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10 tasks to check off your to-do list to enrich your next vacation

Acquire travel skills before your next trip.
(Sandra Navarro / For The Times)
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Sad about that trip you had to cancel or were planning for summer? We share your disappointment, but we’re certain we will travel again — sooner rather than later, we hope. And just think of how much more you’ll appreciate exploring the world. In the meantime, here are 10 things you can do at home to prepare for your next travel adventure.


Make international friends

Pen pals are not just for school kids. Dozens of free websites such as and PenPalWorld introduce you to foreigners who speak at least some English. Meet like-minded people who live where you plan to travel. You’ll have friends when you arrive, maybe even an invitation to stay. Pen pal websites ensure security with secure logins and encrypted password storage; some geolocate profiles to ensure accuracy. For traditionalists who value the art of letter writing, International Pen Friends charges $25 and up to match pals who put pen to paper by age, interests and hobbies.


Get familiar with the cuisine — by cooking

Going to Thailand? Learning more about a cuisine by preparing a favorite dish such as this tom kha goong, a coconut soup with langostine, will deepen your knowledge of your destination.
(Ana Lorenzana / For The Times)


Are your pantry and fridge getting down to the basics? Whet your taste for a trip to Florence by turning a can of white beans, garlic, olive oil and a squirt of lemon into a creamy Tuscan bean dip. Look forward to your vacation on the Costa Brava by whipping up a traditional Spanish omelet (tortilla española) with eggs, potatoes and onions. And it’s easy to prep for that road trip you’re planning through the Deep South. With just one cup of peanut butter, one cup of sugar and one egg you can bake scrumptious peanut butter cookies.


Learn some of the language

Planning a trip to a non-English-speaking country? Learn to speak the language now. There are dozens of online courses, some free such as Duolingo, which incorporates games and other fun stuff. Babbel offers 15-minute lessons starting at $6.95 a month, great for busy people learning on their smartphones. If you’re not busy, try Rosetta Stone. Think language boot camp best accomplished while sitting at a computer ($11.95 and up). Here’s a way to keep you motivated: Join a free language-exchange website such as Conversation Exchange or My Language Exchange. They pair you with native speakers so you can practice conversation in both your languages by email, chat or Skype.



Upgrade your tech gear

Remember that hotel where the Wi-Fi was free but it took forever to get online? A high-tech Wi-Fi Extender will solve that problem. If you find yourself with no Wi-Fi, you’ll need a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot device. Remember when using Google Maps all day killed your smartphone battery? There are plenty of new mobile smartphone chargers. And forget about carrying a bag full of electric plug adapters, one for each country. Get one of the new all-in-one international electric plug adapters. Because you’ll want to take lots of photos on your next trip, consider upgrading your selfie stick.


Learn to pack like a pro


The smart suitcase is the ultimate high-tech travel device. Most of the many brands come with a built-in portable mobile-device charger, 360-degree spinner wheels and a lightweight, durable exterior. The Away smart suitcase features a compression packing system. Travelers can fit more clothes in a regular suitcase with compression packing cubes that use a two-zipper system to compress clothes and eliminate wasted space ($14.95 and up).
Marie Kondo, guru of the Japanese KonMari method of tidying, has helpful packing tips: Lay clothes out; fold them into tight little bundles; leave behind anything that doesn’t bring you joy.



Tune up your backpacking skills

Can’t wait until parks reopen and you can hike into the backcountry? Get ready now. Google Maps doesn’t always cut it, so learn to read a topo (topographic) map. Backpacker offers online navigation courses ($149). It’ll even teach you the best way to pack a backpack. And you can spend hours researching the best water-purifying sport bottle. Many feature reusable filters that remove chlorine and improve taste, but the safest models (and most expensive at $19.95 and up) use UV-LED and other technologies to eliminate bacteria and viruses.


Show your gratitude

Have you met people in your travels who run mom-and-pop restaurants and family-run hotels? What about the fabulous tour guides who proudly showed you the cities they call home? Now’s a good time to email them with your deepest thanks and best wishes. With their livelihood in peril, they will appreciate your kind thoughts. You also can purchase gift certificates for future meals at your favorite restaurants or donate to the Emergency Relief Fund set up by the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation. To support out-of-work hotel employees, donate to UniteHere.



Rethink your bucket list

(Danita Delimont / Getty Images/Gallo Images)

Travel lovers keep a bucket list in their heads of places they dream of someday visiting. But “someday” has taken on a new meaning. Now’s the time to write down your bucket list. Then — and this may take a while — select destination No. 1. Now adjust. A trip to see the northern lights may be out of your price range, but you can also see them in Alaska, which is closer to home. And if you can’t afford to go to Egypt to see the pyramids, you can see lots of them in Mexico. Start planning your trip. Wherever you travel, consider it your reward for making it through these distressing times.


Add purpose to your travel

The international pandemic brings home that people everywhere share many things and that the world is smaller than we think. If your vacations have been to ski and beach resorts or the world’s iconic cities, consider a new travel option: volunteer vacations. Build houses in Ecuador; teach English in Morocco; help conservationists save endangered orangutans in Borneo. Some volunteer vacation programs cater to students, others to families, still others to seniors. At any age, volunteer travelers help communities abroad while gaining a cultural experience they’ll never forget. The cost? Less than two weeks in Aspen.



Design a photo book

It’s something you’ve been meaning to do since you got home; now you’ve got nothing but time. Sort through your travel photos, select the best and get creative. Turn them into a photo memory book with the help of websites such as Shutterfly, Snapfish and Mixbook. Upload as many as 1,000 photos, select from a mind-boggling variety of layouts, designs and embellishments, then arrange and rearrange until you get it right. If the zillions of choices make you crazy, one of their pros can design the book for you ($15.95 and up). Order copies for your travel companions.

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