How To Stay Home: Part Two
Updated: Feb 6
Fellow explorers; thank you for coming to join me for the second half of my How To Stay Home series. I'm sorry it's taken a while to get this published, but hopefully the reasoning will become clear once you see how much is crammed in here!
With any luck, by now you'll have read Part One, so it should come as no surprise that I'll be using Part Two to share with you some suggestions for finding escapism and feeding your wanderlust during isolation. And if you're new to my blog, that should have pretty much summed up today's post for you too!
Lockdown is proving to be a strange and challenging time for everyone, with the confinement to our homes often feeling claustrophobic and constricting. But at the moment, it's where we are safest, so I've been turning to various methods of vicarious travel in an attempt to keep myself connected to the wider world and remind myself what is out there waiting for us on the other side. So whether - like me - you've had trips cancelled and are still suffering the blow, or you've had your nomadic lifestyle completely disrupted; whether you rely on travel for work or you're just missing your freedom, I hope some of these ideas will speak to you and that you'll find comfort from them in whatever small way you can.
HOW TO STAY HOME (AND STILL TRAVEL)
THROUGH READING This could be novels, memoirs, guide books, magazines, travel blogs - anything! I'm currently on Around the World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh; a witty and fast-paced travelogue documenting her journeys on some of the world's most notorious train routes. The level of descriptive detail makes it a really immersive and visceral read - perfect for lifting you out of the lockdown bubble. When I've finished that I'll either move onto The Mercies, which is set in Norway and inspired by real events, or the Ireland-centric hit novel-turned-BBC screen adaptation, Normal People.
As well as books with a sense of place, I've been flicking through travel guides such as Lonely Planet's Ultimate Travelist, which is helping to shape up my post-pandemic wanderlist quite nicely. Publications such as Conde Nast Traveller and National Geographic Traveller have some brilliant articles on offer too and are firm favourites of mine, along with Wanderlust, Passion Passport, Intrepid Times and Viaggio Magazine.
Now is also a vital time to keep supporting your favourite travel bloggers! So keep reading their work, pinning their articles, clicking through their websites and sharing any posts you've loved with other people. They need all the help they can get whilst international travel remains precariously paused.
There are some wonderfully wholesome escapist films out there! And not just films that are explicitly about travel, but films in which the location is just as central to the story as the characters. Or, maybe, the location is a character in some cases...
Here's a few of my top picks:
The Before Sunrise trilogy - Before Sunrise (set in Vienna), Before Sunset (set in Paris) and Before Midnight (set in Greece's Southern Peloponnese). This trilogy follows the same two characters, Jesse and Celine, at different points in their life beginning from their first serendipitous meeting on a train to Vienna in the mid-90s. The style of these films is so natural and organic that you almost forget you're watching actors in a film.
Mamma Mia and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (both set in Greece, but the sequel was filmed on the Croatian island of Vis whilst the original was shot in Skopelos). What more could you wish for than rugged coastlines, turquoise waters, ABBA tunes and Colin Firth's dancing!? The ultimate in feel-good movies.
Out of Africa (set in Kenya). Based on Danish author Karen Blixen's memoir of the same name (published under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen), it is an epic romance set against the backdrop of colonial Africa starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. I've always felt a pull on my heartstrings whenever I think of Kenya, and watching this film as an impressionable teenager definitely contributed to that.
The Darjeeling Limited (set in India, shot mostly in Rajasthan). Following the story of three estranged brothers as they deal with the loss of their father, this film by Wes Anderson is as heart-breaking as it is heart-warming. Set predominantly on a train travelling across the landscapes of India, the brothers meet characters from all walks of life and make many unexpected connections on their journey.
Wild (set on America's Pacific Crest Trail). This is not a film about the luxury or glamour of travel; it is a raw and uncompromising account of a grieving woman's solo hike of the infamous PCT, from California to Washington. Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the memoir that inspired the film, as she embarks on a punishing three-month trek across deserts, snow, forests and mountains.
Call Me By Your Name (set in the Lombardy region of Italy). Knowing what I know now about how badly affected this area of Italy has been by the pandemic, it is even more poignant watching lovers Elio and Oliver fall for one another amidst the stunning settings of Crema, Bergamo and Lake Garda. As tranquilly paced as a summer day in Sirmione, Call Me By Your Name explores every little nuance of first love; from intrigue to infatuation.
