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Save Me From Myself! A Travel Lover’s Guide to Staying Sane When You’re Stuck at Home

By AFAR Editors

Mar 26, 2020

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Illustration by GoodStudio/Shutterstock

We know you’re looking for 18 ways to cope with coronavirus quarantine–Netflix alone can grow old quickly.

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Is it Day 8? Or Day 18? Weekday or weekend? (What is a weekend?!) Did I shower today? Are these the pants I wore to bed? If you, like much of the globe, have fully embraced that Lockdown Life in our shared quest to vanquish COVID-19, you might be going a little stir crazy. For those trying to homeschool kids while simultaneously working, “stir crazy” might have arrived on Day 2. Here at AFAR, we’ve tried a couple of coping strategies, like pairing every bit of bad news we share in Slack with a cute photo of one of our kids or pets; our publisher even went out and got a 12-week-old puppy from a shelter this weekend. (He wins!)

In all seriousness, COVID-19 has upended our days, and our future, in ways we can’t even fathom yet. We may try to control our fate by refreshing the New York Times online 50 times in a day (not recommended), or bury our heads in the proverbial sand by rewatching every season of Mad Men. Above all, we can put our faith in the medical community and try to ride this out as travelers are wont to do: with a spirit of curiosity, a desire to support our global neighbors, and a willingness to see the big picture. The world is vast and complicated, but it’s been through hard times, and this too shall pass.

Still, you may not be great at sitting still. (Most of us at AFAR aren’t—just read what our founders have to say about it.) Consider the following your 18-step guide to soothing nerves, beating boredom, and feeling like you’re traveling, even when you’re stuck on the couch.

1. Invest in your home Wi-Fi. 

This work-from-home situation just got real, especially if you have multiple people using the same Wi-Fi. Apply the same logic as when you travel abroad and invest in a Wi-Fi hot spot for individual rooms. Digital content director Laura Dannen Redman highly recommends the eero system—plug an eero device into outlets in your bedroom, kitchen, basement, and the Wi-Fi across all is flawless.

2. Now that you have blazing high-speed Internet, start streaming. 

If there’s one good thing to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the rush of creativity around virtual exploration, be it online storytime with big-deal authors or Massimo Bottura leading “Kitchen Quarantine” cooking demos out of his home in Italy. Some of our favorites? 

3. Be one of the inaugural members of the AFAReads Book Club.

We have a thriving society of book nerds here at AFAR, so it was only fitting that we finally start a book club—and we’d like you, the world’s best travelers, to join. Members of AFAReads will have the opportunity to discuss book selections like The Yellow House by Sarah Broom, Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz, and The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead—fiction and nonfiction, deeply rooted in a place—with fellow travelers on our brand-new community page on Goodreads, through AFAR’s Instagram, and more. Sign up now!

5 Classic Travel Books You Shouldn’t Miss

4. Recreate your canceled European trip at home. 

It’s 4 a.m. Time to get up! It’s 9 a.m. in much of Europe! And don’t forget to schedule a museum walking tour—make sure everyone is wearing their heaviest coat, carrying a water bottle and a book, and has on uncomfortable shoes. Thanks to Shannon Reed and her sense of humor, you can go on spring break with your family via this European fauxcation.

5. Embrace the dolce far niente lifestyle. 

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The Italian phrase translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing,” but it’s more than that to Roman food tour operator and author Sophie Minchilli. “We live in a world where we feel like we constantly have to keep busy,” she wrote to AFAR in an email while on lockdown at her family home in Umbria. “The more our schedules fill up, the more we feel important and purposeful. . . . Italians have a different approach to life. They have figured out a way of being in the moment with such joy and blissfulness that they don’t need to ‘look forward’ to anything else.” Quite simply, many Italians have found a way to be happy with being home during the coronavirus outbreak.

6. Think like an introvert. 

It’s an introvert’s world, and we’re living in it right now. Destination news editor and resident introvert Lyndsey Matthews writes about how to thrive on alone time—and how forced solitude is so very different.

7. Support local businesses online (and also, #treatyoself).

Whether you’re in Brooklyn or Barcelona, there’s a very real chance that your favorite restaurant, boutique, toy store, or barber may not be open six months from now. There are dozens of ways to support them online if your budget allows—we recognize times are tough for many industries, including our own—but every little bit helps. Buy a gift card for future use; order delivery or takeout; give a donation. And if you need inspiration for what to buy while you’re stuck indoors, washing your hands incessantly, how about our roundups of editor-approved hand creams we brought home from around the world and comfy pants you can wear during WFH and on long flights?

What Happiness Looks Like Around the World

8. Look to the world’s happiest countries for inspiration.

The world’s happiest country in 2020 is admired for its friendly locals, thriving culture and coffee scenes, unfettered access to nature, and saunas. Need another hint as to who tops the list? This country also has a unique spirit of fortitude for thriving in tough times—locals have learned to live in the darkness. How apropos.

