Best armchair travel of 2020
September 24, 2020 12:38 AM   Subscribe

I miss travelling and it seems unlikely I'll get to go anywhere soon. Interested in ways to scratch my travel itch while not leaving home. What can you recommend in the way of armchair travel experiences, or recreating the feel of travel in a time of lockdown?

Have you done something at home to create a 'travel experience' in these times? I'm probably not prepared to go as far as simulating a 15 hour flight on my sofa or buying my own plane drinks trolley, but did just order a cooking box from Atlas who offer dishes from a different country each week.

Have you done something else creative that scratches the itch? I'm currently in a fairly strict lockdown area, but suggestions for having that travel feeling at home still welcome, as I could take them up later.

What travel magazines are your favourites or do you think are worthwhile? Hard copy would be nice to get off the screens for a bit, but excellent online versions might do.

I'm also interested in any live online travel experiences, like the tours available at With Locals, especially if you've actually taken one that you'd recommend. I'm less interested in virtual views (e.g. British Museum) and there are lots of lists around of them, but I guess tell me if you think there's one that does really give you an interesting experience.

While I am looking for less passive screen time, I'd still welcome recommendations for tv. I'm looking forward to Long Way Up, just enjoyed Somebody Feed Phil.

I can find plenty of book lists for travel so perhaps can skip more suggestions, unless you really really have to recommend it or you have used a book as a basis for a more interactive armchair experience in some way.

I used to like the Notebooks on Cities and Culture podcast for a deeper immersion in a place. Are there any good travel podcasts that aren't just rattling off 'what to see in..' or 'what to pack..."?

What else?! When I travel, I like eating, drinking, local neighbourhood wandering and seeing how people live their daily lives, street art, natural beauty, gardens, interesting history, interior design, arts and crafts, unique shops, hiking, photography exhibitions, grocery shopping!!
posted by AnnaRat to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
There are lots of POV international train and metro ride videos on youtube. Yes passive, but you get a real travelling vibe. Some go on in realtime for hours. My favorite -- shorter -- is of the Schwebebahn in Wuppertal.
posted by bertran at 1:03 AM on September 24, 2020

You may enjoy this question.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:09 AM on September 24, 2020

On Facebook next week, there is a virtual road trip from Pompeii to the Amalfi coast (that’s the title) given by a tour director. I’m signed up to view it, maybe check it out? There are others too (African safaris, Germany, NZ), though I haven’t done any yet so can’t comment on what they’re like. I’m looking forward to seeing it even if I can’t be there in person.
posted by Jubey at 2:32 AM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

There are companies that send you a small box of sweets/ savoury snacks from a different country every month, obviously not the healthiest food in the world, but could be fun to try just one or two months. Some people say a foreign supermarket can be as interesting as a museum so it's nice seeing the different packaging.

Alas I can't remember the company name but early in lockdown a company which normally does guided walking tours flipped to having their best guides do virtual tours, sort of like a slideshow with live commentary from the guide and the chance to ask questions at the end via a text chat box. I did the Madrid one and it was a fun distraction and not too expensive, needless to say I soon forgot all the facts they shared though :)

You could look up a list of the best foreign language cinema, of 50 best films shot in Paris, or things like that. Two of my French favourites are Welcome To The Sticks and Amelie.
posted by AuroraSky at 4:02 AM on September 24, 2020

Anthony Bourdain.
posted by miles1972 at 5:12 AM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I’ve enjoyed listening to PinDroo which talks about interesting cultural phenomena in places that you might not get from a regular guide book. I’m not describing it well but I think you’d really enjoy it based on the question.

The other two things that have best scratched my travel it is nearly fully planning out eventual vacations in a combination of Pinterest and google docs (I don’t care too much about restaurants which is also a hard thing to predict for a long while away). I also do my budget. I don’t make a ton of money so seeing my saved money go to a future vacation makes me feel better about being home all the time.

I’ve also been taking about one trip a month to somewhere within two hours of me (I’m in NC so this is beach/mountains or State parks). This is usually with Airbnb’s and once I’m there I just do outdoorsy activities away from other people.
posted by raccoon409 at 5:38 AM on September 24, 2020

For me, part of loving travel is the novelty. New food, new faces, cultural differences, architecture, so much that is unexpected. So don't just watch Anthony Bourdain, try some new foods, ideally from a shop that sells the real thing, not an Americanized version. Open the jar of spice and breathe. Go to Flicker and search.

