WHEN YOU’RE UNABLE or not ready to start traveling, the lure of international exploration can become a dull ache that you suppress between juggling things like school, work, children, a love life, or family. Although it’s often encouraged by the ambitious to throw off the shackles of the cubicle farm for more pastoral roaming, sometimes it’s just not always logical, smart, or safe to travel quite yet.
Here are five ways to feel globally connected without leaving your chair.
1. Rock out to an international playlist with help from YouTube
YouTube, often overlooked as just a video website, is a goldmine for new music. The trick is to look for users who upload the music charts or hits in each region; YouTube will recommend similar artists or channels created by music labels. You’re sure to find new artists, just as I have (like Diablo Swing Orchestra, Movits!, Mika, Radwimps, and Sakanction). Don’t forget to sign in and save your favorite videos so you can look the artists up later when you’re on Spotify or iTunes!
These are some of the channels I frequent:
There’s also the What Song Are You Listening To, [Location]? videos inspired by Ty Cullen’s New York City original. He walked around the city with a sign and a video camera, intercepting New Yorkers on the street to find out their music of choice blasting out of their earbuds or headphones. Music lovers all over the world caught wind of this, and began to do experiments in their own countries.
Foreign music is an also excellent language learning tool, and being familiar with popular music in the country you plan to visit may help you make new friends.
2. Exchange international mail
I admit it, I am addicted to Postcrossing, a random international postcard roulette. The website explains it in a simple fashion: 1) Request an address and a Postcard ID. 2) Mail the postcard to that address. 3) Receive a postcard from another postcrosser. 4) Register the Postcard ID you have received. 5) Go to number 1 to receive more postcards!
There’s a special kind of joy opening your mailbox after working a long hard day in crappy weather and seeing that familiar rectangular shape nestled in the bills. I’ve mailed postcards to places like India, Finland, and Brazil, and received cards from countries such as South Africa, Belarus, China, and Netherlands. I have a nice collection of domestic ones, too. For a personal touch, print 4×6 photos at your local drug store and use the back as a postcard.
Note: In the US, there is a difference in cost between mailing a domestic letter (44c) and a postcard (29c). However, the international letter and postcard stamp is the same (98c) and requires “AIRMAIL” written on it somewhere (Mexico and Canada are 80c). For lightweight postcards, I’ve managed to get away with putting two 44c stamps on it. You can ask your postal clerk for a booklet of “AIRMAIL” stickers – they’re free.
3. Host a foreign exchange student
Many Matador staff and readers have hosted (or have considered hosting) via Couchsurfing or Airbnb. What if you want the excitement of meeting foreign guests, but you either need a break from or are nervous about the high turnover of visitors? If you’re American, consider hosting a foreign exchange student through services like AFSUSA and ISEUSA (check CSIET for quality control). It’s possible to receive payment and even tax deductions in some cases to host a student. You will need to be patient, accommodating, and friendly as your new guest adjusts culture shock. If all goes right, your student will go home with fond memories of your homeland and you may find yourself fascinated with a new part of the globe.
4. Sample culture in your area
Bigger cities fiercely compete to bring the world’s pleasure to your front door. Check your local papers and TV channels for ads, and you’re sure to find plenty to do: a new Brazilian restaurant opening, a night at the Russian ballet, Chinese New Year celebrations, Cinco De Mayo parties, Puerto Rican parades, etc. I’ve seen local ads here in Los Angeles for fairs promoting Anatolian, Japanese, Polish, Quebecois, Singaporean, and Indonesian cultures, film, and arts.
Here in LA, the annual LA Times-hosted travel show invites a ridiculous number of tourism boards and performances by dance troupes (Ireland! Bali! Armenia!). I even got a USB drive from Iceland’s promoters, and tons of brochures to inspire my next trip. Now I’m considering white water rafting in Nepal.
5. Use your downtime to acquire new skills
You’re never, ever too old to learn. While you endure the grueling wait behind trips, why not take that time to build your knowledge? Language institutes, community centers, and colleges offer a variety of courses year round for adults in your age range. An ability to knit will help you bond with crafters from Peru to Sweden (and give you something to do on the plane). Maybe it’s time to get a head start on Swahili for your upcoming Peace Corps trip. Perhaps you should actually take that tango class instead of just talking about it. It’s probably a good idea to learn how to shoot landscapes before you go to Utah. Who knows? Maybe an image you take will end up in a calendar on someone else’s wall.
Even if you’re broke, the Internet is bursting with travel information on sites like Matador, Trazzler, etc. Your local library has volumes of travel guides, language learning materials, travel bios, and travel magazines*. Preplanning will not only give you time to customize your itinerary but will result in a safer trip with less nasty surprises.
*For aspiring writers wanting to pitch at publications: Most publications request that you read their issues as far back as a year or more to get familiar with their material and to learn what’s already been published. Most large libraries keep back issues of magazines, even if you have to read them on microfilm. It’s free!