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Heres How to Bring the World to You When You Cant Travel

Last month, a guy came up to me at a reader meetup (let’s call him Pete). He’d just returned from an overland drive from NYC to Patagonia. (How cool is that? What a trip that must have been!) After I peppered him with questions about his trip (I mean really, how cool does that trip sound?), Pete asked me one:

“How do you deal with coming home after a long trip, staying in the travel mindset, and keeping the lessons you learned alive?”

It’s a great question.

Post-trip depression is a real thing. I think coming home is often harder than leaving, since it’s so anticlimactic. Before you go, there is this massive buildup of emotions, preparation, and excitement. It’s amazing. “I’m really doing this!” you think to yourself. You’re moving toward a goal. You’re excited. A bright future of possibility lies before you.

But then you come back and it’s “now what?” There’s no more buildup. There’s no big moment to look forward to. You don’t come back with a bang; you come back with a whimper. Your friends are kind of interested in your trip, but soon their eyes glaze over at your travel tales. Before you know it, you fall back into a routine and it’s as if it never happened.

The flip side to that is that for many, such a long trip is some far-off dream in the first place. They don’t even get to experience any of those highs and lows. For a variety of reasons, travel is just not an option. They just won’t ever make it overseas.

So what do you do if you fall into one of those categories? Whether you are coming home from a trip or just wish you could travel, my advice to you is the same:

When you can’t go anywhere, have the world come to you.

To me, travel is about discovery and learning about new cultures. It’s about finding out how we all fit together on this giant blue ball in space. The destination is the least important part about travel.

So why not travel the world by bringing it to you?

I’m lucky. I spend a lot of time in NYC. One of the reasons I love the city so much is that it makes me feel like I’m still traveling. There, in the Big Apple, I get to meet people from around the world, hear languages I didn’t even know existed, eat authentic food from any country I want, and get treated to cultural experiences second to none. In my opinion NYC is the heart of the world. It’s where I get to feel as if I’m still out there discovering new lands.

at a meetup with some travel loversHowever, even if you don’t live in a global city like New York (or really any big city) you can still experience travel without ever leaving. Here’s how you — and Pete — can keep living in the travel mindset:

First, check out Meetup to find a local travel group. Maybe they just go out exploring the region around you, but at least you’ll be around like-minded people. (And traveling locally is still travel!) Additionally, maybe you’ll find a group that loves salsa dancing, going out for sushi, having dinner parties where they attempt to cook a dish from somewhere around the world, or just talking about travel. Who knows?! Meetup is one of my favorite websites because there are groups for all different types of interests and people. No interest is too obscure. (And you can always start your own group if you don’t find what you are looking for.)

people at an eatwith gatheringSecond, try the sharing economy website Eat With, which lets locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that people can sign up for. Eat With is like the Airbnb for dinner parties: you get to go to a person’s home, share stories with them, and eat their food. You’ll get a taste of someone else’s world — and you probably won’t even have to travel that far. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price), and you can pick from a variety of meals, depending on what the host wants to cook. Find someone cooking food from someplace you’ve never been and go try it! (Do you love to cook and host dinner parties? You can sign up to have guests come to you!)

Third, find or start a local travel community. There are many great ones out there. You can find some on Meetup, but there is also Travel Massive (an in-person global meet up) and online communities such as my forum, Lonely Planet’s forum, and BootsnAll. Or you can just search for “travel” in the Facebook search bar to see the long list of travel groups that you can join. These organizations and groups connect travel lovers, writers, industry professionals, and everyone in between. You can talk online, attend in-person meetups, and organize events. They are one of my favorite ways to connect with other travel diehards. You’ll get a lot of inspiration out of them.

