A European Staycation in Your Own Backyard
Are you as hungry as I am for a European vacation? I had planned to return to France this summer, but that’s out of the question. International travel is banned, and even day trips and domestic road trips have their risks. The only safe travel is a staycation. So, I started to think: How could I experience the joys of European travel in my own backyard?
Imagining a world with no pandemic, I thought about what I’d be doing as I slow traveled abroad and realized that some of my favorite activities are easy to replicate at home. Here are a few ideas to help you create your own European-style staycation.
Cook up a European feast
Savoring the local cuisine is a sensual part of the European experience, and it’s one you can recreate so easily. Whether you’re cooking for your family or just for yourself, a beautiful meal will make you feel like you’ve traveled thousands of miles.
Fix a variety of Pintxos and pretend you're in San Sebastian, Spain. Bake some cardamom buns for a Swedish breakfast. Have an English tea in the garden. You get the idea. Pick the country of your choice, search for recipes online, shop for ingredients and try your hand at creating regional specialties.
Don’t forget to buy European wines, ciders and beers to enhance the mood. Most groceries have a fine selection of wines from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
Most importantly, linger over your meal. For Europeans, every meal is an experience and an opportunity to appreciate good food in the company of good friends and family. Eat slowly and enjoy! And if you’re eating along, enjoy your meal while watching a European movie. See “Watch a foreign film” below.
Shop at a farmer’s market
Europeans enjoy buying their produce fresh from the farm. If you can do so safely (with everyone wearing a mask and practicing social distancing), shop at a local outdoor farmer’s market. Shopping at open-air markets (marche ouvert in France) is one of my favorite activities in Europe.
Have a European picnic
Bring all the treasures from your farmer’s market shopping to a local park, your backyard or your balcony, and dine al fresco. If folks outside of your home are joining you, be sure to keep your distance. Bring dishes to share and your own tablecloth.
Choose simple foods like freshly baked bread, cheese, seasonal fruits and berries. Supplement it with European items from the grocery, such as olives and summer sausage. Prepare fresh salads like French celery root remoulade, German potato salad, Italian Caprese or a classic Greek salad. To create a French picnic experience all I need is a fresh baguette, good French cheese, olives and a pretty tablecloth. Follow your leisure meal with a cup of coffee or a nap — or both.
Top if off with some European pastries from your local bakery. In Portland we have several French boulangeries and a German bakery. In my hometown of Geneva, IL there is a traditional Swedish bakery. If you don’t have a local bakery, try your hand at creating your own English tea cakes, Dutch Poffertjes or your favorite cookies, pastries and desserts.
Beyond the food, there are more ways to create a European staycation.
Learn about the local culture and language
One of the biggest perks of travel is gaining a first-hand knowledge of the local culture and customs. Now is a great time to get a head start and read about the culture of the country you plan to visit once it’s safe to do so.
Immerse yourself in the country’s language by spending a day or evening with your family speaking only in that country's native tongue. Create flash cards so everyone can learn simple phrases.
Have a country-themed Zoom party
Put your new-found knowledge to use and invite your friends to an evening in France, Spain or Belgium. Invite them to learn about the country and bring along some interesting facts, customs and history to share. Put it into a quiz format and test each other’s knowledge. Each person can create a local dish, share it virtually and send the recipe. It’s a great way to learn about the everyday lives of people in another country and to be better prepared for your next travel adventure.
Travel vicariously through memoirs
I’m currently devouring every travel memoir I can find about Americans traveling to France for several months and/or having a part-time home in France. I enjoy reading memoirs where the author has traveled to some of the same places I’ve spent time in. It’s interesting to see the experience through someone else’s eyes and it’s like living that moment all over again.
Watch a foreign film
Spend an evening watching an award-winning European movie. There are many great films available on streaming services with subtitles. Watching foreign films not only familiarizes you with the country’s language, but with the scenery, local customs, culture and the citizens' everyday lives. It’s a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the European experience and a perfect finale to your European staycation.