10 Ways Armchair Travel Will Enrich Your Life
You wake up in your dream location. Stretched ahead of you is a perfect day of sightseeing, eating, and enjoying yourself. The weather is ideal. You’re ready for an adventure.
And then there are the other 50 weeks of the year.
If you only have 2-4 weeks of vacation, but an insatiable desire to travel, what can you do?
Become an armchair traveler and fill in the gaps.
What is armchair travel?
The term ‘armchair’ has a negative connotation – as in ‘armchair quarterback.’ It means a person is not directly involved in an activity, but has an opinion and advice to offer.
We’re going to co-opt the term and give it a positive spin.
Armchair Travel is delving into this fantastic, vast world and learning as much as our hearts desire – vicariously.
Does armchair travel preclude going into the world as a “real” traveler?
And at it’s best, as you will soon see, armchair travel inspires the buying of tickets and booking of excursions.
What do you get out of curling up in your armchair with a proverbial globe? Let’s see…
Benefits of armchair travel
1. Shear enjoyment
Armchair travel is worth the time for the sheer joy of exploring a place, a culture, or a period of history.
It’s a hobby.
And like any hobby, it doesn’t have to have a practical purpose or product to justify the time spent. An hour getting lost in a faraway place is pure delight.
2. Feed the imagination
This delightful pastime is good for the imagination.
Learning about a distant setting is a way to build a memory palace rich with images and sensory details.
Our view of the world and the people in it broadens our perspective and helps us to empathize with others.
3. Places you can’t or won’t go
There are a few places in the world we can’t or won’t visit.
In any given year, there are a handful of politically closed countries, places the ordinary passport can’t gain access to.
Some locations are just too arduous or expensive – the North Pole, Antarctica, and the top of Everest come to mind.
Then there are the places beyond our comfort zone. Travel is a great way to stretch our limitations, but we all have a threshold.
These road blocks don’t stop us from learning more about a place.
We can climb mountains in our minds, even if our bodies don’t join in. We can write imaginary checks to exotic places that our bank accounts can’t cash. We can get behind borders in our living room that we wouldn’t dream of approaching in real life.
4. Time travel
Travel includes different periods in history.
Back to the Future, notwithstanding, we can’t jump the time continuum. Armchair travel will take us to places 100’s of years from reality. It may be an incomplete view, but it’s the only view we’re going to get.
5. No access cultures
Outsiders can’t experience certain lifestyles, chains of DNA, or traditions. Armchair travel allows us to peek behind the curtain.
When a journalist, archaeologist, or historian gains access to a people group and then shares the experience with the world, we all gain.
Occasionally, someone on the inside will tell the world about their personal experience – oppression and abundance, prejudice and acceptance, tradition, and ritual – human experiences that we will never know become accessible.
6. Stress free travel
In armchair travel, no money changes hands (unless you count my book budget).
Little planning is needed to sit down with a good book.
Jet lag doesn’t exist in the armchair.
You will always come back from your virtual excursion rested and refreshed.
7. Learn a thing or two
Armchair travel stretches our intellect.
Like empty hangers in the closet, learning about the world adds to our ability to collect and organize new information.
If you read a novel set in Estonia, the next time the Estonian economy gets mentioned in the news, you will perk up and take notice.
Playing geography-based board games will give you a mental picture of the world that just begs for countries to come up in conversation.
Taking a virtual tour of Yosemite National Park will have you on the edge of your seat when an issue of conservation is debated in Congress.
Knowledge is dangerous?
Knowledge is power.
8. Inspire your get up and go
Armchair travel, at it’s best, makes us want to go and see for ourselves.
How many books would you need to read about Italy before starting a pasta-inspired savings account?
And I don’t know about you, but scrolling through my travel-heavy Instagram feed continually adds sights to my bucket list.
Seeing others travel, the world helps us realize what’s possible. Things that were foreign and even scary don’t seem so intimidating once we get to know a place.
9. Double the fun
As we’ve pointed out many times, anticipating a trip is almost as much fun as the trip itself.
Research proves this.
According to studies, pre-trip enjoyment peaks for eight weeks before a vacation. Studies have also found that most of our pleasure comes from before and during a trip – the afterglow of travel is often more aftermath.
Armchair travel takes advantage of the pre-trip phase and makes the most of it.
10. Enrich your onsite experience
And once you’ve got boots on the ground, all that armchair travel research will only add to the richness of the experience.
Understanding the history, cultural nuances, geography, and traditions will make every part of the trip better.
Ideas for armchair travelers
Books are my go-to entertainment any day.
Fiction, non-fiction, and guidebooks are the tradition and staple of the armchair traveler.
There are so many excellent resources for finding travel-centric books.
Here are my two favorite book search engines:
For children’s books by US States:
Reading Through the States by Wrapped in Foil
And if you want a towering stack of TBR’s:
Goodreads has a discussion page with a massive list of location-based book resources – Around the World in 80 books
Travel magazines are like little dream guides that arrive in your mailbox each month to inspire a fresh crop of locations to covet.
