My horoscope for Oct 18 was: Travel is on your mind right now, especially trips to far off lands overseas. [duh – when is it not?] But if you can’t exactly afford to take the time or spend that kind of cash right now, then you will just have to satisfy your wanderlust in a more creative fashion. [this is why I am writing this series] Pick up a bestselling novel set in an exotic location. Rent a documentary about one of your ‘must see’ spots. Go eat in a restaurant that serves food from your favorite country. You don’t have to invest a lot of time or money to give yourself an escape.
The stars have said it. It may not cure the travel bug, but it will indulge it a bit. Here are five ways to turn you TV into a travel experience.
1. Language Learning DVDs. Children learn language differently than adults, so a good DVD will not have a lot of translation, but rather situations using the basic language of a child. Pick a language which has memories from a past trip or is spoken in a place you would like to visit. Avoid the big series like “Muzzy” or “Little Pim.” They may be great for language learning, but they often miss the cultural dimension. Look for DVDs produced in the country where the language is spoken, or niche videos. Production quality may be lacking, but they are more interesting.
One of our favorites is Play and Learn Chinese with Mei Mei Vol.5 Let’s Go to School with Mei Mei. In addition to picking up some Chinese, you get to experience a day in a Chinese school. Some of the other Chinese DVDs we thought were ‘interesting’ are Baby China (Surreal) and Baby Learns Chinese (Made in HK with bizarre animation).
2. Foreign language movies or TV shows. –Just change the soundtrack on the DVDs your kids watch all the time. Disney is very good about multiple languages so try Bear en la Gran Casa Azul or Caillou in the original French. It can make a well-worn DVD fresh and parents and children will pick up a little of the language. You can watch the foreign language and cultural infused TV such as Ni Hao Kai Lan or Dora the Explorer (be careful with Dora as the merchansising could suck in you child and she will be asking for her Dora suitcase). One of my favorites is just picking up random foreign language children’s videos at the library, especially Hindi language programs with great music and lots of color.
3. Documentaries – Without the constraints of character-driven plot, documentaries use beautiful visuals and music to communicate the spirit of a place. I find them one of the richest ways to experience a place without actually going, but, they also motivate me to go. Additionally, documentaries are easier to watch in small chunks which is great for distractable toddlers.
- Planet Earth, Blue Planet – these BBC productions are a spectacular way to visit the natural world. I always end up going to the beach (or craving sushi) after certain segments of Blue Planet.
- Endless Summer – The surf movie. Even if you are not interested in surfing, they travel all over the world. This movie put South Africa on my list of places to visit.
- Michael Palin: Around the World in 80 Days (and Palin’s other travel documentaries). Adventure with humor is a wonderful combination.
- Buena Vista Social Club. Music that captivates kids and grown-ups alike, plus a view of Cuba that will tempt you to figure out how to visit.
- Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. Ken Burns’s documentary on one of the first great American road trips.
- IMAX movies on DVD: Nile, Serengeti, Galapagos, Yellowstone, and many more destinations are available on DVD. These are the same films you saw on vacation at the museum.
4. Travel movies. You probably have your favorite travel movie that gives you the itch to go somewhere. There are plenty of family movies that will inspire and entertain. Some of my favorites are:
- Big Bird in Japan, Big Bird in China – Oldies but goodies with your favorite Sesame Street characters visiting Japan and China.
- Cave of the Yellow Dog, The Story of the Weeping Camel – Two beautiful movies from Mongolia. While subtitled, you don’t need dialog to understand the story or enjoy the landscapes and culture (and beautiful children).
- Lilo & Stitch – Nothing like a surfing movie to get you in the spirit of a beach vacation. Lilo and Stitch makes me feel like I am in Haleiwa.
- Bride & Prejudice – Bright colors, music and dancing with keep the kids engaged. Parents will enjoy the interpretation of the classic story and the views of India. (I now plan to visit the Golden Temple in Armitsar on my visit to India, hopefully in 2010.)
- Myazaki films (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, The Cat Returns) – While Myazaki’s magic is in the magic of his movies, I am continually impressed in how he so accurately and beautifully depicts day to day life for Japanese families. (As well as the Japanese image of Europe)
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – The ultimate family “road” trip movie.
5. Videos from your own trips – Despite how much footage we take when traveling, we don’t spend enough time watching it. Get out the popcorn, plug in the video camera and spend an evening reliving a previous trip.
Note: Most of these DVDs should be available at your local library or video rental service (for free or a small fee). For the foreign language learning DVDs, I actually had to use inter-library loan, but it was only one extra step that was well worth it. Of course you could buy them, but wouldn’t you rather spend the money on a hotel or admission?
Other articles in budget travel series:Five budget friendly ways to make any trip feel like a vacation Five super low-budget, family destinations for Fall