By Julie Ann
It was made from dark blue butcher paper, orange tempera paint and buckets of gold glitter. It was the Eiffel Tower. I was in the first grade and it was part of a class “field trip” that we took to Paris. I had the honor of constructing this Eiffel Tower with a classmate and then learning every fact a six year old mind could remember to share with my classmates as part of the tour. We took a fake plane ride, had our faux passports stamped, ate éclairs and toured all the famous sites. You could say that it was my first “staycation.”
Staycations – or stay at home vacations – became all the rage when the economy started to wane a few years ago. An alternative to skyrocketing gas prices, increasing airlines fees and the all-around stress of travel, staycations are cheap, convenient and currently chic. Most staycations tend to include visiting local attractions or lounging in the backyard or at a local pool. But what if you want a staycation with more? What if you really want to feel as if you are heading out on an international escapade? Drawing from my experience as a jet-setting first grader, I’ve put together an itinerary of ten staycation tour stops that will hopefully leave you feeling as if you have been around the world.
1. Read Up On Your Country. Your local library probably has stacks of travel books on everywhere from Florida to Florence, Italy, but look beyond the books of facts and figures and check out fiction works instead. A good resource for finding books – from the classics to modern novels – that are set in your staycation destination is www.bookssetin.com. Type a location in the search box and then browse to find a genre and title of interest to you.
2. Travel through the Cinema. If you aren’t much of a reader, you could instead watch movies set in your staycation destination – anything from documentaries (“ROME: Engineering an Empire” from the History Channel) to classics (“Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck) to recent releases (“When in Rome” with Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel).
3. Cook up Local Flavor. If you’re an ambitious chef then you can scour the Internet for international recipes and recruit some brave friends to try them on (five spice squid stir-fry, anyone?) If cooking isn’t your thing, then go to a local restaurant you’ve been reluctant to try. Who knows, maybe the Brazilian grill down the street will become your new fave.
4. When in Rome… Research Culture, Customs and Traditions. One thing with which you’ll always want to be familiar when traveling to another country is the culture, customs and traditions. Check out books or search the Internet. Or better yet, find a person from that country and learn them in person. Too shy? How about chatting on a travel forum about your destination?
5. Let the Travel Channel Be Your Guide. One of my favorite channels to surf is the Travel Channel. Whether it’s exploring the mountains British Columbia or castles of Ireland, they are always providing insider information on places I want to visit. You can also check out their Web site (www.travelchannel.com) for video clips from their shows, “top spot” lists, city guides and more.
6. Hola! Bonjour! Hallo! Ni Hao! When traveling to another country it is always helpful to learn basic words and essential sentences from that language. There are plenty of free podcasts online that will teach you the basics of almost any language. Once you get a few words down, you can maybe even branch out and begin working to become conversant in your chosen language.
7. Walk the Streets on Google. This is actually something that I do all the time just for fun. Visit www.google.com/maps and select a location on the world map. Zoom in until you have a street-level view. You’ll then be able to “walk” around the streets of Amsterdam, Brisbane or Calgary. If the location is not available to view, the little orange person on the zoom tool will be grayed.
8. Attend a Cultural Festival or Visit an Ethnic Neighborhood. If you are in or near a big city, this is an excellent option. Many cities have a Greek festival one weekend, an Italian festival the next, then a Japanese festival and so on. Attending these festivals will give you can excellent idea of culture, food and traditions. Many big cities also have certain neighborhoods or regions where specific ethnic groups have gathered over time. You can visit these areas for shopping, restaurants and cultural activities. (Where I live in Roswell, we have the UFO festival – which is truly out of this world!)
9. Throw an International Party. After you have thoroughly explored a country or region, a good way to cap your staycation is to throw an international theme party. Serve up the ethnic food, ask your guests to come in traditional garb, use the foreign words you mastered and present the information you learned to your guests. You could also collect money and have a time of prayer for missionaries in this country.
10. Plan your Real Vacation. Now that you are properly schooled, you should have a pretty good idea of whether you would like to actually visit that country. Armed with knowledge about language, geography, customs, traditions and cuisines, you can start saving money and making plans to take that international vacation for real.