I also like the suggestion to travel locally; for me, especially before winter shortens the days too much.
posted by theora55 at 6:55 AM on September 24, 2020

Look up Alec Waugh. He wrote wonderful travel books.
posted by james33 at 6:57 AM on September 24, 2020

There's actually a nice little filter for 'VR' videos on youtube; not true VR, more like a fancy viewmaster. If you have a smartphone, cardboard VR holders are cheap and worth it for something like this (they're not comfortable for long term use). There's a whole genre of just 'walking around' videos that don't show up on normal search results without that filter on. It's not amazing, but it gives you a slightly more real perspective on what a place would be.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:02 AM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Less passive? You want to play GeoGuessr!

There are ton of modes and stuff, but the deal is it randomly drops you somewhere on Earth in Google Street View and you get to figure out where you are. See the little intersections of places you rarely think of, see if you can recognize languages on signs, see not what a photographer thinks to show of a place, but the regular bits, the beauty of the mundane yet unfamiliar. I love it!
posted by wellifyouinsist at 7:05 AM on September 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

You may enjoy this app, which plays local radio as it drives you around a street view, which I found a particularly relaxing way to enjoy some international sights/sounds.
posted by earl_of_grey at 7:13 AM on September 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

Well, there is the Long way round, which predates the Long way down.

There are also Michael Palin's assorted books and at times related TV shows on his travels.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:41 AM on September 24, 2020

Live concerts have been really valuable for me. At the moment, Japanese artists on twitter are high on my list. I've been seeing a couple of shows a month. Getting up at 4am to watch a concert is not ideal, but it lets me start the day feeling like I've done something. Even though I really haven't. Best of luck.
posted by eotvos at 7:52 AM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you want to just... make belive you are travelling, you could pair those Google Street/ monument views with Rick Steve's excellent travel walking tour podcasts.
posted by athirstforsalt at 10:00 AM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

How about learning a new language? Half the fun of that is actually about learning about the culture, cuisine and geography through words and turns of phrase, I find! Especially if you can find a native speaker teaching online right now.
posted by atlantica at 11:09 AM on September 24, 2020

I do a thing I call road trip art. You plan a road trip, look at the Instagram tags for each stop (especially the minor ones, where you might just stop for gas or lunch), and draw or quickly paint the top image result. I've been doing this on an ongoing basis for a long time and I love the extra step of recreating the image - I usually sketch it with colored pencils. I find the additional time I spend working on the drawing is pretty analogous to the amount of time I'd spend taking in a view on a hike, and really lets me appreciate the photo. Also, the fact that I'm working from someone else's image completely frees me from any anxious thoughts about "originality" or "marketability". These works are purely for my own enjoyment, since they are copies and I can never sell or exhibit them.

You could do an "overseas" shopping trip - shop at a market catering to an immigrant population (in my town, that might be the Middle-Eastern, Indian, or Asian markets, but this is naturally highly dependent on your location). Ask the clerk how to cook with something you don't recognise, then make the dish they suggest. Alternatively, shop at your local supermarket and buy only brands you have never tried, new-to-you varieties of fruit and vegetables, and a spice that you have never cooked with before.

A local restaurant here is doing wine tastings over Zoom. You stop in during the week before the scheduled tasting and pick up a wine flight they have pre-packaged for you. When you log in to the call they walk the group through the tasting, and because it's all done online they often are able to have the actual vineyard owner call in to speak a little bit about what you are drinking. Are any restaurants in your area creating similar experiences?

I've also enjoyed the chance to get out and go through my travel gear, repairing minor damage and making a note of what needs to be replaced. Seam-sealing my tent, washing my travel pillow, reading reviews of new suitcases now my old backpack has burst a seam - it's actually kind of fun to sort through everything and know that whenever I CAN go somewhere, I'll be ready and my things will be in good condition.

A podcast I enjoy is The Wild with Chris Morgan. It's not focused on traditional travel, as such, but it does an amazing job immersing you in the feeling and the natural sounds of whatever area the episode visits.

