With the summer travel season officially underway, the desire to hopscotch around the world is being tempered by the danger and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. Many would-be travelers have “such a sense of learned helplessness right now,” said psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, “Like, ‘I’m stuck.’ “
Still, Lombardo and other experts say, adventurous souls who are waiting for travel restrictions to lift or their comfort levels to rise can experience some of the rewards of a fulfilling trip — minus the jet lag — by shifting their perspectives at home. “When we’re able to think outside the box and plan something positive,” she said, “that’s going to really help our mood.” While she noted that substitute experiences won’t fully achieve the emotional impact of travel, there are benefits to experiencing some of the same cognitive effects.
Here are ways travel lovers can change their perspective while cooling their heels at home.
1. Invigorate your senses
Being immersed in another place isn’t just about the landmarks. “Our memory systems are activated by not just sights and sounds, but also by smells,” Columbia Business School social psychologist Adam Galinsky said.
Try re-creating a dish with spices from Poland, brewing a cup of cardamom-infused Turkish coffee or mixing a coconut-enhanced Caribbean cocktail. You can also replicate smells with candles or flowers. However you generate a scent, the effect can be pervasive. “Smells go right into our brain versus other senses,” Lombardo said.
Changing your surroundings can also invigorate visual stimulation, she said, whether it’s buying home accessories reminiscent of a favorite hotel, or hanging images of beloved vacation spots.
And don’t forget audio tracks — such as jungle sounds for a safari or French jazz for a Parisian cafe — which also can whisk you away to another place and time.
2. Take a ‘tour’
Communicating with faraway friends through FaceTime as they take a walk in their hometown or share a favorite site (if it’s safe, of course) can provide both connection and the thrill of exploration.
The experience melds two essentials of travel. “Live experiences are more impactful and shared experiences are more impactful,” Galinksy said.
If walks aren’t possible, try connecting with an old travel buddy to reminisce. “Maybe hop on a Zoom call, have a cup of coffee and talk about it and pull out pictures — that can really boost your mood too,” Lombardo said.
3. Join a community abroad
Many subcultures — including fitness, crafting and performing — have transformed into virtual communities, opening the opportunities to bond with people beyond our own borders, as travelers do.
Fitness app ClassPass reported that more than 50 percent of its users have taken live-stream classes outside of their hometowns during quarantine and 15 percent have joined sessions in other countries.
To encourage more global exercise, it launched Together We Sweat, with free workouts from international studios in places such as Singapore, Dubai and Amsterdam.
Other grass-roots communities have sprouted as well. Melbourne, Australia-based Rich Moffat wanted to create structure to his own quarantine days, so he started streaming his daily qi gong practice over Zoom, inviting anyone to join him, free of charge.
“They’ve become my accountability partners,” he said of the group with participants — most of whom he’s never met — on three continents. “I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see people from overseas . . . it brings us into the one moment when we are all joined together with this same sense of trying to find ourselves.”
The start-up app Twine, originally launched to host real-life events, also shifted operations online, inviting strangers into eight-minute one-on-one conversations provoked by deep questions. “It’s that serendipitous spark that we seek when we travel . . . like I’m throwing caution to the wind and sitting down at the bar and talking to the stranger,” Twine co-founder Diana Rau said.
Facebook Groups and Meetup are other ways to find virtual international communities. “One of the great things about traveling to another country is people invite us in and expose their culture to us,” Galinsky said. “That experience is somehow really invigorating.”
4. Look for the little things
Being confined to a limited radius can feel restricting, but there may be an unexpected benefit. “Part of the joy of traveling is noticing all the small things,” said Alice Boyes, author of “The Healthy Mind Toolkit.” “We tend to be good at noticing those little things when we’re traveling,” she said, but “forced monotony can make us a little bit better at picking up on them.”
This sensation can be sparked by people-watching out your window, the same way you do at a tourist destination, or by being more observant on a familiar walking route — spotting that garden gnome you missed before, or a bird’s nest on a high branch.
A minor change within a familiar setting can also help, Boyes said. “Instead of always sitting under the same tree in a park, go and sit under a different tree and see how that is a different perspective,” she added.
5. Go on a local safari
With wildlife seemingly storming the streets — including mountain goats in Wales, domestic goats in San Jose and buffalo in India — animals have turned urban centers into their own playgrounds. “The idea of seeing a new animal in your own town is very exciting, like you’re going to another place,” Galinsky said.
Whether the increase in sightings has come from people noticing them more or wildlife actually emerging, the lockdown has strengthened human connections with nature, said Jim Sano, the World Wildlife Fund’s vice president of travel, tourism and conservation. “Not having those opportunities to travel has made us appreciate even more what we have in our backyard,” he said. And, he added, nature can provide the feeling of being “enveloped by something that is comforting.”
The best time to spot larger wildlife, he said, is during golden hours — the first two and last two hours of light — since it’s a transition period for nocturnal animals and predator-prey activity is heightened.
You can also observe birds in your own yard or nearby parks — interest in birdwatching has taken off during the quarantine — or just train your eyes on the ground. “One of my crazy habits is, when I’m going all over the world even in a place like Manhattan, I’ll look down and invariably find ants,” Sano said. “These sorts of things are running right around you.”
6. Alter your routine
While sticking to a predictable routineduring the pandemic has been suggested as a way to maintain calm and stability, adventurers are used to shaking up their schedules. “Anything different is going to help stimulate more fun,” Lombardo said. “Different things like getting up early to watch a sunrise and then maybe taking a nap can be luxurious.”
Those shifts “put you in a more experimental mind-set,” Boyes added, but ultimately it’s about cognitive change. “Something that shakes up your sense of self is like discovering that your view of you isn’t what you thought it was. You see yourself as more flexible — and that’s what travel does, as well.”
Ironically, the inability to travel has given everyone a dose of the benefits of travel. “This quarantine experience is a change of routine,” Boyes said. “If you’re open to it, the whole thing — without you really needing to do anything — can help you see yourself in a different way.”