Even if you aren’t meeting travelers, meeting people who love travel is sometimes just as good. They will share your desire, passion, and interest in the world. To them, your thoughts of quitting your job to sail around the Pacific won’t sound crazy!

enjoying food and good times with peopleFinally, the best way to meet others like you and literally bring the world to you is to use the website Couchsurfing. I’ve written about Couchsurfing a lot on this website, as it’s one of my favorite travel websites out there. It’s been around for over ten years and connects travelers with locals so they can have a guide, get connected to events, and stay with someone for free! It’s a triple win. I’ve used it dozens upon dozens of times on the road. There’s always someone looking for a host in your hometown, so you can have people stay with you and learn about the world that way.

Years ago, I read a story about a farmer in Mongolia who lived in a yurt. He knew he was never going to leave his country, so he signed up for Couchsurfing to be a host. Travelers passing through the country stayed with him. They told him about their culture, and he shared his. He brought the world to him.

Another story I heard was that of a woman in the Midwest who had a daughter she wanted to teach about the world. Not being able to afford to travel, she opened her home to Couchsurfers, who taught her daughter about their home countries. It was her way of creating an open-minded environment.

This Belgian family did the same thing. As they said:

We see a lot of racism in the world and are convinced that this is related to the fear of the unknown. We do not wish to raise our children to be anxious, not trusting the world. We think it is important not only to teach our children about hospitality but to show them. We want them to know that all people are equal, no matter what their skin color, religion, ethnicity, culture, or language. People are good and willing to help and share. Of course there are “bad people” out there, but the majority are good. We want to show them our faith in the world, because then you will receive it back. We had no money to travel the world with our four kids, so we decided to let the world come to us. We opened our house, our hearts, and our lives to strangers. A lot of them became friends for life.

In fact, the site doesn’t actually require you to host people. If you don’t want to be a host, there are local Couchsurfing meetups you can attend instead to meet other travelers. (Couchsurfing has a new hangout feature on its mobile app that lets you find other CSers in your area for such activities.) You can also connect with people who just want to meet for a coffee, which is a great way to trade stories and wisdom in a neutral environment.

a diverse group of travelers gathered togetherI used to host people but haven’t had a lot of space in my last few apartments to do so. However, whenever I’m home, I try to attend a Couchsurfing event. They’re fun, you meet a lot of people, and you make new friends. Couchsurfing is like the world’s hostel.

So don’t come home thinking that that’s the end of your travels. There are many ways you can bring the world to you and keep that travel spirit alive. Sure, you won’t be gazing at the Pyramids of Giza, but at least you can learn about other cultures and meet different people.

And isn’t that what travel is all about anyways?

If a guy in a yurt in Mongolia can make it happen, you can too!

P.S. – Looking for another way to kick start your new year? Over at the forums, we are doing our quarterly Travel Action Challenge, where you win prizes (like a $100 USD gift card) !

P.P.S. – If you would like to help underprivileged students travel more, we’re currently fundraising for a group of students to go volunteer in Ecuador. Help us reach our goal, change someone’s life by exposing them to the world of travel, and get some travel swag in the process. It’s a trip win!

Malta The Country of Half Neglected Buildings

As I sat freezing at a café in Malta, I wondered if I had made the right decision to visit. I had come to Europe for a friend’s wedding and, not wanting to fly back right away, thought I’d make the most of it and travel somewhere new. Why not start off the new year in a new country, right?

But, see, I hate the cold.

If you want to make me sad, send me somewhere cold. I needed somewhere (relatively) warm and—since I only had a week—small. Looking over a map of Europe, Malta seemed like the best choice. It was far south, had easy flight connections to the mainland, seemed tiny, and came highly recommended by friends.

For Europe in January, it seemed liked my best bet.

But as I sat shivering in a sweater, hat, scarf, and winter coat, I realized I should have researched the weather a bit more before I came. Sure, I happened to visit during an unseasonable cold snap (“It’s never like this!” people would say), but that didn’t make me feel any better.