Eat Pray Love (set in Italy, India and Indonesia). Another travel film based on a memoir, Eat Pray Love stars Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert, a writer who travels the world in search of incredible food, spirituality, fulfilment and balance. Be transported to the piazzas of Rome and the rice paddies of Tegalalang, via Naples, Uttar Pradesh and Ubud.
The Sound of Music (set in Austria). Now - hear me out! Whilst I'm very aware this isn't a travel film, I can solely credit The Sound of Music as being the first film I remember watching that made me homesick for a place I'd never been. I think Pocahontas was the second... But those rolling green hills of Salzburg, the gorgeous Von Trapp villa backing onto that sparkling lake, the mountains, the cobbled streets, the manicured gardens: it just enchants me every time and Julie Andrews is my spirit animal.
Frida (set in Mexico). Again, a bit of a wildcard, but this lavish Frida Kahlo biopic always makes me long to visit Mexico. The film is an absolute masterpiece and Salma Hayek's portrayal of Frida is extraordinary. It shows a deep understanding of Mexican culture and tradition, from the costumes to the music, and is beautifully directed by Julie Taymor.
Up ("set" in South America). So Up may be an animated film but it is, without doubt, a film about the endless possibilities and teachings of travel. It takes lonely widower Carl, Russell the 'Wilderness Explorer', a colourful bird called Kevin and a talking dog on an adventure to Paradise Falls, loosely inspired by Angel Falls in Venezuela.
THROUGH TELEVISION I don't know about you, but I have binge-watched a lot of telly during lockdown by this point! Ranging from drama series to documentaries, I've found myself seeking solace in all different kinds of offerings, and they mostly have one thing in common: the power to provide a window to a world beyond our four walls. My particular highlights have been:
The Durrells. One of my all-time favourite, joy-filled shows! Based on the books by celebrated naturalist Gerald Durrell, it follows the bumbling antics of a family from Bournemouth as they relocate to the gorgeous Greek island of Corfu. Expect impossibly blue seascapes, majestic sunsets and a whole lot of laughter! Available on Netflix.
Emily in Paris. This one is definitely going to split the room! And, unquestionably, it is not without its flaws. But if you're a pining Francophile just searching for some pure, unadulterated escapist fluff then Emily in Paris is absolutely what you need for a day under the duvet. Available on Netflix.
Us. I spent practically the entire run of Us muttering "been there, sat there, walked down there" under my breath and it brought me so much pleasure. Adapted from David Nicholls' novel of the same name (who also wrote the script), this poignant drama centres around the estrangement of a husband, wife and teenage son who set off on a European 'grand tour' in the hope of healing their fractured relationships. Available on BBC iPlayer.
Big Little Lies. As well as featuring stellar performances from a formidable cast and a gripping story, the Californian coastal setting really adds to the atmosphere of this show. Filmed in Malibu, Big Sur and Monterey, the dramatic vistas and luxe properties overlooking the Pacific have placed this part of the USA firmly on my traveller radar. Available on Now TV.
Sex Education. There is so much about this program that I love; the characters, the writing, the style, the scenery! Heavily influenced by cult high-school movies of the 1980s, Sex Education has a unique Anglo-American vibe with its lockers and letterman jackets. But the cute countryside locale is thoroughly British, shot in and around the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley. You can even stay at the house where Gillian Anderson's character, sex therapist Jean Milburn, lives! Available on Netflix.
Killing Eve. After three seasons, Killing Eve still has me hooked with its cat-and-mouse narrative of a psychopathic assassin trying to outsmart and outrun the intelligence operative tasked with bringing her to justice. We've been all around Europe with Jodie Comer's Villanelle on her relentless killing spree, including Paris, Tuscany, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Berlin. Available on BBC iPlayer.
Game of Thrones. GoT may have drawn to its final, albeit dismal conclusion last year, but I've been enjoying re-watching the series from the very start whilst staying home. Set in the fictional universe of Westeros and Essos, the series has shot scenes the world over, across almost a decade of production - from Northern Ireland to Iceland, and Malta to Morocco, as well as Croatia, Spain and Scotland. Available on Now TV.
