How to travel without traveling

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Traveling can be expensive and hard to do. I’ve come across countless articles about how you can travel the world on a budget or even free if you put your mind to it, but what a lot of those authors don’t really completely understand, as great as their ideas worked for them and hundreds of others, sometimes it just doesn’t work for everyone.

It definitely doesn’t work for me. Why? I’ll tell you. Two words. Student. Loans.

I put a lot of money into getting my education. A lot. Enough to be paying over $700 a month in student loan bills. And those are just the ones that I couldn’t go into forbearance on. Hopefully they are a bit more lenient when I’m employed under 20 hrs a week in a few short weeks. Some loan organizations won’t let you maintain forbearance for long. I mean, its not the best option there is, but sometimes it is the only thing you can do to stay afloat and keep a roof over your head and food on the table.

You can’t just avoid paying them for the rest of your life and this is what makes traveling long term, for me, so hard. If I was paying less or not at all, it wouldn’t be that difficult for me to work as much as possible and then just go, making sure that I had enough to sustain payments until I got back or found work outside of the US.

But my reality is that I can’t quite do that yet.

So, for me and everyone else stuck in this position, this post is for you! The lovers of trying new things and going new places. Those dreaming of just packing a backpack and heading to the airport to venture out to wherever you end up be it Bali, Thailand, or Australia, don’t lose all hope!

Here is a list of ways that I’ve found to incorporate ‘travel’ in my every day life and I don’t just mean riding MUNI to work every day.


I learned about Postcrossing from this article on being international at home from Matador Network. Basically you sign up and create a limited profile with your address and post cards you’re interested in. You can let people know what you want to hear about – maybe you’ll use this to compile a list of books you want to read or international movies to watch. Maybe you want to collect postcards that are only black and white or only cats, or in the case of one woman, toilets – whatever floats your boat.  You provide your address and then away you go.

You request an address and then after that first postcard is sent, you’re address is released to someone so that they can send you one. Generally you will send more postcards than you received.

As more of your sent postcards are received, you are eligible to have more than one traveling at a time. After your first 5, you can then have 2 traveling, etc.

You send them everywhere and get them from everywhere. Its amazing the people you can meet and reach out to. Sometimes I include my favorite quotes on them! I compiled a box of mine the other day. Most of my received postcards are from Germany and the Netherlands and range from nature shots, to famous scientists, to street art.

My postcrossing stats so far

You can even request or be open to direct swaps – which I am and which is how I met my pen pal from Croatia!

Everyone loves getting old fashion mail (at least they should) and Postcrossing is a wonderful way to work on your language skills and to meet people from across the world.


Couchsurfing is probably the best known and cheapest (It’s FREE) way to get to know people from all over your country and the world. I joined Couchsurfing back in 2008, but wasn’t active at all until very recently.

I have moved a lot in the last year and a half and while I knew people in each city, sometimes it was hard to meet new people or to branch out from your normal group of friends. My friend in Pittsburgh, used Couchsurfing when she traveled the U.S. and is an active member of the Pittsburgh community. She recommended me firing up my account again to meet some new people.

Basically you sign up for an account and then from there you can use it in a few different ways. You can find more information on those different options here. The people at Couchsurfing can explain it way better than I can!

How do I use it to travel? Well right now, I don’t host. I’m not in a living situation suitable to hosting people, but I do try and attend community events when I can. On the 10th, the San Francisco community had a pot luck in Alamo Square. I discussed this in my post about being a yes person and met some really great people – one of which I see regularly.

Hosting or just attending events or showing someone around is an amazing way to meet new people who are visiting from all over. It’s also a great way to meet people in the area. The SF forum is full of people posting events they want to attend or suggesting a day picnic or hiking trip in the area. Its a wonderful Free way to stay active and in touch with people from all over the world. Definitely a great way to live vicariously through other people!

Travel and Foreign Films

Sometimes a great movie about traveling or a great foreign film is all you need to feel a bit better about being stuck at home. Then again, sometimes it makes the wanderlust explode exponentially.

Grab some popcorn or ethnic snacks and some friends – or veg out solo and check out some of my favorites.

Into The Wild – Based on the journal of Christopher McCandless, this movie follows Chris (Emile Hirsch) as he leaves behind his ivy league education and generous bank account to explore the U.S. and then make his way to live in the Alaskan wilderness in an abandoned van he finds. This movie makes you want to just pick up and go live with the bears and moose in Alaska. Well, for me it does!

The Art of Travel – After his wedding plans are foiled, Conner (Christopher Masterson) takes off along on his honeymoon in Central America where he runs into a group of travelers making their way through the Darien Gap in record time.

180o South
A Map For Saturday
Seven Years In Tibet
The Beach
The Darjeerling Limited
Lost In Translation
Before Sunrise
Eat Pray Love
Slumdog Millionaire
City of God
Under the Tuscan Sun

Ok, I had better stop of I’ll never finish this post! Long list shortish, there are a ton of amazing movies out there about travel. Into the Wild and The Art of Travel are two of my personal favorites, but any number of the movies listed are amazing and then some. Just pick one, two, or more and make an evening or rainy day of it!

The written word

No, I’m not talking about travel guides – though Ive been known to leaf through them. I’m talking about creative non-fiction or even fiction about travel and/or Web sites with a travel focus.

Sometimes I’ll go to my favorite local used book store here in SF (Dog Eared Books – its on Valencia and 20th in the Mission – one of my favorite neighborhoods in SF) and just peruse all of the non-fiction travel books. Its an easy way to pass time, but dangerous when I’m surrounded by so many cheap and wonderful books! I can’t go in without buying at least one three.

If you don’t know about GoodReads and love to read, check it out. You can search through user-made lists of books that fit within genres. By checking out Listopia and searching for travel, I found two lists of over 300 books each for traveling vicariously. On these lists you’ll find both creative non fiction and fiction books dealing with travel and foreign lands.

Another option is adding travel-related websites to your Google reader. My personal favorite is The Matador Network. Here you can view videos, photos, and articles about traveling and living in other countries.

If you’re like me, you don’t want to hear about the 5 star hotels that so and so stayed at and the tourist things you just have to do – you want culture and real life stories and dusty hostels. Maybe I’m just weird! Matador Network offers a great inside look into traveling and even have separate writers who talk about traveling and surfing or biking.

WordPress is a wonder. You can search through topics and find thousands of people who write about their traveling experiences. You can even search for those who combine multiple topics that you enjoy – photography & Travel or Food & Travel. I love going to the WordPress homepage and seeing who is publishing about where I want to go and what I want to do. Its a great way to live vicariously through someone or you may even meet someone who managed to work through road blocks like yours to allow them to have these experiences.


Say what?! I know that is what you’re thinking. But seriously! If you’re on OkCupid, you can do a global search for both men and women who are interested in finding a pen pal or new friends. It’s a really random way to meet people who are interested in similar things and who live in other parts of the country or world. I know it sounds a bit weird, but I’ve met people and have chatted with a few others who have pen pals and long distance friendships which developed online through OkCupid.

Safe Travels!

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.


2 thoughts on “How to travel without traveling

    TPPIII said:
    July 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    How can you leave out Bill Bryson’s “Neither here nor there”?!? I read that and want to buy a train ticket to travel all of Europe. The LotR quote at the end is a nice touch.

      paperballpotluck responded:
      July 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm

      The only Bill Bryson book I’ve read thus far is A Walk In The Woods, which I’ve heard is his best. Though the rest of his works are on my to-read list.

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