One of the biggest misconceptions about travel is that you learn about other cultures just by being somewhere. Yes, when you go abroad, you do literally see another place. But if you barely leave your hotel, sit on your phone as you’re moving around, avoid entering a single museum, and don’t talk to anyone, you probably won’t learn much.
When I write blogs, I draw heavily on the experiences I had, but I also have to read and research about that place or issue’s history in order to write something coherent. When I walk around a museum, I make notes and take pictures of the information to refer back to when I’m writing. There’s a lot you can learn from travel, but there’s also a lot it’s easy to miss. Luckily, this is a great thing! This means that so much of the learning aspect of travel you can do anywhere. Even when you’re sitting at home, you can learn so much about the world around you, without needing to move at all.
1. Practice a second language
This is one of my favorite things to do generally, but especially because it makes me feel like I’m getting incrementally closer to one of my ultimate dreams: to speak a dozen languages and glide through the world communicating effortlessly with anyone in my path. This is very unlikely to happen, but a girl can…painstakingly pick up vocabulary across any number of European languages and learn the basics of Japanese and Russian in her spare time in the hope that one day it will.
Nothing makes me feel more connected to the world around me than practicing a language. The thought that one day I’d be able to have conversations with people in their native language rather than always needing them to speak English fills me with joy. Spending the time at home brushing up your Spanish skills or learning to ask for directions in Arabic may well pay off the next time you whack out the passport. And, thanks to apps like Duolingo, you can do so for free and remotely!
2. Cook something you’ve never tried making before
So much of travel is about food (for me, anyway — and for anyone sane, really). Of course I want to go to Mexico to see the Mayan ruins and the beautiful nature…but I also really want to eat tacos right at the source. I loved visiting the Sagrada Familia at the end of May, but I am also basically salivating as I recall all the sangria, tapas and churros I consumed in Barcelona. I still remember all the amazing pho I ate in Vietnam and the dumplings in China and barszcz in Poland. Food is culture in so many ways. I love food.
If you live in a city, there’s hopefully a few places you can go to try different cuisines. Living in London means that there is food from almost every country and region in the world available basically on my doorstep. I don’t go out to eat that much while I’m at home, but when I do, it’s almost always the kind of food you really might travel to eat. Even better, you can try to make other foods yourself. Last year, I made gyoza, and it might well be one of my proudest moments. I have also branched out to make curries, new pasta dishes, and fun desserts that I first tried abroad.
3. Read the news from other countries
One thing that I think passes many of us by is how much world news we are not exposed to. We often miss a lot of the big news from other areas of the world, especially areas that are often forgotten about by mainstream Western media. Last year, there was enormous economic upset in Argentina and Venezuela that continues to this day, Brazil elected its first extremely right-wing president in decades, and both Spain and Italy saw populist parties gain support. There is so much going on in the world while we remain inundated with Trump’s latest antics and concerned with Brexit. Keeping up to date with world news and seeking out current affairs from a variety of different countries is an important way to feel like you’re expanding your worldview from wherever you are.
4. Get (even more) online
There is so much content available online, most of it for free, where you can learn new things about different countries, cultures, cuisines, and languages. Blogs, YouTube channels, podcasts, quizzes, articles, social media, and recipes abound to make it so easy to learn new stuff. There are also amazing documentaries about the natural world and any international issue you could possibly want to learn about. If you’re looking for beautiful shots from all over Earth, anything by David Attenborough is probably going to show you more in one hour than any trip could. It has never been easier to see amazing pictures, videos and words from any country on the planet.
Just being on the Internet gives me ample inspiration for trips to last the next ten years. Whenever I write blogs about history or culture, I always do some extra research to pad out whatever I learned while I was looking around. I learned the world capitals by procrastinating with quizzes and I have read so many travel blogs over the past few years. I have learned more about the world, travel and trip planning from the Internet than I could possibly have learned on the ground. I have also learned so much about traveling responsibly and sustainably, which has made me a more conscious traveler and more thoughtful person.
5. Read a book outside of your go-to authors & genres
While I haven’t read many travel books lately, in the past I have read many books detailing adventures around the globe, from a serious memoir detailing a man’s solo walk across Afghanistan in winter to a female comedian’s hilarious collection of stories from dating around the world. But aside from straight travel books, books about geopolitics, economics, and politics will also increase your understanding of the world. Learning about the high-level economic and geopolitical forces that impact my life always gives me a far more nuanced appreciation of my place in the world and the impact I have as I move through it. It makes me a more intelligent and compassionate person, especially when I visit communities that are impacted and often held back by the same economic forces that I’ve been reading about.
Between all of these things, there’s plenty to do to keep a traveler’s spirit alive as you hang around at home, which is often all we can do as international travel is so expensive. So much of what makes someone an educated traveler and thoughtful person can be learned without ever leaving your zip code (though that’s usually the fun part!).
By day, Ellie is an investment writer in London, covering topics in economics, politics and global finance. By night, she writes about travel, politics, and photography on her blog Endlessly Restless, while asking herself the tough questions about the nutritional value of pesto pasta. You can find her on Twitter @elliemhopgood.
Image via Unsplash