They say that travel broadens the mind. But if a trip around the world doesn’t fit your current financial plans, taking a head-trip to a faraway place can be the next best thing to being there.
If you have the travel bug without the travel budget to match, take a virtual vacation through the pages of a descriptive novel or through the aroma of a traditional ethnic dish. Engaging the senses of sight, sound, smell, and taste can make you feel like you’ve taken a journey across distance and time without leaving the comfort of your own home.
For an authentic armchair travel experience, choose a favorite foreign country and spend a weekend enjoying films, books, songs, and recipes that will satisfy your wanderlust. Read on for some creative suggestions to get you started on your virtual adventures.
Virtual Vacation to Italy
Watch this: If you can’t see Rome through your own eyes, you might as well see it through the eyes of Audrey Hepburn as she cruises through the city on a Vespa in Roman Holiday. Or, bask in the sweet life of the Italian countryside in Under the Tuscan Sun. For a fun caper film, catch The Italian Job, which features an incredible Mini Cooper car chase set in the streets of Turin, Italy.
Read this: For an entertainingly honest account of everyday life in Verona, Italy, pick up Tim Parks’ memoir Italian Neighbors. Or, step back in time and experience the passion and romance of Victorian Florence in A Room with a View.
Listen to this: The smooth voice of Dean Martin crooning the classics on his CD Italian Love Songs sets the tone for a romantic Italian dinner.
- Bruschetta with Gorgonzola Cheese and Honey
- Braciole (Cheese-stuffed Flank Steaks)
- Penne with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
Virtual Vacation to India
Watch this: There are few countries in the world that have a movie culture as vibrant as that of the Bollywood film scene. The result is wonderfully vivid movies. Some popular films include Monsoon Wedding, which offers a brilliant depiction of Punjabi family traditions, and City of Joy, which follows a rural family as they transition to a new life in Kolkata.
Read this: With its rich history and broadly diverse culture, India offers great inspiration for novelists and historians alike. The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell covers the native uprising against the British in Victorian India. If you are in the mood for drama on a smaller scale, check out Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, which chronicles the consequences of forbidden love in southern India.
Listen to this: For a broad compilation of India’s best iconic music, check out the Best of Bollywood album. From there, you can pinpoint a few artists or composers that you prefer. You may also enjoy the unique audio undulations created by composer A.R. Rahman, who also composed the music for Slumdog Millionaire.
Virtual Vacation to Ireland
Watch this: Get lost in a mystical fairy tale that unfolds in a quaint Irish town in The Secret of Roan Inish. On a lighter note, have a laugh with The Matchmaker, a romantic comedy that captures the wit and charm of the Irish people. Or, go the classic route and watch John Wayne woo Maureen O’Hara against the backdrop of an emerald-green Ireland in The Quiet Man.
Read this: Alice Taylor’s To School Through the Fields is a charming and delightful memoir of the author’s childhood on a farm in Ireland.
Listen to this: The five talented women of Irish ensemble Celtic Woman capture the heart of the most beloved songs of Ireland with stirringly beautiful voices.
- Smoked Salmon on Irish Soda Bread with Chive Butter
- Roasted Root Vegetable Irish Lamb Stew
Virtual Vacation to Australia
Watch this: Australia, starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, shows the natural beauty of the untamed landscape of Northern Australia, as well as the wild side of early 20th century Aussie life. Another fantastic movie set in Australia is Strictly Ballroom, which offers a funny, interesting, over-the-top, and original look at the world of ballroom dancing.
Read this: When you are in the mood for epic family drama, read the classic 70’s bestseller The Thorn Birds, which chronicles the lives of multiple generations of Australian sheep farmers. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to walk amongst the Aboriginal tribes of the outback, check out Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan.
Listen to this: For an Australian collection that includes everything from Waltzing Matilda to The Drovers Dream to Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport, pick up Bush Songs from the Australian Outback, performed by the Aussie Bush Band, available on Amazon.com.
Virtual Vacation to Spain
Watch this: Pedro Almodovar’s Volver is a tragedy/comedy that blends reality with the unbelievable in the colorful town of La Mancha. Or, enjoy the art and architecture of Barcelona and the lush Catalan countryside in Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona. The provocative plot may not be for everyone, but the beauty of the film’s backdrop is undeniable.