9. Sing with your neighbors (while maintaining social distancing).

Who by now hasn’t seen the uplifting videos of Italians hosting solo balcony serenades and DJ sets during lockdown, or hanging rainbows in their windows? What about the housebound across Europe—leaning out windows in Rome, Madrid, Paris, Athens, and Amsterdam—clapping and cheering wildly every night at 8 p.m. to thank the medical community for their work on the COVID-19 front lines? We may be social distancing, and physically more distant than ever, but we’re still coming together as communities. Find out how people cope, keep calm, and carry on in locked-down countries.

Advice on Learning a New Language From People Who Speak up to 16

10. Learn a language.

Feel like learning the subjunctive while you’re on the treadmill? Telling your dog to “stay” in German? Podcasts have become an invaluable tool for learning the basics of a language; for intermediate and advanced speakers, listening to international news programs and talk shows by a native speaker can get you one step closer to fluency. Check out our list of the 15 best podcasts to help you master a new language. (Not sure where to start? These are the easiest languages for English speakers to pick up.)

11. Turn all those travel photos into an album or scrapbook.

Better yet, finally make your wedding album! Kidding, kidding. (Or are we?) Now’s as good a time as any to craft that scrapbook from your two-week adventure across New Zealand or frame some pictures of the family reunion in Ireland.

Board Games for Travelers Stuck at Home (Not Pandemic, We Swear)

12. Play with the kids (you know, your new coworkers).

Rainy days—and periods of social distancing or quarantine—mean a chance to introduce your kids to a world of travel. And board games (but don’t worry, not Pandemic). And plastic bricks. The Lego architecture kits allow you to work together to build the Chicago skyline or Empire State Building from the table up (and there is no shame in ordering a few kits even if you don’t have kids). And who was it that said 2020 is the Year of the Puzzle?

13. Think of your happy place.

No matter how many trips you take, there will always be some destinations that we hold closer than others. We call these our “happy places.” Writers Ryan Knighton, Allison P. Davis, and Kelly Dawson take us to theirs—Vancouver Island, Big Sur, and London’s Victoria Embankment Gardens, respectively—and leave us with an assignment: What’s your happy place, and what do you think of when you call it to mind? Spend a few minutes with those memories, and we guarantee you’ll be better off because of it.

14. Embrace the art of flaneuring.

Most of us may not be getting on planes at the moment, but it’s possible to still feed the need for experiencing the new from the comfort of your neighborhood. Put more simply? You don’t have to give up your sense of adventure—you just have to be a little more observant. Time to discover flaneuring, the art of wandering with intention. Author Erika Owen—who literally wrote the book on flaneuring last year—shares how we can all benefit from exploring this way and offers some tips to help you get started. First step: Don’t get caught up in planning a route, and avoid the temptation to pull up Google Maps. 

15. Get a taste of a place (with whatever the grocery store has in stock).

Another one of the best things to come out of this global pandemic? How many world-class chefs are stuck inside as well, cooking for you, and sharing it on Instagram. (Follow Massimo Bottura and Samin Nosrat for starters.) Even if you’re about as handy in the kitchen as a toddler with a rolling pin, quarantine times will make de facto cooks of us all. Shore up some courage and try making lamington, a classic Australian cake, or nam prik pao, a spicy Thai chili paste—really, any of these global dishes you can re-create at home. And since liquor stores are essential (the government says so!), don’t forget to pair your dinner with an international cocktail. 

International Cookbooks That Will Bring the Spirit of Travel to Your Table

16. Have a laugh. 

Have you seen these hilarious National Park posters inspired by one-star Trip Advisor reviews? Allow us: “Arches National Park: Looks nothing like the license plate. One star!” “Yosemite: Trees block views and there are too many gray rocks. One star!” Designer and illustrator Amber Share has given us so many reasons to follow her Instagram feed, Subpar Parks and tide us over until we can see these one-star beauties in real life.

17. Get outside while it’s still allowed. 

But it’s admittedly confusing. Can you go for a walk in your neighborhood with the National Guard stepping in? Can you go for a hike in the woods with friends? Are state and national parks even open? Outdoors editor Maggie Fuller spells it out in our safe, practical guide to getting outside while social distancing.

18. Plan your epic trip for when COVID-19 is in the rearview.

In a letter from a reader in the past week, we heard an inspiring phrase that stuck with a lot of us: “I’m still down for wheels up.” Amen. We’re not sure when that will come, and what the world will look like when it does, but we continue to believe in that future state when borders are open, airplanes cross the oceans, and the world is back in business. Use this list of editor-curated vacations to inspire your next big adventure, booking a trip so epic, it will make up for all those canceled, postponed, and paralyzed moments you had this year. Because an AFAR traveler is still down for wheels up.

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