Unorthodox. If there's only one thing you watch on this list; make it this! It is honestly one of the most incredible pieces of television I have ever seen. Unorthodox is the story of Esty, a young woman who leaves her Hasidic Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to begin a new life in Berlin. For Esty, Berlin encapsulates freedom, escape and reinvention. From Kreuzberg to Wannsee Lake, the filming locations will make you long for lazy afternoons in coffee shops, sunsets in the city and the colours of somewhere new. Available on Netflix.
Race Across The World. Such a thrilling pick-me-up that had me dreaming up my own Race Across The World challenge! The premise: five teams have to race from one location to another for the cost of a one-way direct flight between those destinations. The catch? They can only travel by land or sea, and have no smartphones or credit cards to fall back on. In Season One, the couples had 50 days to get from London to Singapore, passing through checkpoints in Europe, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, whilst Season Two took competitors through Central and South America from Mexico City to Ushuaia - the southernmost city in the world. Available on BBC iPlayer.
Travel Man: 48 Hours in... Considering this has been airing periodically since 2015, I only stumbled across it during the first week of Lockdown 1.0! Hosted by Richard Ayoade, Travel Man isn't your usual travel documentary - there's sarcasm, cynicism and not a great deal of serious travel talk - but it still offers a great reprieve. Each episode showcases a new mini-break destination that Ayoade travels to with a different celebrity pal. So if you're craving some silly banter, sweeping cityscapes and awkward encounters, this could be right up your alley. Available on All4.
Anything that Michael Palin has ever done! The BBC have recently been re-running the former Python's old adventure documentaries, from Around the World in 80 Days to Himalaya. They also aired a new series, Michael Palin: Travels of a Lifetime, in which Michael and his famous friends look back on some of his most remarkable journeys. I obviously knew of Michael Palin's work before this, but hadn't appreciated how ground-breaking some of his achievements were at the time. He is also not afraid to interrogate the colonial roots of British exploration, and is extremely passionate about how we - regardless of where we come from - have far more in common than that which makes us different. Available on BBC iPlayer.
Documentaries by Sue Perkins. Another presenter who doesn't shy away from difficult questions is Sue Perkins. Perhaps most recognisable as one of the original Bake Off team members, Sue is also a keen and conscious traveller. The Ganges with Sue Perkins and Japan with Sue Perkins both examine the rapidly changing landscapes of Asia, whereas her newest project - Sue Perkins: Along the US-Mexico Border - isn't about travel in the romantic sense, but instead focuses on heart-wrenching, front-line accounts of immigration and familial separation on either side of the notorious 'wall'. She is such an evocative and eloquent storyteller, and an inspirational humanitarian. Available on BBC iPlayer.
This is a big one for me.
Music has always been my therapy of choice. Through every fumbling transition, every loss, every success, every defining moment in my life; music has been a constant companion. I only have to hear the opening few bars of a song and I am transported back to a memory or a particular time and place. It is where I go to feel safe; it is my refuge.
It is also a tried-and-tested way of us connecting with one another: whether you used to make mixtapes for friends during those angsty indie years, or whether you still send them songs over WhatsApp that you think will resonate with them on some level. That euphoric feeling of being understood or recognised in a lyric is something I don't think you ever outgrow.
So I've created a Travel From Home playlist to share with you all. It's a combination of songs inspired by places, on-the-road anthems and tracks that evoke some of my favourite travel memories. For instance: Africa by Toto reminds me of catching the Eurostar to Paris (which probably isn't what you expected!); No Roots by Alice Merton takes me back to road trips in Croatia; Save Tonight by Eagle-Eye Cherry played in an open-air bar I visited in Budapest; I listen to Adiemus religiously on take-off to soothe my flight anxiety...
So where does music take you? Close your eyes, turn up the volume, and breathe.
As a self-confessed foodie, I have loved reconnecting with my love of cooking this year! Before March, I hadn't been doing much home-cooking at all for a long time as my day job wasn't always a 'day' job, meaning I had quite an inconsistent schedule of early starts and late finishes.
