In these pandemic times, if you’re reluctant to travel abroad but still yearn to explore the world, opportunities to expand your horizons are nearer to home than you think.
There’s no doubt about it: The COVID pandemic has made many of us, regardless of our vaccination and booster status, reluctant to travel on vacation via plane or other form of mass transportation. This can make visiting many foreign locations out of the question. And yet, we still want to explore unfamiliar places and cultures. Perhaps you feel this way, too.
So what can you do?
As the French author Marcel Proust once wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Fortunately, no matter where you live, you can find experiences within a reasonable distance by car that will provide you with new insights and new landscapes—and all without the need of a passport!
A good place to look for exciting travel ideas is a tourism bureau. Every state, including Washington, has one. To start you off, here are four directions on which to set your sights. Think of them as the North, East, South, and West of easy and fun discovery!
North: New Terrain
One of the most obvious options for exploration is to visit a place that’s geographically different from where you live.
Are you a city dweller? Then consider venturing out to rural areas, especially those orchards and farms where you canpick your own fruits and vegetables. You might also check out some of the more than 1,000 wineries in the state where you can see how the local grape varieties are grown and harvested—and taste the results.
If you live along the coast, take a trip to the mountains, or vice versa. In other words, literally seek out a change of scenery. Washington’s state and national parks offer countless opportunities for camping, fishing, hiking, and other kinds of outdoor recreation. And if you feel particularly adventurous, you can tour Gardner Cave in Crawford State Park or bike the Cascade Trail.
Of course, if you already live in a rural area, treat yourself to a day trip or a stay in Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, or another city, where artistic, cultural, and culinary experiences await to delight you.
East: Ethnic Festivals
If for now you are opting not to venture to foreign lands, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore their art, music, dance, customs, and food. Going to ethnic festivals is a great way to bring those cultural gems to you.
As it turns out, one place offers a cornucopia of such experiences. The Seattle Center Festál presents 24 free in-person, virtual, or hybrid festivals throughout the year, including Arabian, Brazilian, Tibetan, Italian, Latin American, Hmong, and Irish celebrations. Needless to say, its 2022 theme, “Where the World Gathers,” is an understatement.
South: Specialty Museums & Fairs
Of course, you may want to do a different kind of long-distance exploration—traveling back in time. If that strikes your fancy, you can catch the last weekend of the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Fair in Bonney Lake and enjoy jousting, dancing, and other revelry in the fantasy town of Merriwick.
For a living history experience closer to home, consider a visit to Tacoma’s Fort Nisqually to experience what life was like at a fur-trading outpost in 1855. Or visit the Maritime Heritage Center in Anacortes and climb aboard the W.T. Preston, the last sternwheeler to work in Puget Sound.
If you enjoy viewing collections of one kind or another, depending on your interests, there may be a nearby specialty museum with you in mind. Consider these examples:
Are vintage cars your thing? If so, you’ll want to visit LeMay–America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, housing 300+ domestic and foreign cars going back as far as a century.
Are you a Bing Crosby fan? Check out the crooner’s boyhood house in Spokane on the campus of his alma mater, Gonzaga University, where you can view more than 200 objects, including photos, paintings, his gold records, and the Oscar he won for the 1944 film Going My Way.
For the handicrafter in you, there’s the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum, housed in the 1891 Gaches Mansion in La Conner, which exhibits work by national and international fiber artists, and hosts the Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival each October.
West: Worship Experiences
Visiting any of the aforementioned places most likely requires you to get in your car and drive at least some distance. But one form of exploration—of the spiritual kind—may be within walking distance of your home.
This may sound like a strange option, but think about this: We will eagerly make plans to spend our time, money, and energy traveling to other countries and, upon our return, eagerly share our experiences with family and friends. But attend services in unfamiliar houses of worship and make such visits an occasional or regular practice? That thought may never enter our minds.
Yet, if the point of travel is to expand our understanding of the world, setting foot inside a church, temple, mosque, shrine, or other form of sanctuary can be a fascinating, insightful, and rewarding experience. All one needs is a curious mind and an open heart.
In addition to houses of worship in your area, you might want to consider other Washington sites and organizations such as the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, a Jinja Shinto sacred site in Granite Falls; the Sravasti Abbey, a Buddhist monastery in Newport; the Muslim Association of Puget Sound in Redmond; and the Hindu Temple and Cultural Centerin Bothell.
It goes without saying that this kind of journey involves an awareness of etiquette, more than the basic kind that we should display when we are visitors in a foreign country. Spiritual places require greater conscientiousness and respect. It’s helpful to contact in advance the house of worship you are planning to visit. Ask about any specific requirements of clothing and behavior. To make the visit extra special as an educational experience, consider attending the service with someone you know who practices that religion.
So there you have it, four directions to ponder as you navigate planning your current travel. Wherever your not-so-distant explorations take you in these ever-challenging times, know that there are lots of enriching experiences awaiting you. And the great news is, you don’t need a passport. All that’s required is the Proustian adventurous urge to see these landscapes through “new eyes.”
Jeanette Leardi is a Portland-based social gerontologist, writer, editor, and community educator who has a passion for older adult empowerment. She gives popular presentations and workshops in journaling, memoir writing, ethical will creation, brain fitness, creativity, ageism, intergenerational communication, and caregiver support to people of all ages. Learn more about her work at jeanetteleardi.com.