Oh, the places you’ll go … from home! As you wait for the pandemic to subside, check out these movies, books and activities to get inspired for your next trip.
By Willow Taylor Chiang Yang and Maria De La O
Let’s be real—if you’ve clicked on this article, you’re probably in much the same position as we are: stuck at home (rightfully), too scared to travel and just aching to get away. You probably haven’t been out of town, never mind out of the country, in months. Your dream vacation plans for the new year were probably thrown out the window, along with your chance to try the cuisine of a country you’ve never been to or finally take that cross-country road trip. You’re probably wondering when, if ever, you can.
For those of us with a bad case of wanderlust, there are a plethora of ways to travel the world and get inspired, right from your armchair (or wherever in your house your current haunt is). From books to cooking to even the DMV, here are some of our favorite stay-at-home places to go.
8 BOOKS WE LOVE
We Came, We Saw, We Left by Charles Wheelan
A lot can happen in nine months—for example, in this recent travel memoir, a trip around the pre-pandemic world. The Wheelan family of five (self-dubbed “Team Wheelan”) eat, drive, fly, and, yes, even walk their way from Colombia across oceans and six continents to Cambodia. It’s more than just an itinerary, however; in addition to maps and photographs, the book is filled to bursting with the trials, tribulations and joys of being with family, no matter where in the world you are. Buy it on Amazon.
Where I Was From by Joan Didion (or anything by Didion)
Didion is a living legend for her characterizations of California and the human story behind it. Where I Was From contains some of her best essays exploring her family history—her grandmother moved West before the United States was formed, in 1766—and growing up in California. Her frank prose brings out the little details in Malibu, West LA and even her hometown of Sacramento, and paints a raw, immersive and not-always-inspiring picture of the Golden State. (Also recommended, Didion’s new book of essays, Let Me Tell You What I Mean.) Buy it on Amazon.
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
A classic in the travelogue genre, this 1975 book follows American novelist Theroux on a locomotive journey from Britain through Asia. The book comprises conversations with fellow travelers, descriptions of the many landscapes outside his compartment window, his ardent fascination with the famed trains of the continents and all manner of incidents in his four-month loop to Japan and back again. The book’s novelistic approach to nonfiction—be it factually precise or partially fantasized—captures the wonder and curiosity intrinsic to travel done right. Buy it on Amazon.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Ever since we read this book back in 1994, we’ve wanted to swelter and swoon in Savannah. The book follows the true story of an antiques dealer on trial for the murder of a male prostitute. This murder mystery still has the distinction of being the longest standing New York Times bestseller ever. Yes, it’s that good. Buy it on Amazon.
The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara
Yes, that Che Guevara. Except this memoir was written before the revolution, back when young Che was still known as Ernesto. The book recounts the 1952 expedition, initially by motorcycle, across South America by Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado. Buy it on Amazon.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The book, made into a 2014 movie starring Reese Witherspoon, tells the story of Strayed, who at 22 was dealing with the loss of her mother, her marriage and a string of reckless, drug-fueled behaviors, when she found herself alone at the mouth of the Pacific Crest Trail. With nothing to lose and with little preparation, she finally completed 1,000 miles from the Mojave to Washington state in one go. Buy it on Amazon.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The king of adventure nonfiction takes on the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who hitchhiked to Alaska in 1994, walking alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet and invented a new life for himself as an adventurer living off the land. Just months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter in a school bus he had found for shelter. How Christopher McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild by the author of Into Thin Air (which will make you want to take on Everest, maybe). Buy it on Amazon.
Oakland Noir by Jerry Thompson and Eddie Muller
The other city by the Bay gets its due in this collection of short stories in the tradition of San Francisco Noir and Brooklyn Noir. Not just crime but local culture and geography are the themes of this book, with essays by Oakland natives (including Dorothy Lazard, who still works in the Oakland main library) and city transplants alike (editor Jerry Thompson), and ranging from downtown stories to Oakland Hills tales. Buy it on Amazon.
Check ROAM’s page on GoodReads for lots of other travel titles-to-love.
6 TRAVEL SHOWS WE CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF
No Reservations, Parts Unknown and The Layover, created and hosted by Anthony Bourdain
How to even describe Bourdain’s work? We could start with transcendently open-minded, a feat hence unreplicated. Or maybe we begin instead with his story-telling abilities, his talent in crafting genuine narratives that explore not only the destinations and their cuisine, but also the humanity and history behind them. Or perhaps we first realize the depth and breadth of it all; more than 20 years of food and travel journalism on all seven continents and into the millions of lives and hearts of the people he dined with, his fellow chefs and journalists. Bourdain’s shows are built on a strong foundation of respect upon which he crafts pillars of meaningful insight and conversation, and decorates it all with the sights and sounds of food, made to mouth-watering perfection. Feats that we, as travel journalists, aspire to but rarely realize. Watch No Reservations on Amazon Prime, Parts Unknown with HBO Max and The Layover on DVD.
