Experiencing the World Without Leaving Your Couch

Today, I took a train ride.

I hopped aboard a crowded train in a land where I don’t speak the language. The smell of sweat hung heavily in the air as I took my seat next to a woman bundled up in layers and layers of clothing, a heavy coat topping off her outfit. From beneath a hat pulled low, she gave me a curious look, but she didn’t say anything.

The train rolled on, the barren countryside becoming a blur outside my tightly sealed window. Soon, the frozen landscape was replaced by rustic buildings, and the train station came into view. I looked at my schedule. We were supposed to be laid over for 40 minutes. I had time to get out and take a quick stroll through the quaint village if I hurried.

Leaving my luggage on the train, I tucked some extra money into my purse and headed to explore the fairy-tale village. Walking past street vendors, I took in the scent of hundreds of pickles, a local favorite food to accompany the country’s favorite alcoholic beverage – Vodka. I passed on that.

Inhaling deeply, I filled my lungs with sharp, piercing air and listened to the people around me talk. I couldn’t understand them, but just hearing them speak – the way they rolled their R’s, their tongues thick and heavy – I felt as though I was connecting with these people.

I glanced at my watch, annoyed that my 40 minutes were almost up. Stopping quickly at one of the food carts, I purchased a pickle, biting into it as I headed back toward the train station. The sharp “crunch” assaulted my taste buds with bitter vinegar and succulent spices. What a pickle!

As I slid into my seat, the woman next to me smiled. In her thick accent, she spoke in English. “You like?” she pointed at my pickle.

I nodded my head. As the train pulled out of the station, the woman and I began to practice our foreign language skills on each other. My Russian came flowing out in awkward tumbles, mingling with her tripping English. But it didn’t matter. I had made a friend on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Ok, so I didn’t actually take a train ride across Russia today, but I did get to experience the journey all the same without leaving my home.

Today, I listened to several Travel with Rick Steves podcasts as I performed my various tasks. While I was working in the kitchen, I finished listening to an episode that talked about Portuguese tile, the EU’s immigration problem (fascinating!), and, you guessed it, a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway. You can find the episode here and jump on board the adventure with the man who experienced it, David Greene.

I really love listening to Rick Steves’ show, and I equally enjoy watching his television program. Visiting Europe has been a dream of mine for quite a while now. I would love to see Corrie ten Boom’s watchmaker’s shop in Amsterdam, the heartbreaking Auschwitz concentration camp near Krakow, Poland, and the Normandy beaches in France, but actually visiting Earth’s most diverse continent is a little out of the realm of rationality for me right now. But, that doesn’t keep me from expanding my horizons and traveling the world from the comfort of my sofa. I’d like to share some resources with you guys today that will allow you to experience the world without spending a dime (note: library card required 🙂 ).

1. Rick Steves’ Europe

This show comes on the PBS station, and I always love catching it whenever I can. The episodes are only 30 minutes long, but you get to see so much of an area in that time. Rick Steves takes you all over the Continent – from the tense streets of Northern Ireland to the rolling hillsides of Italy. I recently discovered that Hulu has quite a library of these episodes for free. This is a great way to get in your taste of “culture” while relaxing from a long day at the office.

2. Guidebooks

You might think that reading a guidebook sounds about as intriguing as reading a dictionary, but think again! I picked up a guidebook at the library this winter, and it kept me entertained for hours. Selecting a book that encompasses an entire continent (I chose Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door, which covers every aspect of traveling anywhere in Europe), you’ll find yourself drifting away on a Venetian gondola or snorkeling off the Great Coral Reef in Australia. Select a volume with pictures in it (preferably color because we all need a little excitement in our lives, right?) to get the full home-travel experience.

3. Technology Exploration

For most of us, experiencing the culture of another country is out of our reach. But, thanks to modern technology, we can experience pretty much any culture at the tap of a screen or the click of a mouse. Find some traditional Irish folkbands on Aupeo or find a video on Youtube of a Chinese New Year fireworks display. Check out a cookbook at the library with recipes from your intended destination. Recently, I’ve been kind of experimenting with foods from different countries, and I have found my new go-to meal in a German cookbook. If you’re really up for a challenge, find a radio station or podcast in the native language of the place you want to visit. You may not be able to understand what’s being said, but, if you’re like me, you just like to listen to the way it’s being said.

4. Tourism Websites

Have you always wanted to visit Thailand? Did you dream of hacking your way through the Amazon rainforest with a machete when you were a kid? Always wanted to trace your family tree in England? Get a glimpse of what life is like in your dream destination by taking advantage of national, regional, or local tourism websites. You’ll find information on the places to go, the sites to see, and the people to meet, which provides some pretty good material for the final aspect of couch-traveling.

5. Dream

(Cue the Everly Brothers!) Dreams are the cheapest, most accessible means of traveling anyone has. I’m not talking about staring out the window and drooling over an imaginary plate of Italian pasta suspended in your imagination (unless you enjoy that kind of thing). I’m talking about thinking about the places you want to visit. If you suddenly found all the barriers that had prevented you from visiting your dream destination suddenly gone, where would you go, how would you get there, where would you stay, and which places would you visit? Imagine the stillness of a Japanese garden or the chaos of the Paris Metro. Smell the espresso in an Italian cafe, and feel the sun on your skin in Jamaica. Do a little more internet browsing and calculate what a trip to your favorite country would cost. Be creative and find out how much it would cost you to backpack or bicycle across a country (probably not Russia unless you’ve got legs of steel) instead of hitting up the 5-star hotels. This winter, I had some fun figuring out how I could afford to go to Europe on the cheap. I formulated my own dream of biking across the continent and camping out instead of riding the subways and shelling out hundreds of euros for a fancy bed at a posh resort.

Have you had a travel adventure that transcends the realm of the old recliner? Leave me a comment! I’d love to hear about it.:)


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