I don’t like exploring places in the cold, which is why you hardly ever see “winter travel” tips on this site. Spring, summer, fall — those are my seasons! I don’t like carrying big bulk clothes, I don’t like sightseeing while freezing. (Nor did the weather appeal to my friend who had come from Stockholm for warmer weather.)

beautiful (yet cold) beach in maltaYet neither of us had been to Malta before. Both workaholics, we really wanted to put our phones away, turn the computers off, and just enjoy the destination. It had been a long time since either of us had done that.

So we had to make the most of the (terrible) weather. Otherwise, we’d end up inside, back on our computers, and that wasn’t an option!

In the wintertime, you can visit all of Malta in about a week since this place is really a summer beach destinations, and the weather in the winter is definitely not beach weather. (In the summer, you’ll need two weeks to account for beach days.)

My friend and I had grand plans to see everything possible. We’d be up by 7am and out the door by 8 but, after the second day of hitting snooze, we gave up those plans. While I missed a few museums I wanted to see, didn’t wander Gozo’s citadel as much as I wanted (the day we went it was 4°C with piercing wind and rain), and missed the underground ruins at Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, the Tarxien Temples, the underground WWII tunnel tour in Valetta, the Popeye Village, and the famous fish market.

a spectacular city view in maltaHowever, while we moved slowly and my to-do list never quite got completed, I regret nothing. Malta cast a spell on me. I found the locals funny, charismatic, and jovial. They always had a good story to share. And the landscape – wow! As you drive out of the towns just that seemed to form one giant megacity, there were vineyards waiting for spring, rocky, rolling hills, ancient villages, sheer cliffs, churches rising high into the sky, and sharp cliffs with sweeping views of the deep blue Mediterranean.

In terms of sightseeing, the catacombs of Mdina were the most interesting, with their maze of hallways and chambers (though not enough skeletons), and the nearby ancient Roman house, with its intact frescos, was a highlight for me. In Valletta, the capital, I sat watching the harbor from the serene Upper Barrak Gardens (where there are fewer people than the lower gardens) and attended mass at the famous St. Stephen’s Church. And I imagined sitting in the main square enjoying the summer sun while having a glass of wine.

However, what I found most striking about the country were the towns that seem to teeter on decay. Throughout the country, they are filled with centuries-old buildings showing a mix of Arabic and Italian influences and picturesque balconies that jutted out so one could spy up and down the street. The cobblestone streets, clearly built before even Europe’s small cars were around, beckon you to explore their turns. In Malta, they name their houses, and I found myself wandering the streets looking at the random collection of names (my Airbnb’s was “The Devon”).

a quaint alley in maltaBut as I stood wide-eyed, with one ear listening for a car sneaking up behind me, I couldn’t help but notice that it often felt as if Malta was only half-loved. For all the renovated houses and mansions brought back to their historic glory, there were more decrepit and boarded-up ones, sometimes taking up whole blocks. For every beautiful garden and restored square, there seemed to be an equally run-down one. It was as if half the island quickly left and the other half, busy with preservation, was just waiting for them to come back to fix the rest up.

For all that is written about the island’s natural beauty, wonderful beaches, and majestic capital, what I’ll remember most of Malta was this stark contrast. It was like a mystery yearning to be solved. Why don’t people just fix it up? Why does the government let these safety hazards stay up? Who owned these buildings? Some looked like they had been abandoned for decades. Why rebuild a beautiful house only to have the own next door look like it was a crack den? It all seemed so confusing and haphazard. No one could give me a good answer.

My orderly, OCD mind couldn’t wrap its head around it. (I’d be a terrible Southern European!)

historic monument in maltaMy visit to Malta was like watching the preview of a good movie. When it’s over, you can’t wait for the whole movie.

But I don’t know if I’ll ever get back for the feature presentation. There’s so much to see in the world that I have this gut feeling it will be a long time before I get back to Malta. But, even if I never get back, I enjoyed the preview as well as the fact that I finally turned off my computer and just enjoyed where I was without distractions.

It’d been a long time since I last did that.

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