How to Satisfy Your Wanderlust When You Can’t Travel

You can travel slower and closer to home for a deeper (and cheaper) experience.

Peace. Escape. The thrill of new discovery. Such wanderlusty pleasures can seem so hard to come by in our new reality when travel to far-off places is more complicated than ever before.

I’ve lived a semi-nomadic life since I was 20 years old, so being stuck in one place for months under quarantine weighed on me as heavy as anybody. But my travels have taught me that peace, escape, and discovery is available everywhere, for free.

All we have to do is slow down enough to notice where we are. Here are some practical ways to satisfy your wanderlust today.

If you can’t fly away, try biking to work

If you’re not looking forward to a return to your regular commute through stop-and-go traffic — don’t. Swap your car or public transit pass for a bicycle, or even a good pair of walking shoes.

When my truck broke down deep into a Western New York winter, leaving me with nothing but a Walmart bicycle for my morning commute, I was fully prepared to be miserable.

But you know what? I loved biking to work so much I didn’t bother to fix the car.

Turns out it’s immensely invigorating to start your day with exercise out in the elements, and because you’re no longer sitting in a hermetically sealed vehicle whizzing around at fatal speeds, your senses are freed to notice much more of the world around you. 

You can smell the pastries baking at that little shop you never realized was squeezed between the Rite-Aid and the liquor store; watch the morning light dance on the river downtown, and exchange knowing glances with other enlightened foot-travelers on the route, before arriving at work feeling invigorated and alive. 

Biking to work in the middle of winter opened my eyes to the beauty of slow travel. It was a window into a whole new world of detail that I’ve taken with me everywhere since.

Go deep – look for unknown gems in your area

If you’re new to the idea of local exploration and you’re looking for leads, there’s a good chance you’ll find an Instagram account or hashtag titled something like #Explore[Your City Here]. There’s almost definitely a Reddit explorers page for your area. Also look for Facebook or Meetup groups dedicated to hiking and adventure, urban exploration, or a historical or museum touring group.

Once you start looking for adventure in your hometown like you would in Paris or Prague, you’ll find it. Maybe there’s a gorgeous park that’s fallen into disuse; a historic cafe you never knew about, or a secret spot to watch the sunset over the city skyline just waiting for you to find it.

A big part of the thrill of traveling is the experience of stepping out of our ordinary lives and discovering something new; even if it’s been discovered by a million people before us, it’s still new to us. If all else fails, leave your smartphone behind and just start walking. Throw out the map, chuck the google reviews, and forget the explorer subreddits — and suddenly there’s an adventure on all sides.

Go to familiar places at unusual times for totally new experiences

Don’t feel like you have to find completely new places though. Sometimes escape is as easy as changing our routine.

There’s a footpath near where I currently live that I love. It follows an old railroad path through the woods to a huge, hidden wetland lake. It’s one of my favorite spots to escape, but it’s gotten too crowded for my taste during the day. So I went there at night. I walked in while the daytime crowd was walking out.

I had a preternatural paradise all to myself – well, me and a beaver swimming near the shore; a pair of swans sleeping with their necks entwined, and an army of fireflies dancing over glassy water the color of sunset and wine. 

I’ve done this with inner-city parking garages and abandoned buildings; national parks; libraries and restaurants; in the woods up the block and on the streets downtown. It works. 

If your idea of an escape isn’t quite so solitary, take a friend or two. The point is this: be adventurous (but also safe), go to popular places at unpopular times, and you’re sure to be rewarded.

Go slow, stay close — Save time, save money.

Since this is phroogal after all, I’d like to leave you with the most lucrative side benefit of slow travel.

If you make the choice to slow down, dive deep and discover all the surprising nuances of your own home, it’ll start to seem less urgent to work yourself to the bone in the rat race to make money to jet off to some “exotic” locale for two weeks out of the year.

Cultivate the ability to be deeply satisfied, eternally curious — even enthralled — with wherever you are right now, and you’ll save tons of time and piles of money you might have spent chasing fleeting escapes.

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