Travel on Couch: Four Ways to “Travel” During a Pandemic

Travel in couch.  Or on the couch.  So joked a good friend this week after his family was forced to cancel a trip to Bolivia to visit family. There’s not much travel during a pandemic. 

travel during the pandemic
Me, removing my mask for some serious travel on couch.

Many families have lost loved ones this year.  And nearly all have missed seeing family members.

Though much less important, many of us have cancelled trips.  Maybe a weekend trip to the mountains, a holiday visit with family, or a 111-day cruise around the world (I wish). 

Humans are designed to move—to explore. And right now, most of us are, well, not.

What can we do?  Short of starting a travel blog (who has time?), I can think of four ways to “travel” during the pandemic.    

First.  Read and Dream.

Shame on me.  In recent years, I haven’t read much travel literature.  I seem to gravitate to the genre when travel isn’t possible because of resources, time, or kids. 

travel during the pandemic
My travel book collection.

I’ve been missing out.  Reading is the easiest way to travel during a pandemic (or anytime). During my upcoming two-week staycation (my company has a “use it or lose it” vacation policy), I am going to try to catch up on reading. 

Paul Theroux is one of my favorite travel authors.  With humor and wry observation, Theroux explores exotic locales and the human condition.  Years ago his books helped me realize that travel is much more than sightseeing. 

Theroux’s Happy Isles of Oceania allowed me to navigate the weeks before taking the bar exam 20 years ago.  In that book he chronicles his exploration of over 50 islands in Oceana by kayak.  (I can also help you travel by Kayak).

travel during the pandemic
When kayaking through Oceana, it’s important to get an early start on the day.

Paul Theroux’s books about railway travel are especially mesmerizing.  Looking for a long train journey? Check out The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonia Express, Riding the Iron Rooster, or Dark Star Safari

Two rails diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by.

There’s also plenty of fictional literature set in exotic locales.  Graham Greene’s novels explore faith, love, travel, and what it means to be human.  If you yearn for travel and enjoy a good book, I recommend The Heart of the Matter, Our Man in Havana, The Quiet American, The End of the Affair, and Brighton Rock

If you seek sin, absolution, and redemption, with travel thrown in, read The Power and the Glory.  Set in 1930s anticlerical Mexico, it is Greene’s most acclaimed novel.  Time Magazine named The Power and the Glory one of the hundred best English-language novels. 

Second.  Surf and Plan.

I’ve said that dreaming about travel is as fun as doing it.  Why?  Time and money limit me to a trip or two a year.  But by reading and dreaming, I can travel during the pandemic, visiting a different destination every day.

Start your research online.  Curious about Slovenia?  Google it. Begin with Tripadvisor

Rocking it old school with wifi and paper. Monochromatically.

When it comes to Europe, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of Rick Steves.  Thankfully, most of Rick Steves’ guidebook content is available on his website.  So explore different destinations for free.  And once you settle on a location, his guidebooks are well worth the money. 

Third.  Travel on Foot. 

During this pandemic, I’ve literally stumbled into sanity (or at least into its vicinity).   A few walks a week—long or short—help release restless energy and focus the mind. When you live and work within the same walls, a walk is an escape.

Why not explore new surroundings while stretching your legs and recharging your soul?  TrailLink is a trail-finding website and app created by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.  Let the app see your location, and it will show nearby multiuse trails, complete with maps, photos, and reviews. 

Cindy Lu and me, training for Red Dawn II.

My go-to greenway, Big Creek Greenway, scores a perfect 5 stars based on 35 reviews.  User photos capture some of the beauty of the 20 mile-long greenway that traces Big Creek from Roswell northward to Cumming, Georgia. 

travel during the pandemic
Walking makes me contemplative.

Plug in your location and see if there’s a new-to-you trail to explore on foot or bike.  Travel doesn’t have to be far from home.  And it doesn’t have to involve a plane, train, or car.   

Fourth.  Take Steps to Save Better.

Use the rainy day to prepare for sunny skies. 

For years, we regularly set aside money for travel.  And we regularly raided our nest egg to pay for… life.  Surprise bills happen with amazing predictability. 

We are not terrific savers, but we have had more success with bucketing our savings.  Basically, we set up a separate savings account for every purpose.  One account for travel, one for home improvements, one for medical expenses, one for a new car, etc. 

We also have an account called “short-term savings,” from which we pull money for kids’ activities and car insurance.  That way we avoid dipping into long-term savings. 

After every payday, a predetermined amount is transferred from checking to each online savings account.  Don’t worry if you have to start small.  Even $25 a month squirreled away for future travel can fund a weekend trip. 

travel during the pandemic
Don’t feed the big bank money pig. Choose high-yield online savings accounts.

Capital One’s 360 Performance Savings makes bucketing easy.  Its interest rate isn’t the best (.4% APY on December 16, 2020, compared with market leaders paying .6% to .65%), but it’s within striking distance of the leaders.  To put it in perspective, .4% is 8 to 40 times the .01% to .05% interest our national brick-and-mortar bank is currently paying. (Note: This blog isn’t monetized. So I have no allegiance to Capital One or anyone or anything).

And there’s no reason you have to keep all of your savings at any one bank.  You can keep the bulk of your savings at an online bank that consistently pays top interest rates, like Ally or Discover Bank.  Then keep your “bucketed savings” at another on-line bank that makes it easy to set up multiple accounts. 

travel during the pandemic
One measly dollar!

How bad is .01% interest, by the way?  An account with $10,000, with interest compounded monthly, will yield a whopping $1 in interest after a year.  One dollar.  Instead, put your hard-earned moolah to work for you.

Starting from zero?  No worries.  The best time to start saving was 20 years ago, as Brad Barrett from ChooseFI says.  The second-best time is today.

The Takeaway. 

We are made to explore, and staying at home is less than thrilling.  But this time doesn’t have to be a waste.  Here are four ways to “travel” during a pandemic:

  1. Read and dream.
  2. Surf and plan.
  3. Travel on foot.
  4. Take steps to save better.

Happy trails!

travel during the pandemic