Can’t Travel? Here’s the Next Best Thing to Do (12 of Them, Actually)

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Take a hike! There’s nothing better than fresh air and sunshine. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf

When the Coronavirus pandemic grounded travel, we startedlooking for something to do to take our minds off the news. We discovered 12 fun activities that kept us in a vacation state of mind.

1. Dream Big

Download a world map (or buy this gorgeous wall map) and pinpoint the places you’ve been. Then have everyone mark the places they want to go. Have the kids vote on their favorites, then plan some travel activities around those places. Is Mexico on the list? Make tacos for dinner and stream “Coco” on Disney+

world map with colored pins - SheBuysTravel
Keep track of your travels with color coded pins on a world map. Photo: Jim Sweeney III

2. Eat Your Way Around the World

Grounded? Then travel via the aromas and tastes of other countries. Order an international cookbook for kids and decide whether you want to make poutine to “visit” Quebec or gnocchi to get a taste of Italy. Got teens at home? If they’ve got ambitious palates, try Spanish paella. Not so much? Jolly good British fish and chips is fairly bland – it’s always reminded me of school cafeteria fish sticks. And, yes, you’ll have the time to finally learn how to use chopsticks. Take video of the kids trying to pick up their fries with the chopsticks for the highlight video of your “CoronaVacay.”

3. Parlez-vous Francais? It’s Time to Learn

Learn the basics of another language while you’re stuck at home. I think it’s gracious for travelers of all ages to master the basics – please, thank-you, I’m sorry, excuse me, etc. – when traveling abroad. There are a huge number of products available including courses to buy, like Rosetta Stone, or free apps like Duolingo. If you’re looking for one that’s engaging for kids, the Muzzy language learning videos have been produced by the BBC since the 1980s. Practice your vocabulary around the dinner table at night.

4. Remember the Fun Trips

The only thing better than taking a new family vacation? Remembering an old one! Gather the kids around the computer (if you’re all digital all the time) to choose your favorites from vacations past and create a Shutterfly book of family vacation memories. This is a good time to drag out that box of actual print photos of you when you were a gawky 12-year-old on that family beach vacation. The kids will love making fun of the way you looked back in the day. If you’re crafty, set aside the best pix for scrapbooking. If you’re not, just file them in pretty storage boxes. And, yes, you have our permission to throw out or delete the bad ones. 

5. Craft a Vacation Memory

A photo scrapbook is just one travel-themed activity. Other crafts to try include gathering seashells from that last family beach vacation and turning them into table decorations. We love these travel themed coasters made from maps!

6. Make a Family Vacation Bucket List Collage

Want a really fun family travel activity? Gather old editions of print travel magazines, if you have them. Print pretty pix off the internet if you don’t. Spread the photos on the kitchen table with enough scissors for everybody. Then go to town, snipping out pictures of the places you’d like to go. Assign one person to write down everyone’s picks on a list while the photos get glued on poster board, hodgepodge-style. Tape the list to the back, then post the collage where everyone will see it often. As you visit those places, cross them off the list!

7. Blast into Outer Space and Beyond

With Netflix, Amazon Video and Disney+, you can travel around the world, back in time or to outer space without leaving home. On Disney+, stream National Geographic documentaries or jet into another galaxy via the Star Wars films or the Mandalorian. As a family, we enjoy taking turns watching childhood favorites like Hannah Montana (theirs) and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (ours). Do you remember that movie? After we watched it, I showed them a picture of Kurt Russell today. Blew their minds.

8. Find Out More About Your Ancestors

A family tree project is a great way to pass the hours when you’re housebound as a family. It becomes a travel activity when you include the geography piece — great, great Grandpa emigrated from Israel! You need blocks of time to do the research. For example, it took several back and forth emails with a French shipping company to find out information about my great-grandfather’s job as a freight checker in the early 1900s. Time consuming, but so very exciting! Start small by setting up an online account with one of the genealogy websites. Or mark large envelopes with your family surnames and make index cards for each person. Start with your immediate family, including the kids. Let them pick out their profile photo (another great reason to go through those family photos).

9. Got Teens? Pull Together Capsule Wardrobes

Traveling with teens often leads to battles over packing. Have you had to plead with them to remove extra pairs of sneakers or sandals to meet luggage weight limits? Challenge them while you’re stuck at home with a capsule wardrobe project. The concept is simple: You put together a few wardrobe staples that mix and match for multiple-day and night looks when combined with the right accessories. There are a ton of sample wardrobes online. Go through your closets together and have a family fashion show. The teen who creates the most outfits with the fewest pieces wins!

10. Go for a Walk in the Woods

When a pandemic makes it too scary to be inside with lots of strangers, it’s time to explore the great outdoors. If your family’s new to hiking, start small. Find a local park with a short, loop path. Review the trail map with your kids, teach them (or yourself!) about the blaze system, the importance of sticking to the trail and how to pack and carry a daypack. Remember the usual outdoors essentials: bug spray, water, sunscreen and snacks.

11. Let a Good Book Take You Away

Reading travel books is another fun way to hit the road virtually. There are classics for young adult readers like Paul Theroux’s “Great Railway Bazaar” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” But this is also a great activity for little ones by downloading kid-friendly audiobooks. My family-friendly favorites include Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach” and Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Also, look for travel-themed coloring books. Or activity books, with stickers. Break out the crayons and color some planes, trains and automobiles.

12. Sort Through Your Luggage

When you can’t travel but have travel on the brain, spend some time getting ready for your next trip by taking a good long look at your luggage. Ruthlessly evaluate your suitcases. Get rid of the one with the wobbly wheel. Suzy’s duffel bag that kinda survived the exploding shampoo bottle? Pitch it.

Read More: How to Pack a Suitcase in 29 Minutes

Next, gather the kids and their carryon bags. If they need new backpacks, now’s the time to order them. Then, make lists together of the must-have stuff they should include in their individual carryon bags. Preschoolers need activity books, crayons and their favorite stuffed animal. Teens won’t leave home without electronics and headphones. Write the lists on index cards (don’t forget essential toiletry items) and stash them in the carryons to tick off things as you pack.

Finally, get fresh travel accessories.  You’ve saved all that cash on the vacation you canceled. Spend some of it so you can travel in style once it’s again safe to do that. For example, if you haven’t used packing cubes, consider buying some. It’s an excellent way to organize suitcases and carryons, especially if you move frequently between hotels on a trip.

Cal Pak packing cubes - SheBuysTravel
Packing cubes are a traveler’s best friend. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Have a fun travel activity your family loves? Share it here.

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