Read this: Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia is Chris Stewart’s hilarious memoir about moving to an isolated farmhouse outside of Granada, Spain. Or, unravel a superbly entertaining mystery set in Barcelona in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind.
Listen to this: Close your eyes while listening to highly acclaimed guitarist David Russell’s Reflections of Spain and you can imagine yourself sitting outside a café in Madrid watching the world go by.
Virtual Vacation to England
Watch this: Take a stroll through the shimmering English countryside with a young and witty, if somewhat romanticized version of Jane Austen in Becoming Jane. Or, have a laugh and get a taste of modern-day London with the recently released “Romantic Favorites” DVD collection, featuring Love Actually, Bridget Jones Diary, About a Boy, and Notting Hill.
Read this: Whether you’re a film buff or an anglophile, Tony Reeves’ Movie London will take you through the streets of London via the many movies that have been shot in this oft-filmed city.
Listen to this: A head-trip to England wouldn’t be complete without the sounds of the “fab four” floating in the background. The Beatles album One features all of the songs that hit #1 on the charts in either the U.S. or the U.K.
Virtual Vacation to France
Watch this: Travel down the Seine with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade. Or, follow another charming Audrey (Tautou) as she wanders through the streets of Paris in Amelie.
Read this: Follow Peter Mayle to the south of France as he chronicles his colorful, quaint, and often unpredictable Year in Provence. Or, delight in the sweet life of Paris in the 1920’s in Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.
Listen to this: The Voice of the Sparrow, a collection of Edith Piaf’s most beloved songs, showcases the soulful talent of the songbird of France. Or, pour yourself a cup of café au lait and relax to the light and sensual voice of Carla Bruni on her original album Quelqu’un M’a Dit.
Virtual Vacation to Brazil
Watch this: When you’re in the mood for something light, Road to Rio is a delightful 1947 comedy featuring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. For a more modern flick, check out Hugh Laurie as he plays a Samba fanatic who catches his wife with another man in The Girl from Rio.
Read this: Rachael King’s The Sound of Butterflies is a captivating thriller that takes you on a sumptuous journey through the Amazon at the beginning of the twentieth century. Bossa Nova, by Ruy Castro, explains how a handful of Rio de Janeiro teenagers changed the face of popular culture around the world.
Listen to this: Beth Carvalho is arguably the queen of Samba and her CD Gold offers an excellent sampling of her Samba hits.
Virtual Vacation to Greece
Watch this: Mamma Mia was filmed on the sunny Greek island of Skopelos, with rows of white houses overlooking the sparkling waters of the Aegean Sea. Breathtakingly beautiful scenery, combined with the feel-good songs of ABBA, make this movie a lighthearted escape from reality.
Read this: One would never guess that the flora and fauna of the Greek island of Corfu could be described in such a side-splittingly funny way as it is in Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals.
Listen to this: Thousands of years of Greek history and culture have influenced the songs on Rough Guide to Music of Greece. Sip some ouzo and enjoy this diverse compilation of eastern Mediterranean music.
Virtual Vacation to the Alps
Watch this: Whether you’ve never seen it or you know all of the words to every song, The Sound of Music showcases the pristine Alpine beauty that transcends the muddled political turmoil plaguing the countries below. For more adrenaline and less melody, you might pick up the classic 007 adventure, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Read this: In one of his most tumultuous periods, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender is the Night, set in the Swiss Alps, where his wife was being treated for schizophrenia. You might also enjoy The Magic Mountain, which details the recuperation of a tuberculosis patient at an Alpine sanatorium housing a smorgasbord of patients in pre-war Europe.
Listen to this: To truly immerse yourself in the Alpine sounds of the snowy peaks, listen to traditional yodeling and alphorn playing, such as that displayed in the Volk and Jodel Meisters album, available on Amazon.com.
We are lucky to live in a time when we can learn so much about other places and cultures from the comfort of our own home.
Is there a book, film, song, or recipe that transports you to a different place? Share your armchair travel suggestions by adding a comment below.