As I reflected on in “You Can Go Home Again,” not all travelers choose to stay on the road indefinitely. In the end, most of us come home again. Almost always the choice to go home again isn’t about a dying interest in experiencing places around the globe but is instead about the happiness we also find at being home. In the end, being a traveler has very little to do with how many stamps are in your passport and much more to do with having curiosity about other places and other people, a desire to experience the new and the unusual, and an interest in expanding your perspective. Travelers remain travelers even when they’re rooted at home. Sometimes in the re-entry process, however, we can lose track of how we can maintain our traveling spirit when we’re at home. Here are five tried-and-true ways to keep the adventure of travel alive even on terra familiar.
1. Try out the local ethnic restaurants.
For me, food is an integral part of any trip. I love walking into a place packed with locals, scanning the menu and the plates of those around me, and then diving into a plate of regional specialties. When I’m home one of the things I often miss most about a place is a particular taste, whether it be perfectly ripe mango or boerewors straight from the grill. For us Americans, we have the great fortune of living in a melting pot, where authentic ethnic restaurants abound. To find the good stuff, you’re going to have to dust off your sense of adventure, because it’s usually not located on Main Street. Instead you’re going to have to duck into nameless hole-in-the-walls and see what the guy in the truck on the corner is serving. You may have to order blindly off a menu written in a foreign language or just point at something that looks good. Hey, isn’t that exactly like eating in a foreign country? Perfect. With an extensive enough search, you’ll probably find some fried plantains or a bowl of pho or a meat pie or a plate of Malai kofta that lives up to your memories.
Where to look: Start your search online by seeking out local food blogs and message boards for foodies.
2. Join a foreign-language conversation group.
If you’ve traveled extensively in one country or area, chances are you picked up some language skills or improved your fluency. Unfortunately, the phrase “use it or lose it” applies directly to such skills. Speaking French is, unfortunately, not like riding a bike. It doesn’t just come back. So keep your language skills alive and well by finding a local group of linguists who share your love of the language. Groups speaking everything from Italian to Urdu can be found in cities around the world. In addition to getting to practice your language skills, you’ll also get to meet people with a shared interest in the culture of the countries that speak your language. It’s the perfect way to connect with people who might actually care to hear your travel stories!
Where to look: Meetup.com is a good place to start looking for such groups in your neighborhood.
3. Play tourist in your own town.
It’s easy to settle into a routine at home and forget that there are cool things to explore right in your own backyard. When we’re traveling, we don’t hesitate to check out museums, picnic in the park, hike the nearby trail, go swimming in the lake, attend a performance, or get tickets to a sporting event. So why not do that in your own hometown? Dedicate one evening a week to trying out something new at home or spend a whole weekend as a tourist, seeing your town as a visitor. To really get into the spirit, book a night at a local hotel or B&B and pretend that you honestly don’t know a thing about the area.
Where to look: Stop in at your local visitors bureau to find out what they recommend to out-of-towners. There might be something on the list you haven’t heard of.
4. Volunteer with a program serving immigrants.
Imagine actually trying to move to one of the countries you visited on your travels. Imagine trying to find somewhere to live, learn the language, get a job, get your water and electricity turned on, register with the proper authorities, and so on and so forth. It wouldn’t be easy, would it? A friendly face who could help guide you through the entire process would be most welcome, don’t you think? As a traveler, you obviously have an interest in people and cultures and making the world a better place. So what are you waiting for? You don’t have to go to Korea to teach English or Africa to build schools. There are probably people in your own neighborhood struggling to learn the language or trying to figure out how to enroll their child in the local school. Consider teaching an ESL class or asking how you could help local organizations helping immigrants and refugees.
Where to look: A good place to find organizations doing good in your area is idealist.org.
5. Take a class to learn something new.
Part of what makes travel so exhilirating is the fact that we’re always being confronted with opportunities to try something new. We’re also more likely to say yes when we’re traveling. Ride a bike 20 miles to see a waterfall? Why not. Give rockclimbing a try? Sounds fun. Learn to cook the perfect pad thai? Hell yeah. When we travel, opportunities like these often throw themselves in front of us. Whether it be though other travelers’ raves, a flyer on the hostel bulletin board, a note in your guidebook, a post on someone’s blog, or a tout in the street, we find out about all kinds of fun and sometimes crazy things to try. At home, the opportunities aren’t always so in your face, but they’re there. From French cooking to yoga to whitewater kayaking to marathon training to speaking Mandarin to wilderness safety to container gardening to scuba diving, there are classes out there and ways for you to keep learning and trying new things, even if you sleep every night in the same bed.
Where to look: Check with your local community college or adult education program, ask at REI or your local sporting good’s store, and read the bulletin boards at local bookstores.
Any other ideas? What do you do to keep the travel spirit alive at home?