Traveling Safely Through Stories

Maybe you had it all planned out down to the outfits you were going to pack. Or maybe there was never any follow-through when it came to your summer vacation. Either way, Americans are pretty much staying put and most trips are off-limits for the time being—but we can still travel using our imaginations! Here are a few ideas including books, movies, and even virtual tours to help inspire your wanderlust while you’re at home. And hey, you never know when the next major vacay is around the corner (we’re looking at you, 2021), so hold on to these deets for a later date, too.

If You Wish You Were Somewhere in England

Whether it’s the rolling hills of Austen country or the achingly hip nabes of London, we sure do miss “Old Blighty” (that’s the UK in British slang, if you didn’t already know it). Repurpose a portion of the funds leftover from the voyage that wasn’t into streaming UK-centric movies instead. All-time British faves like Bridget Jones’s Diary—who can resist Colin Firth and Hugh Grant together?—are certified comfort viewing. Lesser-known but visually sumptuous, the movie The Duchess with Keira Knightly is based on a best-selling non-fiction book and stuns the eyes with stately homes and charming villages galore.

For a transporting read, you can always turn to beloved female-led tomes from the literary cannon like Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen or Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. It’s also worth checking out contemporary classics like White Teeth by Zadie Smith or Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman for followers of the urban fantasy genre, both of which take place in London. Don’t discount the grand dame of British mystery, either: while Agatha Christie’s books can be a bit dated in some ways, you’ll still fly through the pages trying to guess whodunnit!

If you don’t have time to spare on a lengthy novel, plenty of beloved British books have been adapted for the big and small screens. Case in point: the charming Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, a bestselling comedic parody of rural life and romance from 1932, was made into a movie starring Kate Bekinsale in the mid-1990s before she went all Hollywood on us. You could play a “spot the now-famous celebrity” drinking game while watching it if you have a high tolerance, since it’s packed with a veritable Who’s Who of British actors. (Oh, hey there, Sir Ian McKellen!) There’s also historical fiction aka: bodice-rippers, like the books in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. These have been turned into a celebrated television series that’s worth watching for the costumes alone, never mind the insane chemistry between lead actors Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan.

Finally, indulge in a little virtual adventure with a 360-degree VR tour of Stonehenge or do a walkthrough of the Roman Baths of, um...Bath, you know...the historic city situated in the county of Somerset. The best part: there’s not a chance your hair will get wet.

If You Wish You Were Somewhere in France

Mais non, we Americans are not yet allowed to visit anywhere inside L’Hexagone (the French nickname for their country, which looks like six-sided polygon when outlined on a map). We can, however, quell the yen for all things France-related through alternative means.

A Moveable Feast, a vibrant account of Ernest Hemingway’s time in Paris during the Roaring Twenties, will help you understand why his books are required reading in the U.S. Another great choice is My Life in France by Julia Child. This one will give you a chef’s perspective and a taste of Paris and Marseille during the post-war years, escargot not included. If you’re dreaming about fields of lavender and long afternoons full of rosé, try Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. Though written in 1989, this hilarious account of a British man’s first year establishing a new life in the South of France definitely holds up. If you’re more interested in adopting French women’s seemingly effortless way of life, dig into the non-fiction How to be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits. Laced with tongue-in-cheek suggestions as well as actionable advice, this off-the-cuff guide was written by an ultra-chic quartet of authors—Caroline de Maigret, Anne Berest, Sophie Mas, and Audrey Diwan—some of which you may already be following on Instagram.

If you’re not into cracking open the spine of a book these days (or your Kindle has no storage left), consider a visit to France through film. French-language movies like Breathless from 1960 features screen legends Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. It’s not only a seminal work of New Wave cinema—it’s also strong motivation to crop your hair to pixie length and start wearing striped tops. (Not trivializing, just saying!) Another one to stream that will both delight and inspire more hair envy, Amélie made a star of Audrey Tautou in 2001. The movie remains so popular that it continues inspiring legions of tourists to tromp around Montmartre, the charming neighborhood in Paris where the scene is set.

English-language essential viewing like Julie & Julia from 2009 switches between the contemporary New York City life of Julie Powell and the midcentury French adventures of Julia Child. It actually incorporates some of the stories from My Life in France, her book we mentioned above! Other options like 2000’s Chocolat with Johnny Depp in his prime, and 2011’s Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson will complete your journey with enough French bonhomie and cobblestone streets to last you until you’re there in the flesh.

If You Wish You Were Somewhere in The Caribbean

While some islands in the Caribbean are now open for tourism, that doesn’t mean you should be visiting them right now. Regulations vary from place to place, but it’s probably a good idea to push back any travel plans. We know it’s a tough ask, but those crystal-blue waters and sugar-fine beaches will still be there next year! For the time being, put yourself into a tropical mindset with a diet of movies, books, television and experiences that serve as a virtual portal to a sandy paradise.

Start your trip to the islands via the page with Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. This novel debuted in 1966—more than a century after Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre was published—and serves as a kind of prequel to that story. Remember Mr. Rochester’s mad first wife who was locked away in the attic of Thornfield Hall? Here we have the backstory of her young life as a Creole heiress in Jamaica and her honeymoon with Mr. R on the island of Dominica, before her eventual confinement in rural England. For a more contemporary true-story travel tale that’s pure entertainment, read 2005’s An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude, by Ann Vanderhoof. The Canadian author recounts how she and her husband decided to embark on a two-year-long sailing voyage through 47 islands in the Caribbean, sipping rum and nibbling conch in luscious detail along the way. Mystery fans should check out A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel by Marlon James. Set mainly in Kingston, Jamaica, this is a work of fiction that builds on a real-life event—an attempt on Reggae icon Bob Marley’s life in 1976—so well that it won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2015.

Cinemaholics can spend their island faux-cation gazing at a young, extremely dapper Sean Connery in Dr. No, the first of his career-defining appearances as James Bond. Most of the action in this 1966 film takes place in Jamaica, including the iconic beach scene where Honey Rider (played by Ursula Andress in an enduringly chic white bikini) emerges from the water. Even after multiple viewings, we have yet to understand how Agent 007 kept his suit so clean throughout his many tussles with SPECTRE. Another beach-centric film that offers adventure and suspense, Into the Blue from back in 2005 stars Jessica Alba and Paul Walker. This flick takes place in the Bahamas and weaves sunken treasure, stolen drugs, crooked cops, and sharks into the storyline. Fun fact: the crew was surrounded by actual live Caribbean reef sharks in the water while filming—no CGI antics to be seen here! Also, we can’t not mention the multi-year-spanning Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Our advice? Just relax and go with it: no one’s expecting Oscar material when they watch movies based on a theme-park ride. They’re light on plot and meaning, but heavy on escapism.

Finally, while we all have to settle for the local dock, lakefront, or blow-up pool these days, a short VR tour of the beach at Trunk Bay on St. John or a longer 30-minute virtual tour of Aruba’s coast, interior, and aquatic life is sure to put viewers on island time in no time.

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