especially invigorating right now. Some of my favorites include There is No Me without You by Melissa Faye Greene, The Lost City of Z by David Grann (another Watson fellow), Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.

Running-wise, some worthy reads are Adharanand Finn’s books on Kenyan and Japanese running cultures, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, and Today We Die a Little by Richard Askwith. There’s also this book called Run the World you can read if you feel so inclined 😉

LISTENING // Besides food, music is one of the most powerful ways to transport yourself somewhere else. Whenever I travel, I keep an ear out for new songs and artists I like, and jot them down in my notebook so I can listen when I get home. Asking locals for recommendations is the best way to start, while coffee shops, restaurants, and the radio (with a little help from Shazam) offer good fodder too.

Since those playlists have to be curated from home right now, mess around with Spotify’s Top 50 by Country, and put together a selection of songs from countries you love or are dying to visit. You can also check out this playlist I made in honor of Global Running Day last summer. For more of my favorite songs from my trip around the world, the back of my book is where it’s at!

REMINISCING // Not everyone is so sentimental, but it’s times like these that I’m glad I journal, take tons of photos, record recipes, and make physical albums for my bigger trips. One of my antidotes to travel fever is going through those keepsakes, remembering the moments that made each trip special and finding ways–whether through food or music or something else entirely–to keep that spirit alive from home. I’ll also take any excuse to reconnect with friends in other countries, as I did for this blog post about quarantine cooking in kitchens around the world.

WATCHING // Documentaries, movies, and tv shows are also great ways to learn about other places and cultures (though some are more agenda-driven than others). I watch way more docs than movies, so among those I recommend Jiro Dreams of Sushi, March of the Penguins, Chef’s Table, Meru, Salt Fat Acid Heat, and, for you nature lovers, Planet Earth, Life, Blue Planet, and Our Planet.

PLANNING // It’s hard to make concrete plans for just about anything right now, but that doesn’t mean that all future trips must be tabled. Personally, I’m gearing up for two trips abroad in the coming months, knowing full well that neither may happen as planned but that eventually, I’ll get to those places and put my research to use. Like so many other things in life, the buildup to a big trip is half the fun. And whether the marquee event goes off without a hitch or doesn’t even come close, the time spent planning, connecting, learning, and anticipating is worth every minute.

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