If you are someone who usually buys a souvenir or shops at a travel destination, and you can afford it, why not instead take the money you would have spent and commission a local artist to create something? It's a chance to support the local economy and you'll end up with a cool, meaningful piece, just as you would have if you'd bought it on a trip.

To travel a little via your nose, you could order perfume samples based on your desired destination. For example, this article suggests ten scents inspired by places. I'm not suggesting you buy full-sized bottles and spend a fortune, (unless you fall in love with a scent!) - there are a ton of websites out there that sell tiny sample packs and decants so you can test a variety of scents without committing.
posted by DSime at 11:58 AM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of people who make videos on YouTube of walking around different places in the world. First person views of all kinds of unfamiliar (to me) cities etc. I came across them via some tweets that have now disappeared, but I did collect the recommendations at the time.
posted by fabius at 1:58 PM on September 24, 2020

You say you're not interested in virtual views but give the British Museum as an example which makes me wonder if you are against the idea of virtual walking tours or is that still too passive? Do you want to see the place or do you want to be immersed in the culture and less of a tourist? I don't want to give you a bunch of links if you're not interested but here are some walking tours anyway:

4K City Walks: Mannlichen Switzerland Mountains

Positano, Italy Walking Tour in 4K

Venice, Italy Walking Tour

Street Walking Tour at Roman Hills in Kumasi, Ghana

I will stop there.

Edit - Gah. Fabius just beat me to it.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 2:11 PM on September 24, 2020

I revisited one of my favourite recent holidays. Put on some clothes that I bought on that holiday, wore the perfume I was wearing at the time, played the tunes I was listening to. I got onto Streetview and started at my hotel, walked around the places I'd particularly enjoyed. Found a GoPro video of someone going for a run around the park, which I'd done, got an ice cream out of the freezer and ate it while I explored.

When I passed a clothes shop I'd shopped in, I found the online shop and browsed it. With a longer attention span, I'd have found some online museums/galleries to visit but just the exploring was plenty.

Revisiting somewhere I'd actually already been, cueing up all the sensory reminders (the smell of the perfume, sound of the music, feel of the clothing) made it so much more vivid and dropped me right back into the happy feelings I had on the trip.
posted by penguin pie at 2:29 PM on September 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Five Ways To Inspire Wanderlust From Home

Full disclosure: I wrote this. Mods, please delete if that's not allowed.
posted by cyndigo at 7:31 PM on September 24, 2020

Three things I've done during the pandemic. I know you said you're not looking for passive screen time, but these have also given me some measure of the "feel" of travel:
1) If you're inclined toward road trips, check out this person's youtube channel. He posts slightly sped-up dashcam videos of road trips which I found to be mesmerizing. (You can find the same sort of thing for train rides, etc. which give you a similar feeling of movement amidst scenery.)
2) Also on youtube, do a search for "[city of your choice] walking tour" and you'll find videos like this. Nothing exciting happens, but if you put in headphones (or watch on a big tv) it gives me that feeling of walking around a new city. Perhaps pair it with a geographically-appropriate food or drink and have an indoor picnic?
3) Requires significantly more expense and time to figure out the details, but Microsoft's new Flight Simulator is out and it contains a 1:1 simulation of the entire world. (If you don't want to learn to fly, youtube videos can also be fun to watch.)
posted by soonertbone at 1:33 PM on September 25, 2020

I haven't yet tried airbnb online experiences but am planning to next weekend. Puts you in direct contact with global hosts and there are many options that involve them giving you a tour, which even if it's just a photo tour I'd be happy with that if the person hosting has a direct connection to the places.
posted by belau at 4:59 PM on September 26, 2020

This answer to another question may be of interest.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:25 PM on September 27, 2020

Some great new ideas here and some lovely reminders of things I've come across before and had forgotten! Some will have to wait until our long lockdown in Melbourne ends - night curfew just ended, can't go further than 5km from home, limited set of reasons to leave the house etc. Even local travel would be a dream right now.

I've marked some best answers based on what I've looked into.

So my international snack subscription box is ordered, I've played GeoGessr, I totally relived the taxi ride from the airport experience with the app, I've checked out some language classes and I've been doing sketching from my photos / Google streetviews. I've tried out walking through google maps with the Rick Steves walking tour podcast. And loved the driving app with local radio - like that taxi ride from the airport when you first arrive somewhere.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:34 AM on September 29, 2020

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