Wondering what to do when you can’t travel? Try these fun and interesting ways to explore when you can’t go on vacation.
The past few years of travel restrictions were tough on travelers.
Being unable to hit the road, or grab a flight is one of the more frustrating things that can happen to a travel lover.
Pandemic aside, there are plenty of reasons why you may not be able to just get a visa to Colombia or to somewhere else, find the cheapest flights, choose the best travel backpack (or pack your carry on), and hit the road.
Maybe you’re saving money to travel, or you have a passport that makes travel difficult. Maybe you have family or caregiving commitments that make it hard to explore the world. Maybe you’re in the middle of a university degree, and don’t want to take time off. Maybe your financial situation means that it’s not as easy as finding a job that lets you travel around the world.
During the last few years, we found ourselves stuck at home as the world shut down. Flights were canceled, travel restrictions tightened, and some countries even closed their borders completely to visitors.
Things to do when you can’t go on vacation
Of course, things are better now that we can travel almost anywhere, but those days of travel lockdowns and restrictions left their mark.
We tried to make the best of the situation, as so many others did, by finding other interests and activities to take the place of being on the road.
Lockdown was a time of self reflection, when we thought a lot about why we traveled, and what we wanted out of travel.
From there, we worked hard at finding activities to scratch our travel itch. Some of our ideas were adventurous, some were quieter and self reflective, and some were just… a bit out there.
So what can travel lovers do when we can’t travel?
Figure out what you love about travel
For us, the first step in how to deal with travel withdrawal was figuring out what we loved most about travel. From there, we brainstormed what activities would scratch that specific travel itch.
Do you love meeting new people? Learning a new language? Trying new foods? Exploring city streets? Or is getting out in nature more your thing?
Once you figure out the things that you love most about travel, you can try to recreate what you love about it in another way.
For us, figuring out what we loved about travel was the first step in finding adventure at home. Here are some of our best ideas for what to do when you can’t travel the world.
Explore your local area
If you’re lucky, there may be a lot to see and experience close to home. In a city, there’s likely to be plenty of culture, food, and even history to explore. In more rural areas, nature is likely right at your doorstep.
Local parks are a wonderful place to start.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a back yard, try lying on the grass and watching the bees buzz about, or try your hand at gardening.
Take a day trip
If you’re able to get some time away, a day trip can help scratch that travel itch.
We’ve taken a day trip as little as half an hour down the road, where we packed our suitcases, hung out at the hotel pool, and went for walks along the water. It wasn’t far, at least in terms of distance, but just being away from home was a nice taste of adventure.
Take up camping
For those fortunate enough to be close to nature, camping is a great way to bring some adventure into your life. Camping doesn’t need to be expensive if you camp on public land and you already have camping gear (or know someone you can borrow gear from).
Cook a new dish from your travels
Some of our best travel memories are tied to local foods, so one of the ways we tried to recreate the joy of travel was to make dishes from the places we had visited.
Looking for specialty ingredients? Almost any city has specialty grocery stores. In our small city of around 100,000 people, we have Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean, Arabic, Asian and German markets. You may even get lucky and find specialty ingredients on Amazon.
Off the top of my head, there are plenty of excellent online cooking classes to get you started on your culinary adventures. YouTube has a a multitude of videos from different local cuisines. Plus, there are excellent foodie blogs and recipe sites.
I’m a big fan of Skillshare’s cooking classes, with classes in everything from Italian cooking to brewing the best cup of coffee, plus plenty more.
Learn a musical instrument
Not much of a chef? You can also learn a new instrument and immerse yourself in the music of a specific country.
There are dozens of apps and websites, plus YouTube has a great selection as well. We picked up a digital piano right before lockdowns in 2020 started (lucky timing) and our kids learned to play by watching online courses.
Learn to dance
Love music but don’t have a musical note in your body? How about learning to dance? You’ll be a hit with everything from the salsa to the jig depending on where your future travels will take you and get a great workout at home while you’re at it.
Learn a new language online
Food and music may be the window to the soul of a country, however nothing beats being able to talk to people in their native tongue.
Using an app like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone can teach you a few basics in a few hours, and entire sentences after a few weeks of 20 minutes a day. See our Rosetta Stone for kids review.
You might not be able to explain your life story once you get there, but even just learning some language basics can turn a forgettable moment into a memorable one. Not to mention that whenever we can chat in a local language we often get better deals and are invited to more events.
Try learning with a real, human teacher, too, with a company like Lingoda. See our Lingoda review here.
Watch travel movies or YouTube channels
Watching movies about travel or YouTube videos about travel can be a wonderful way to feel the enjoyment of exploring new places.
A word of caution here. For me, watching travel movies, TV shows, and reading travel books is sometimes tough when I can’t travel. For a few months in 2020, I couldn’t read or watch anything travel related without feeling overwhelmingly discouraged, sad, or frustrated (and sometimes all three at once).
However, as the world re-opens, watching them has re-awakened our desire to get back out there and explore again and they’ve given us some inspiration about new places we still want to see in the future.
Watch some great travel movies
There are so many wonderful travel shows that it’s really hard to pick the best travel movies (but we did try).
Two of my favorite travel movies are Hector and the Search for Happiness, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Travel TV shows are a great choice too. I’m still a big fan of the Destinations TV show, now long canceled. Absolutely anything with Anthony Bourdain is a win in my book as well.
Watch travel blogs on YouTube
Travel vloggers are a great way to get an often unfiltered look at travel. Well, at least more unfiltered than a heavily produced TV show.
Here are our favorites for the best travel Vloggers on YouTube.
Read travel adventure books
Movies and TV shows not your thing? Pick up a good travel adventure book. While real life travel books are great, even reading fictional books focusing on adventure and travel can help cure your travel blues.
Listen to some authentic music
Books alone not quite doing it for you? How about throwing a local music playlist up centered around the area you’re dreaming or reading about? Nothing gets you into the spirit of a country like local music. Whether it’s traditional or the local top 40, guaranteed you would be hearing music as you walk through the local shops or while sitting in a restaurant or even walking through a hotel lobby.
A great musical score is the backbone to any great movie, so why should you not have one as you delve into your next adventure.
Take a virtual tour
If you’d like to be a bit more immersed in travel, a virtual tour may be for you.
Many tourism boards and destinations offer virtual walking tours. Some are free while others can charge a small fee. There’s even VR tours you can take that really get you right there if you have a VR headset.
While it’s not free, you can take a virtual walking tour of Stanley Park in Vancouver with Talaysay tours. I took the in person version of this tour a few years ago, and highly recommend it. Check out more details on our Things to do in Vancouver with kids article.
Make plans for when you can travel again
Dreaming of travel can be half the fun, right? We know people who we’re sure get more enjoyment from the planning, research and logistic side of travel than they do actually being there.
We love to plan out trips, from accommodation to flights to meals and activities however we don’t put any money down until we’re 100% sure of our plans. Even then, we look for cancellation policies that let us cancel in advance with little or no penalty, just in case.
So, even if you can’t travel or vacation now, it’s never too early to start planning your next trip for the future. Even if it’s as simple as creating an idea board with a few bookmarked links to helpful sites and information, it can go a long way to making your next trip a reality and get you one step closer to getting out your front door.
Do you have any favorite things to do when you can’t travel? Let us know in the comments below!