The answer is armchair travel with movies from your favorite video-rental store or website.
"Halfaouine: L'Enfant des Terrasses" (Child of the Terrasses) (1990). The film takes you to Tunis, capital of Tunisia in northern Africa, where a young boy is caught between the world of women and men. Get a rare look inside a hamam where the women bathe, and experience the exotic culture of a poor section of a fascinating city.
Refreshments: dates, couscous, olives, hummus.
"Lawrence of Arabia" (1962): Some of the actors playing Arabs aren't Arabs at all, and it wasn't shot in Arabia (actually Morocco, Jordan and Spain, plus California), but the endless expanse of sand dunes, handsome young Peter O'Toole, exotic people and the blazing sun of the desert will make you long to become a nomad, ride a camel and meet amazing Arabs who rarely get a fair shake on the screen.
Refreshments: pita filled with falafel or tabbouleh drizzled with yogurt. To drink: hibiscus tea.
"The Syrian Bride" (2004): In the Golan Heights of Israel, at the Syrian border, the Druze community (a religious sect mostly in Syria and Lebanon) is caught between the two countries, and the drama is played out on a wedding day. The mountains, dusty streets, vistas over ancient towns, boxy architecture, Middle Eastern living rooms where the guests are propped up against cushions on seats that line the walls, blend of old and new (sheep and a video camera, cellphones and communal cooking) and brief looks inside the Druze world make this film an exotic voyage.
Refreshments: It's a wedding, so treat yourself to some honey-soaked Middle Eastern pastry.
"Walkabout" (1971): Two orphaned and lost kids follow an Aborigine through the achingly desolate Australian Outback. They encounter exotic fauna -- wallaby, kinkajou, echidna, monitor lizard and tree kangaroo. They also experience Aboriginal customs such as painting rocks and roasting animal guts to treat sunburn, plus they get to hunt against an ocher, orange and brown landscape under azure skies.
Refreshments: Toss some shrimp -- or, if you dare, something more exotic -- on the barbie.
"Cleopatra" (1963): This extravaganza, shot partly in Rome, not only includes Elizabeth Taylor's gazillion costume changes and her relationships with Caesar and Marc Antony against the backdrops of Alexandria, Egypt and the Italian capital, but also a lot of intelligence, research and faithfulness to Plutarch. Cynics may grouse, but for me, this film takes you there.
Refreshments: Have someone drop succulent grapes into your open mouth, then sip from a goblet of Italian wine.
"Buena Vista Social Club" (1999): Musician Ry Cooder seeks the living legends of Cuban music through the run-down, pulsing streets of Havana. Enter a world of music, motorcycles with sidecars, kids on skates, fabulous faces, dilapidated buildings and a woman with a cigar the size of a baseball bat.
Refreshments: a nice, plump, cholesterol-laden Cuban sandwich.
"Everything Is Illuminated" (2005): In the days of the czars, many Jews came to America from Ukraine, which they described as a living hell because of the pogroms and discrimination. But when a young man goes back to the old country, he encounters endless fields of sunflowers, farmland, goats, greenery, Soviet-era buildings and the tragic truth of what happened to his grandpa's village.
Refreshments: gefilte fish with horseradish, blintzes and chopped liver.
"Gorillas in the Mist" (1988): Filmed partly in Kenya and Rwanda, the story of Dian Fossey takes you away to steep slopes, dense vegetation, lush greenery and the mountain gorillas of central Africa. Fossey's bravery and determination helped save the gorgeous and sensitive animals from extinction. "Look around you," she says in the film. "This is as close to God as you get."
Refreshments: anything that can be eaten with your fingers.