Vicarious Travel: How to Make the Most Out of Other People’s Travels

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When I first stopped being a full-time traveler, it drove me insanely jealous to see and read about friends who were traveling.

Fortunately, I’ve now discovered that I enjoy the fact that my friends are traveling, get something for me out of it and turn that jealousy into something almost as good as being on the road myself.

Here are my tips so that you can do the same:

Make Plans To Travel

For me, one of the most important things is to have a trip planned sometime in the future. Depending on your circumstances this might be quite far into the future, but it should be there as a goal – even if it’s for fifteen years’ time when your kids have graduated! Set a travel goal and regularly do something tangible toward reaching it, whether that’s reading up on your destination, dreaming up itineraries or putting money away in a trip savings account.

Of course, you can also make plans for small-scale travel in the meantime – something that fits in with your family and financial circumstances. Even though I’ve lived in several countries and visited some exotic places, I still enjoy a trip to a small country town an hour or two away from where I live.

Once you’ve got this in place — a way to combat the “what if I never go anywhere again?!” blues — then there are heaps of ways you can love traveling vicariously.

Woman Looking Out from Baclayon Church, Philippines
Woman Looking Out from Baclayon Church, Philippines © Salim Al-Harthy

Be an Interested Friend

Remember how frustrating it is when you want to tell people about your travels and nobody wants to hear? Be different for your traveling friends. Ask them questions, look at their photos and enjoy their stories.

People in general have a terrible habit of assuming other people’s experiences are not as interesting as their own. But if you aim to get a good sense of what your friend has done on their trip, you’ll probably get a lot out of your conversation.

Keep a Map or Atlas Handy

When your friends are on the road or are busy planning a trip, ask them for details about their itinerary and follow their route on a map. It can be interesting to see how far they travel in a certain time frame, which places they choose (and choose not) to visit, and to compare their traveling style to yours.

You’ll either refresh your geography or become familiar with a new region and keen travelers will inevitably enjoy this. When I hear from friends who are traveling I often head straight online to look up their location and compare it to the places I know.

Stay in Touch

While your friends are traveling, stay in touch with them. For me, following a trip “live” is the most exciting way to travel vicariously. Nearly everyone who travels these days will spend a little time online, at least reading and sending emails or updating their Facebook account. My favorites are those who find time to upload a collection of their photos somewhere online as well.

Make the effort to stay in touch – even if all you send is a quick “Where are you now? Thinking of you!” email – and you’ll be rewarded with some up-to-the-minute descriptions of the animals they saw in Kenya or the most delicious dessert they’ve just eaten in Italy.

Perhaps the ultimate way to stay in touch is by encouraging your friend to write a blog while they’re traveling. If they’re not already bloggers, it’s so easy to set up and is a great way to share stories and photos with everyone they already know and everyone they meet along the way. You can leave comments on their blog and easily look back to catch up on their travels if you drop out of touch for a while.

Alone in the Wild in Ross Lake, Washington
Alone in the Wild © Dave Morrow

Let Them Research For You

You can also see your friends’ trips as research for your future travels. Take a note of their recommendations if they’re traveling to destinations which you’d also like to visit. This can be a great way to discover the perfect hotel or restaurant, perhaps just because your friend stumbled into it by accident.

Even if they’re traveling somewhere that’s not really on your want-to-visit list, follow along because you might find yourself fascinated by their destination and suddenly keen to get there too.

Learn from Their Mistakes

Likewise, if a friend heads off somewhere that sounds great but turns out to be a dump, you can feel very glad that you’ve only been following along at home and delete that spot from your future travel plans. You can learn all kinds of things from the mistakes that your friends will inevitably make while traveling.

For example, if they totally skip travel insurance and end up in hospital somewhere, or find out that in some parts of South America there’s really nobody who speaks English and they should have at least brought a Spanish phrase book.

The list is endless – so if you’re chatting to them about their trip and they’re good enough to mention their mistakes, keep them in mind and follow their advice. Of course, if they’re traveling somewhere you’ve already been it’s perfectly okay to offer your own advice and tips too, as long as you don’t get preachy about it.

Let Them Enjoy Their Turn

I have to admit that I don’t always follow my own advice and if life is getting on top of me here (too much work, not enough sleep with a toddler around, no chance to do a big trip in sight), I do actually feel a bit too jealous of some of my friends who are able to travel at the moment. And sometimes I even tell them so – but I shouldn’t.

I’m so lucky to have had many fantastic trips in my life, and I’m sure in the future I’ll get to travel to some even more exciting places. Now it’s their turn – and you should let them enjoy it by encouraging them and wanting to know all about it.

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