Eight years ago, I was voting by absentee ballot, living in Italy, and loving life like I’d never loved it before (or dare I say, since?).
And now every time fall comes around, I get all weepy and lustful for the life of wander. For twisting my ankles on cobblestone streets, for hopping trains and minding gaps, for photographing every bicycle I see just because it looks so beautiful standing on that corner I’ve never seen before, the one with the graffiti in a language I can’t speak.
I ache for the Eau de Parfum of cigarettes and newspapers and Armani mixed with Gucci mixed with the body odor of European commuters stacked into subway cars.
I miss the feeling of foreign-ness. Of being so completely enraptured by my surroundings that I leave myself behind.
Every fall I want to move back to Italy. I want to move into a flat with a pizzeria on one side and a gelateria on the other and a balcony in the back where I can hang my laundry and go all Rear Window on my Italian neighbors.
And who knows, maybe some day I will. But for now, I’m here, in plain vanilla ice cream America where sometimes I look around and doubt that exciting things like sprinkles and hot fudge even exist anymore.
So in order to ease the pain of my annual bout of wanderlust, I came up with some at-home, all natural remedies. Perhaps they’ll help any of you stranded travel bugs out there who may feel at times as I do, like a lady bug turned upside down with all her limbs a flailing.
1. Eat like your guts are made of steel.
Find a restaurant that doesn’t look like it’s been visited by the health inspector recently and order something you can’t pronounce. You get bonus points for hanging out in the bathroom a little longer than usual when you get home because there’s nothing quite like an intestinal workout to make you feel as if you’ve truly just traveled somewhere new.
2. Shop at international grocery stores.
My favorite are Indian food stores like Bombay Bazaar and Namaste and Desi Mart because they might as well be Pakistani, and Pakistan is my first home after all. There’s nothing quite like the chaos of shelves stocked haphazardly with dusty, year-long expired snack products and bags of Basmati rice so gargantuan even Costco customers would be impressed. The squelching sound of the floor sticking to your feet is only further proof that you can indeed travel where you live.
3. Go for a bike ride.
If the weather is nice, this is a lovely remedy indeed. Using your own energy to make your body move, picking up a speed just fast enough to push the wind into your face, can be, with enough imagination, as exhilarating as speed boating across the Mozambique Channel.
4. Go on a photo walk.
You don’t have to be a photographer to do this. Just pretend you’re a tourist in your own town. Imagine you’ve come from the Village of Opposite Land or even another planet, and everything around you is new and utterly bizarre. What would you take a picture of? Probably everything.
5. Write about it.
You don’t have to be a writer to do this either. Just write. Think of it as a meditation or hypnosis where you let your mind get lost in all the marvelous things you love about traveling. Then write them all down as if it were a letter to your best friend or your kid or someone else who absolutely must know about this great passion of yours.
6. Watch a movie from the place you’re pining for.
I fell in love with Italy through her movies, years before I ever met her in person. And now, when I’m feeling lonesome for her Tuscan towns and that sleepy sort of sunshine that seems to feel especially at home there, I pull out an Italian film. One word of warning, though: this may actually exacerbate your wanderlust. Although its symptoms are a rather wonderful affliction to bear in the first place.
7. Hike in a state park.
There’s a reason science is proving the health benefits of nature. Nature must be half the reason I travel, just so I can find myself under trees that people didn’t plant or at a water’s edge that man did not define. Being farmland-locked in middle America, I seem to be perpetually in search of mountains and oceans and any vista that doesn’t contain corn, soy beans, or strip malls.
8. Explore your own town.
Make a list of spots within half an hour of your home that you’ve never explored – a park, a neighborhood, the downtown district of the next door suburb you secretly despise. Then book a trip with your inner travel agent to go poke around and see if there isn’t something there that might surprise you. As if you were, you know, actually traveling.
9. House sit.
House sitting can feel like a mini getaway. Even if it’s just ten minutes from your home, spending time in a different house in a different neighborhood can be just the amount of different you need to keep you from buying a ticket on the next plane outta here. And different is what traveling is all about anyway.
P.S. If you use this list to justify not traveling, shame on you. By all means, get on the next plane outta here if at all possible.
And bon voyage while you’re at it!