Beautiful pictures, well-told stories, and vetted resources make curling up with a magazine the perfect rainy day mind excursion.
Some of my favorites are:
Food and Travel Magazine
Movies, foreign films, documentaries, and vlogs provide billions of hours of travel video footage.
Searching for the gems will take some work.
Try specific search terms:
- foreign films set in [country]
- foreign films about [country]
- travel documentary about [country]
- movie set in [country]
The more specific your search query the more targeted the list.
Flixable.com is the best way to search for Netflix and Disney+ offerings. The website has multiple filter options so you can find what you want.
Search YouTube, Netflix, or whatever streaming service you subscribe to.
Here are a few curated lists to get you started:
Vimeo travel is another source.
Traditional media has to keep the advertisers happy. Mainstream media outlets must choose locations and attractions that will attract masses of readers. And with print media, you have to wait for the information to come to you.
The internet however, has democratized information.
Travel bloggers are not bound by these parameters.
You will find blog posts that go into more detail, with more honesty. And with good searching, you can find information on the most obscure vacation spot.
Another advantage is the variety of travel styles represented by an army of travel bloggers. Budget, family, luxury, solo, female, multi-generational, special-interest, or backpacking – you can find someone on the world wide web that travels like you.
And, of course, we have a soft place in our hearts for travel blogs, but we think they make enjoyable reading for armchair travelers.
Newish to the information scene, podcasts are ideal for armchair travelers.
Because you don’t have to be sitting in an armchair.
You can learn about destinations while driving, doing housework, or exercising.
Our favorite travel podcasts:
Break Into Travel Writing (for travel bloggers)
52 Perfect Days…coming soon. When we can travel again, Alexa (from Break Into Travel Writing, and 52 Perfect Days) will be launching a new travel podcast. It’s going to be great – stay tuned.
There are countless virtual tours available online.
From museum tours to live cams of the Great Barrier Reef, you would never have to leave home.
The Louvre (France)
Still want to go?
Virtual tours will help you hone in on what you would like to see in real life.
Games for travel buffs abound.
Check out this review of the 28 Best Map Based Strategy Board Games
Puzzles help inspire and preserve memories.
Springbok, White Mountain, and Ravensburger are the most common brands of puzzles that we buy. They’re all high quality, widely available, and there are 100’s of puzzles to choose from. Dowdle puzzles make our favorite city puzzles.
Here are a few beautiful puzzles to inspire you:
If you want a real challenge, try a 3-D puzzle:
Coloring books are a stress-reducing way to combine your love of the world with a little self-soothing activity.
These activities are sources of playtime for armchair travelers.
Italki is my go-to source for language learning. Search the database for a suitable language conversation partner or tutor and get started immediately.
These travel classes also make great gifts for the travelers in your life. Taking a class is another way to enjoy an experience, rather than acquiring more stuff – a goal many travel enthusiasts have in common.
Some people in our house really like Google Earth. A lot. I mean, a lot.
Others enjoy pouring over atlases, and maps.
Whether digital or paper-based, studying maps is catnip for armchair travelers.
There are also many specialty and colorful children’s atlases to choose from. If you don’t want to invest in a copy, check your local library.
Bonus points: Print a blank outline map and fill it in with major features.
Sources for free outline maps:
World Maps Online is also a quick source for basic outlines of countries.
You’ve probably noticed the scratch-off maps on the market. Travelers use these as a fun way to track places they’ve been.
But there are other creative ways to use these maps:
- Mark books read by country
- Film and videos watched
- Podcasts listened to
- Cuisines tried
- Wines tasted
My prized travel souvenir is my National Park Passport notebook.
If your not as obsessive, a smaller version is available:
I enjoy adding new stamps and stickers when we return. I use it to plan trips, making sure we include National sites on our itinerary. And then, I love pouring over it and remembering the places we’ve been.
Sorting, editing, and displaying photos and travel videos is sometimes viewed as the chore of travel.
But it could also be thought of as the trophy case of the traveler.
And just like a champion bowler loves to dust his shelf of statues, we can relive our experiences as we curate our travel memories.
Travel memories come in many forms:
However, you keep your memories safe and sound, schedule a rainy afternoon, and permit yourself to enjoy the process.
Traveling to Portugal by armchair
As an example, here is the armchair travel plan I made for Portugal. We are planning a month-long trip through the country. Our original departure date was interrupted by the Pandemic, but we will reschedule.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying learning about the country – it’s history, culture, food, and language.
The first thing I do when I become interested in a location or culture is to make a booklist.
Using my local library, general internet searches, and the two travel book search engines I mentioned above, I start a list of potential books.
I like a variety of fiction, non-fiction and guidebooks.
Then I take a closer look at each book. Ideally, I order books from the library so I can evaluate them in person.
I also use Amazon to take a ‘look inside,’ and I read reviews or synopsis online.
When I’ve narrowed the list down to a manageable size, I either buy the books or earmark them on my library hold list.
