Friday, June 17, 2011

A Day of Armchair Travel

I read about this concept in an article and couldn't help but be intrigued by it. What exactly is armchair travel? It's basically being transported to a destination without actually leaving your seat--or kitchen, or office, or wherever you happen to be situated. There are the typical mediums for armchair travel: movies, music, books, pictures, etc. But there are also some other ways to discover a place without physically going there. Food, drinks, language, art and news stories are all methods of learning, providing want-to-be travelers with the means to venture around the world, even if they cannot find the time or the money to actually do it.

To give you a better idea of what I mean, I'll give you a glimpse into what a day of armchair travel--or as the article sometimes calls it, lazy travel--can look like. As a news analyst, I spend the day perusing the internet for stories about current events relating to business, politics, technology, marketing, hospitality, lifestyle, and, of course, travel. In the morning, I traveled to the Philippines (U.S. issued a travel warning to the country), Charleston, SC (residents there are suing Carnival Cruises over their massive ship), San Francisco, CA (the Fairmont Hotel is being put up for sale), and Vancouver, Canada (Canucks fans went on a rampage after losing the Stanley Cup finals to Boston). Within the span of one work day, I can move from one coast to the other, leap over the pond, scale the terrain abroad, and cruise back on over to my desk, all before clocking out. What's even better is that I learn something in the process. I gain knowledge about a place through the events that are going on right now. News stories are a window into how people are living, responding to the daily problems, triumphs, concerns and hopes that they encounter every day. I will admit that reading through story after story can get a little tedious, despite all the fascinating things happening in our world. Also, the articles are so brief, it doesn't give me a chance to really get lost in a single location. Just as I'm getting pulled in, the final sentence approaches and I move on to the next place.

Books offer more of an opportunity to immerse yourself in a destination. As I pedalled and climbed to sweaty glory in the wee hours of the morning, I did it all from the mountain farms of southern Appalachia. I was reading Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer, the story of three individuals whose lives are magically entwined through nature, love and the wilderness. I felt connected to this world I had never seen, and it made me feel like I knew what people living in that region of America are like, how they talk, their daily routines, their culture, their general environment. I still have more to read, more to learn, but I am eager to venture back there in the evening before drifting off into my own dream world.

But before going to Appalachia, I visited Spain. My friend Laura and I sat down at a table in a bustling, warm restaurant in Chicago, only to quickly drift into the kitchen of a Spanish Tapas bar, the spicy aromas wafting around our heads, penetrating our senses. The sizzling plates of spiced potatoes in tomato sauce, mushrooms stuffed with pork and cheese, and grilled fresh vegetables titillated our appetites and rocketed us into another culture completely diverse from the modern American city outside. We were in a quiant town in the Spanish neighborhoods outside Madrid, sitting at a wrought-iron table atop cobble-stone streets, sipping sweet sangria in the afternoon sun.

The perfect end to a day of armchair travel.


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