But now, courtesy of COVID-19, I don't have a schedule at all! So I've really enjoyed getting back in the kitchen; preparing meals from scratch, experimenting with recipes and perfecting new dishes. Then it occurred to me that the food I'm choosing to make predominantly has strong international influences and comforting, aromatic flavours: risotto from Italy, lamb gyros from Greece, paella from Spain, bouikos from the Middle East, black-pepper beef from China... I'm basically going around the world in 80 dishes! And you can, too...
I've linked a few of my go-to recipes in that last paragraph, so let me know if you give any of them a try. Additionally, there are some fabulous cookbooks you could turn to if you're longing for your favourite restaurant or cuisine; Ottolenghi is a big hitter, as well as the team behind popular Indian restaurant Dishoom and Around The World from The Roasting Tin collection. The possibilities are endless!
And if cooking doesn't come so easily to you, don't worry - you could maybe try some meal delivery boxes, like Pasta Evangelists, where most of the hard work is already taken care of. Or, support your local takeaway vendors and allow your taste-buds to transport you that way! Whatever you're eating, don't underestimate the magic of food in helping you travel from home.
You don't have to be the next Tracey Emin to get nifty with some Sharpies, a Pritt Stick and a pair of scissors. There's potentially everything you need for a travel-related art project hiding in your drawers and cupboards at home. You don't even have to boast a single artistic bone in your body - I most certainly don't!
But despite my aesthetic ineptitude, one of my plans to make staying home and staying curious that little bit more fun is to start a travel scrapbook. Mr B bought me an "Adventure is Out There" book (like the one from Up) a couple of Christmases ago, and I am yet to fill the pages. If, as I have, you have a box full of old luggage tags, ticket stubs, pamphlets, tourist maps, Metro tickets and Polaroids - why not let them live again? If you don't have the means of printing photos at home, you could try out a resource like FreePrints which allows you to print and post up to 45 photos a month.
Want some more ideas to help you stay connected to your inner explorer?
Map installations - you could mount a scratch-off map on a corkboard to make a visual representation of how far you've travelled and where you've yet to see, or how about sticking some pins in a plain old map and collaging around it with whatever bits and bobs you've kept from your travels? Hotel wristbands, loose coins, shells, postcards, etc. would work brilliantly!
Moodboards - spend a few hours trawling Pinterest building essential wishlists of everything you want to do in a specific place once we're able to travel again. Make a separate 'board' for each destination, curating your own personal brochure of the best restaurants, bars, hotels, sights and itineraries for that corner of the world.
Picture walls - we're spending a lot of time within the same four walls at the moment, so why not brighten them up with some travel-themed wall art? It doesn't have to be super fancy - maybe just start with a few travel posters of places you've been or want to go, order some contrasting frames and DIY the hell out of your new gallery!
Colouring books - it's well known that colouring-in can help quiet an anxious mind. I usually take this little book with me on plane journeys, or use it on days when I just need to drown out extraneous noise and ground myself. There are some beautifully intricate designs available; my favourites are by Millie Marotta and Johanna Basford.
If arts and crafts really aren't your thing, then maybe words might help you get to where you'd rather be?
I'm a writer. I always have been. Therefore, I'm rather biased about the cathartic properties of putting pen to paper, or fingertip to keyboard. As been as you're here, I'm going to assume you know I've been writing about my recent feelings through the medium of this blog. And if you follow me on Instagram, you'll see that I've been posting throwback images with reminiscent captions and sharing travel guides for some of my best-loved destinations. In reliving my past adventures this way, I've discovered a suitable analgesic for the ache of wanderlust.
Writing can be freeing and it can be cleansing. When your thoughts are written down in front of you, it's possible that they're no longer fighting for as much headspace. So try it: start with a bit of free-writing. Set yourself a timer for ten minutes and write solidly without stopping in response to a question of your choice. It could be something like 'where will I go when all this is over?', 'what does my dream traveller lifestyle look like?' or 'what is my favourite travel memory and why?' Be led by your stream of consciousness and, even if you get stuck, just write the same word over and over again until a new thought replaces it. What you come out with could help form the basis of a new travel story, a journal entry, a blog, or it could just help to order your thoughts, make sense of them and move on from them.
