Ask Lonely Planet: how do I cope with little to no travel?

Aerial of the Halong bay islands at sunset.
There are proven ways for us to move forward while the travel industry is at a standstill © The South Wind / Shutterstock

The past few months have been a challenge for everyone.  But for travelers, wanderlusters, and global adventurers, the subsequent closed borders and shrinking world have been especially depressing. Here are 10 ways to cope for the foreseeable future, according to experts.

Although not being able to travel is a first-world problem, for many the struggle is real. The good news is there are several great coping mechanisms and homebound hacks to boost your mood, according to more than 300 travel experts that answered my call for advice. As you can tell from the overwhelming response, this is an issue that is clearly on a lot of people’s minds.

And while there’s never a replacement for actually being somewhere and seeing something for yourself, many of the below are both proven and clever in their ability to help us move forward while the travel industry hits pause for an indefinite amount of time. Either way, this is what they told me.

5 things to consider during the COVID-19 pandemic

Accept the changed world

When COVID-19 lockdowns first began, many people were understandably hoping that the pandemic might pass in a matter of months. Sadly that didn’t happen, and now most health officials expect a one or two year recovery before things return to “normal,” travel very much included. “Like other major society events (eg 9/11, WWII, the Vietnam War), we are going to be living in a post-COVID world that looks different than the one we were used to,” explains Thomas Plante, a licensed psychologist and professor at Stanford University. “This may be true for decades to come, so we must remind ourselves that we will all travel differently moving forward.”

Challenge extreme thinking

At the same time, accepting the above doesn’t mean we get to make blanket statements about the future. So instead of saying, “I'll never be able to travel again,” consider the more objective, “What will it take for me to travel again?” counsels behavioral psychologist Christina Pierpaoli. “Extreme thoughts lack both helpfulness and accuracy,” she says, “Which may engender feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and decrease our motivation to plan.” The first step to feeling better about a temporary, if not prolonged, absence from travel, is to avoid extreme thoughts and treat the current situation as an uncomfortable “season,” rather than a fixed “never going back” change.

Several kitesurfers and a single windsurfer out in a lagoon
Consider what new skills you can learn near home © JuliusKielaitis / Shutterstock

Develop skills for future trips

This was one of the most consistent pieces of advice I heard. Rather than waiting for the world to change, many I spoke to have thrived in recent months by learning new languages or choosing new activities to enhance their future trips. “My husband and I are taking kitesurfing lessons,” says travel blogger Skye Sherman from South Florida. “The second we can fly again, we're heading to the top kitesurfing spots around the world to flex our newfound muscles.” Similarly, you could get scuba-certified, learn rock climbing, or even do something simple like renewing your passport or applying for shorter airport security lines.

Travel by pen pal

When both the internet and I were young, I met a British boy in a “chat room” (remember those?) that ignited my interest in foreign travel. He was my first pen pal, and I remember marveling at his description of everyday life. Although we’ve since lost touch, the pen pal spirit lives on today. “I've been using Facebook groups to find experts in the areas I want to visit,” says avid traveler Travis Luther. “It's not just Americans who are home, bored, and in front of the computer all day. And because of that, you're probably way more likely to get a famous international chef to Zoom with you about Chilean cuisine than at any other time in history, or simply strike up a conversation with a local from afar.” Another idea: consider emailing or calling fellow travelers that you shared a country, city, or trail with in the past.

A solo cyclist heads down an empty road towards many hills at dusk
Shift your focus to what you can do locally © Beliphotos / Shutterstock

Focus on local trips for now

You might be tired of hearing advice to “travel locally,” but if you dig deep, this is the gift that can keep on giving. "For the last seven years, I've run UncoveringPA.com, a travel blog devoted solely to exploring the state of Pennsylvania,” says Jim Cheney. “When I started the site, I didn't think there was much to do in my own state. But I've since visited more than 1000 spots and have so many more to explore. While I love traveling abroad and have visited more than 30 countries, there are so many great places near my home that I would have never discovered had I not shifted my focus. I'm sure the same is true for everyone, no matter where in the world they live.”

Time-shift for new perspective

This is a fun one, although you might have to sacrifice normal sleeping hours. Ellen Levitt from Brooklyn is a big fan of seeing the Big Apple at different times of the day, especially at night. “Try driving or biking at 2am to observe your city or region in a way you’ve probably never seen before,” she says. “Or wake up at 5am and see the sunrise in your own home town, which I bet many of you haven’t done in years, if ever.” Similarly, you could hike your favorite national park by full moonlight, which a seasoned ranger once told me was his favorite activity at any of the parks he previously worked at.

A group of four friends sit in a sheltered rocky section of a beach, with the sand and sea behind them
Reminisce with your travel buddies over where you've been together © Hero Images / Getty Images

Organize old travel photos

You may have been to a lot of cool places, but your photo library is probably a mess. With extra downtime now, “make time to finally go through and sort old photos from your past adventures,” says Tammilee Tillison of Spokane Washington. “Then share them with friends and family or those who traveled with you.” Not only will this make you feel proud of what you’ve accomplished and fill you with joy, it’s an excellent way of practicing “reminiscence therapy,” which is the fancy term scientists give to walking down memory lane.

Count your blessings

If you’re bummed about not being able to travel, that’s valid. But rather than focus on what you’ve temporarily lost, think about what you’ve already done. “Recognize that travel is a privilege that many don't get to experience ever,” says Kara Patterson from Denver. “I've met people in the US who have never left their home state, and people abroad who have never been to the country next door. Those of us who are lucky enough to get to see the world are just that: lucky. We will get to do it again someday, but many, many others never will. Be thankful for that.”

Top view of an artist sitting on a wooden dock by a forest lake drawing with pastels
Reinvent yourself with a new hobby © Dmitry Naumov / Getty Images

Reinvent yourself

Whatever you do, don't wait for the world to return to normal to live the life you want to, experts say. That likely means reinventing yourself somehow, at least temporarily. Maybe it means starting a new hobby or picking up an old one such as music or art. Whatever it is, we can all make lemonade from the COVID lemons. That’s because humans adapt. You can too and will be better for it.

Best of the rest

Other popular advice includes: starting or augmenting your "travel fund" for when restrictions loosen, learning how to cook international cuisine at home, exploring thousands of online virtual tours in high definition, starting or revising your travel bucket list, or even making home improvements that will make travel easier in the future. “I'm currently in the process of removing grass and replacing it with ground cover that requires less maintenance,” explains Erin Clarkson from Savannah, Georgia. “That way I'll be able to go overseas for extended periods of time without having to worry about my yard overgrowing.”

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