For Portugal this is the stack of books I curated:
I have three novels
A history guide
The Traveler’s History of Portugal by Ian Robertson – this is a hard-to-find book I happened to have on my shelf.
And a guidebook
After reading our travel magazines, I rip them up and file the articles in a file box. When it’s time to plan a trip, I pull out the relevant articles and reread them.
I find magazines better for enjoyment and inspiration than serious planning.
When I knew a trip to Portugal was on the horizon, I pulled the few articles in my file box and added suggestions to our list.
We are long-time superfans of Rick Steve’s Travel show. If Europe is on the agenda, Rick Steve’s is the first stop. He has a few episodes of Portugal, which we watched several times. Most of the back episodes are available on YouTube.
We also watched videos from travel vloggers we like:
These media personalities are not native Portuguese. Ideally, you will want to find something produced in the country by native speakers.
I’m learning Portuguese, and for homework, I watch a soap opera called ‘Os Nossos Dias.’ Yes, I’m blushing, but there’s not much European Portuguese TV available in America.
Some countries will be more challenging than others when it comes to video. There is plenty of Brazilian Portuguese available, but I don’t want to confuse my language study with a different dialect.
I did find one video about Portugal on Kanopy. Our library system provides a subscription to Kanopy. Try asking your librarian what databases or streaming services are available. You might find a treasure trove of options.
A few of my favorite Portugal blog posts are:
Indie Travels 42 Amazing Things to Do in Lisbon
As I plan specific pieces of a trip, I search for blog posts – by town, by sight, or by museum. This is how I gain valuable information and inside tips on how to save money, avoid long lines, or suss out the best local restaurants. Nothing beats a well-written blog post by a fellow traveler.
I subscribe to many travel podcasts.
By searching the back catalog of the ones I enjoy most, I gathered a list of episodes to listen to.
Most podcasts maintain a blog – or at least a webpage – with a list of episodes. Many podcasters also include show notes, transcripts, or fully-fleshed out blog posts.
These are two of the episodes I listened to about Portugal:
Extra Pack of Peanuts Destination Diary Portugal
Indie Travel’s Travel in Lisbon and Faro in Portugal
No virtual tours so far.
I enjoy reading and listening far more than watching. So, to be honest, I rarely seek out visual sources.
If you love falling down the YouTube rabbit hole or watching movies, you will probably love adding virtual tours to your armchair trip.
There’s not much available in the American marketplace from Portugal or about Portugal.
I’m intrigued by a game called Coimbra from Portugal. The shipping is pretty steep. I will look out for it on our travels.
Coloring books, games, and puzzles make great souvenirs for our family because we use them.
My big learning project is the Portuguese language. I started to build vocabulary using Memrise courses.
When I had about 200 words under my belt, I started taking video lessons through Italki.
I wish I had started the Italki lessons even sooner.
We live in an amazing time when you can learn subjects and skills that used to require an expensive and time consuming traditional class.
I’m blessed with three patient, native Portuguese teachers that I rotate between – conversing and learning two times a week.
The rest of the week I continue to build vocabulary on Memrise and work on basic grammar in a workbook.
This is the primary system I would use to learn any language; Memrise, Italki, and an inexpensive grammar workbook.
I also use a website specific to Portuguese, called Practice Portuguese. It’s a European Portuguese learning platform. The site employs video, audio clips, a podcast, interactive grammar and vocabulary lessons, and more.
It’s creative, fun and motivating – I can’t recommend it enough.
We pour over the maps in our guidebooks.
I also printed a stack of blank outline maps of Portugal and traced the major landmarks using an atlas.
Eventually, I would like to be able to fill in an outline map with the major geographic features and towns, by memory.
This activity creates a mental map of the country. It’s invaluable as we plan the specifics of our trip. I also get a sense of satisfaction in just knowing a little bit about the world.
Map tracing and/or drawing is a surprising stress-reducer.
I prefer souvenirs without dust.
Our family loves to travel. Now that our kids are grown, and we often go independent of each other, we get together and watch travel slide shows from our various trips.
We will come home from Portugal with 1000’s of photos. These will be all the souvenirs I need.
And, we will make a ceremony of scratching off a coveted European country on the map hanging in Jody’s office.
Before a trip, when the travel takes place in the armchair, my memories consist of a bucket list of places to see, things to do, and foods to taste that I make as I read.
When we return, sorting photos and organizing them into manageable files will allow me to relive the experience at my computer.
I love scrapbooking. When the kids were little, it was my main hobby and creative outlet. I took a long break during the teen years when it felt like my main hobby was ‘taxi driver.’ Now that my evenings and weekend time is more discretionary, I’ve picked it up again. I’m playing around with ways to document our trips.
The 10 benefits of armchair travel:
- Feeding the imagination
- Access to places you can’t or won’t go
- Time travel
- A window into hidden cultures
- Stress-free travel
- Doubling the anticipation
- Enriching real-life travel
11 Ideas for armchair travelers
- Virtual Tours
We would love to hear about your adventures in armchair travel. In the comments below, share resources and activities you’ve enjoyed.