THROUGH PLANNING FUTURE TRIPS
This is probably what I've invested the most time in, seeing as '30 Countries Before 30' is no longer happening for me! So I've been reassessing my travel goals and analysing the reasons for wanting to set myself such aims in the first place.
And I guess my main reason, is that I feel like I need to make up for lost time. I didn't go abroad until I was 13, or on a plane until I was 18. But I'm starting to wonder why that even matters to me; surely it should be quality, not quantity? So when I'm allowed to travel again, I want to travel better - I want to travel deeper.
I want to learn a language; maybe more than one. If not fluently, then at least enough to be able to start conversations with people in their own tongue. I want to reduce my negative impact on the planet; I want to use more zero-waste products and practice more sustainable living measures. I want to give back to the communities I visit. I want to travel slower, instead of rushing through places for the sake of ticking them off some imaginary list. I want to travel when it feels right again; only when the world is ready for us and recovered from this trauma, not a minute before. I want to do everything I can to protect the home we have collectively abused for so long.
So as well as interrogating these intentions, I've been drawing up some potential slow-travel itineraries; trips that could take up to a number of months to complete, allowing time to experience myriad countries and cultures whilst ultimately travelling smarter.
The Old Silk Road: Turkey – Armenia – Georgia – Azerbaijan – Kazakhstan – Uzbekistan – Tajikistan – Kyrgyzstan – Turkmenistan
Baltics to Balkans: Finland – Estonia – Latvia – Lithuania – Poland – Slovakia – Hungary – Serbia – Bulgaria – North Macedonia – Albania
To The End of the World: Nicaragua – Costa Rica – Panama – Colombia – Peru – Chile – Bolivia – Paraguay – Brazil – Uruguay – Argentina
An African Adventure: Rwanda – Uganda – Kenya – Tanzania – Malawi – Zambia – Zimbabwe – South Africa
Southeast Asia Explorer: Myanmar – Laos – Vietnam – Cambodia – Thailand – Malaysia – Singapore – Indonesia
THROUGH (RESPONSIBLE) SOCIAL MEDIA
Note the caveat to this one! Social media, particularly Instagram, has been both a godsend and a nightmare for many of us during this period. Personally, I have gone through phases of not being able to get enough of it and then, eventually, wanting to throw my phone out the window. It can really be a minefield; not knowing where or who to go to for responsible, truthful content. But when you follow the right accounts - the kinds that uplift, educate, inspire and motivate you - then you've got yourself a great trip-planning resource, research platform, virtual-reality portal and like-minded community all in the palm of your hand. Engagement tools like quizzes, polls and templates can be incorporated into your stories as well to help you feel more connected to your own followers - and these have helped me forge bonds with other 'grammers from all over the world; new friends that I cannot wait to meet IRL when the time comes!
But if all the swiping and scrolling isn't making you feel good, then ask yourself why. Is it because you're spending too much time doing it? If so, maybe uninstall the app for a few days.
Do the accounts you follow reinforce your own values? Do they bring positivity into your life? Do they help you find meaning? If not then, I'm sorry, but it's time to hit the 'unfollow' button. There is so much that's out of our control at the moment, but what we consume online is something we do have some power over - so make sure that content is healthy, honest and authentic.
I'm going to take a minute now to share with you a bunch of my favourite Instagram creators who have been collaboratively keeping my wanderlust quenched, my dreams alive, my knowledge tested and my emotions validated:
Any of the above means of 'armchair adventure' can qualify as self-care, for self-care is defined as "the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress". So if you've found your mind soothed by watching a travel film, making a lasagne or designing a moodboard during lockdown then congratulations - you've been practicing self-care!
And for the times you just want to sit back and do nothing at all? There will always be scented candles, exotic bubble baths, fruity face-packs, meditative music, aromatherapy sprays and herbal teas to invigorate your senses and aid your indulgence of vicarious travel without hardly having to lift a finger. There's nothing quite like a tropical scent for making me feel like I'm in a far-off place, drenched in sun and saltwater...
The world is never very far away, even though it feels much smaller right now. However intangible it may seem in this current reality, remember that we will get our freedom of movement back eventually.
Hold on to that hope.
And for now:
Stay home. Stay safe. Stay curious.