An Idiot Abroad, featuring Karl Pilkington, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
Let me preface this by saying: This is not for the thin of skin. It is crude, self-awarely insensitive and relentlessly hilarious. It follows untraveled Pilkington as he’s sent to explore the Seven Wonders of the World as a practical joke by Gervais and Merchant. From the first episode, when he visits China, Pilkington is dry and harmlessly ignorant, and yet ready to try anything that the other two throw at him with reluctant readiness and self-effacing humor. Watch An Idiot Abroad on iTunes, YouTube and Amazon Prime.
Taste the Nation hosted and executive produced by Padma Lakshmi
The smiling sunniness and humor of Taste the Nation belie Lakshmi’s deeper explorations into the immigrant experience and diverse cultures across America. Beginning in El Paso, Texas, for burritos and ending its first season in Honolulu for Japanese food, the show addresses xenophobia in a few of its major forms—in the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor, for example, it examines the damage and legacy of slavery—using dishes and cooking as its structure. However, not only are Lakshmi and the show smoothly yet unapologetically critical of the cultures of colonization and racism underneath the delicious cuisines of America, but they somehow also manage to highlight the ability of food to bring people together and create greater community. Watch Taste the Nation on Hulu.
Travels with My Father starring Jack Whitehall
Since ROAM’s whole gig involves taking your kids on adventures around the world – whether they like it or not – Travels with My Father presents a foreshadowing, of sorts. The series gives us a glimpse of what it will be like in a couple decades when our kids force us to hit the road to some destination we aren’t psyched to visit – oh, and we’ve grown into proper British stuffed-shirts wearing ascots and wide-brimmed hats. For four seasons, comedian Jack Whitehall has dragged his dad around the globe, entertaining us all immensely in the process. And “Father Whitehall” has been a really good sport about the whole thing – just like we will be 😉 Watch Travels with My Father on Netflix.
9 MOVIES WE COULD WATCH AGAIN & AGAIN
Before Sunrise (1995) and its sequels Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013)
Set against the romantically cinematic backdrops of Vienna, Paris and the coasts of Greece, this indie trilogy follows American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French Céline (Julie Delpy) as they navigate their relationship, existentialism and everything in between. While not explicitly focused on travel, the ebbs and flows in the conversation between the two characters are transportive and real. Watch Before Sunrise on Amazon Prime Video, watch Before Sunset on HBO Max and watch Before Midnight on Starz.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
If you’re looking for humor, action, adventure and gorgeous cinematic shots of Ben Stiller skateboarding down a mountain with the sun behind him, then look no further. The plot of this remake of the 1947 dramedy takes Walter Mitty (Stiller) from Greenland to the Himalayas, with plenty of feel-good moments and snowy, scenic views to go around. Watch on Amazon, Hulu, YouTube and other streaming platforms.
Taken (2008) and Taken 2 (2012)
A retired CIA agent played by Liam Neeson travels across Europe and uses his killer skills to save his daughter and, in Taken 2, himself and his ex-wife Lenore, played by the stunning Famke Janssen, from international criminals. It doesn’t get better for escapist thriller entertainment. And there’s the Continent to traverse. Watch Taken on Amazon and Taken 2 on Amazon.
My Octopus Teacher (2020)
A documentary filmmaker returns to the ocean of his childhood at the tip of South Africa. After spotting an octopus in the kelp forest while snorkeling, he vows to visit her every day of her life. He does it, braving the chilling temperatures of the Cape, and does it beautifully. The relaxing pace and cinematography of this award-winner will fill you with yearning for the ocean life. Watch on Netflix.
The Way (2010)
Yes, it’s a bit sad when Martin Sheen travels from France to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago to find his estranged son’s body. But the characters he meets along the way combined with the stunning views of the countryside will drive you to book a flight straightaway. Watch on Amazon.
Wine Country (2019)
OK, it didn’t get the greatest reviews, but we’ll watch Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Tina Fey (and Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer!) any day of the week. The action centers on a wine-soaked girls’ getaway in Napa Valley, which, of course, quickly goes south. Perfect for Covid times. Watch on Netflix.
3 WAYS WE WANT TO LEARN A LANGUAGE
Na’atik Language and Cultural Center: Na’atik is a nonprofit language school in Tulum, Mexico, which seeks to preserve Mayan culture and history as well as form cross-cultural linguistic understanding. They have both an English language program for locals and a Spanish and Mayan language program, which includes an opportunity for international students to live in homestays. This year, they are offering a Language Gift Pack comprising 3 to 20 hours of Spanish or Mayan online classes at discounted prices along with some recipes for local food. For more information, check out the website.
Duolingo: Perhaps the most popular of any language-learning platform, Duolingo offers 98 different language courses for 38 languages. From Spanish to Mandarin to Swahili to even Game of Thrones’ High Valyrian, know the language for your next travel adventure before you get there. You can get Duolingo for free in the App Store.
Rosetta Stone: Named after the stone that helped decipher ancient Egyptian using ancient Greek translations, the Rosetta Stone language program is one of the best in the business. It emphasizes conversational skills and uses voice-recognition technology to correct pronunciation and mistranslations. Sign up for a three-day trial or buy three months of one language for a monthly rate of $12.
5 BIG, HAIRY, AUDACIOUS TRAVEL GOALS TO AIM FOR
- Hieroglyphics for Egypt! For free with Hieroglyphics Step-by-Step or learn on Coursera for varying prices after a free trial.
- Yoga for India! For free using Yoga with Adriene or for $8 per month with Yoga Download.
- Scuba diving for the tropics! Get your Open Water Diver license at Professional Association of Diving Instructors for $195.
- Irish dancing for Ireland! Take an online lesson with Kieran Jordan for varying prices.
- Motorcycling for moped-filled Asia! Find out the steps to get your license at the DMV site.
3 WAYS TO GET COOKIN’
Learn Thai Classics Support Courageous Kitchen by booking an online class. The Bangkok cooking school helps at-risk youth by giving cooking tours and lessons. Or pay $5 for the Courageous Kitchen cookbook of popular Thai dishes to try at home with your kids.
Try Airbnb Experiences Try an Airbnb Experiences online cooking class. We added Japanese Souffle Pancakes and Spanish Paella with a Top Chef to our Experiences queue.
Realize Fictional Favorites Watch Binging with Babish, a cooking show and YouTube channel created and hosted by Oliver Babish (real name Andrew Rea) that makes the foods from all your favorite fictional universes, like the courtesan au chocolat from The Grand Budapest Hotel. Or, if you’re looking for a nonfiction-based culinary experience, check out Basics with Babish, which explores not only the easiest of foods but also dishes from around the world. Watch both of them free on YouTube.
Make More Deliciousness Take a live, online class with The Table Less Traveled, a platform that provides cooking classes by both amateur and well-known chefs. See the calendar for classes and prices.
AND FINALLY … 3 MORE IDEAS FOR TRAVEL “HOME” WORK!
Our search for some fun quarantine activities morphed into an entire section of ROAM dedicated to Covid-19 activities for stuck-at-home family travelers. Here are a few more ideas to keep you in a traveling frame of mind:
- Take a Quiz – Know the highest mountain in the world? The most visited national park? The busiest ski resort? Our weekly “Guess Where?” quiz is a quick ten-question travel trivia test with questions for the whole family! Click here to access our full archive with dozens of quizzes about landmarks, geography, capitals and more!
- Make a Movie – Have you created a highlights video for all your family trips? We haven’t either – but we’re getting there! Check out our reviews for the best video editing apps out there and get your blockbusters into production!
- Have an Adventure – Want to see the treasures of the Vatican Museum? Spend a day with a Balinese woman? Scuba dive the Red Sea? ROAM’s Big Book of Virtual Adventures compiles links to some of the most interesting and exciting trips on Earth – all experience-able from your browser via video, interviews and interactive exhibits. We’ve got everything from pure adrenaline-pumping action to pin-drop silent galleries to food tours to nature cams.
Remember, when it all comes down to it, we’re in this together. Let’s make the most of our quarantine, and dream of our travels in the future!
Willow Taylor Chiang Yang & Maria De La O
Though a passion for politics and economics normally drives Willow Taylor Chiang Yang (she/her/hers) to more politically oriented endeavors, we somehow convinced the SF Bay Area native to try something new through interning at ROAM.
Magazine editor. Documentary filmmaker. Copy expert. Mother. Traveler. Maria De La O brings it all to her role as executive editor of ROAM.
© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved
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