At the suggestion of her 12-year-old son, Kristen Glosserman’s family recently visited China. They continued on to Texas, crossed back east to Korea, and eventually headed to Mexico—all while quarantined in their New York apartment.

In general, her family plans travels “because we want to look forward to something—or to escape,” says Glosserman, an executive coach and partner in the Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants. “It’s really important now, when we’re feeling a little stuck.”

Since they’re a food-focused family, Glosserman began to wonder whether they could “travel” by cooking. The oldest of her four children embraced the idea and started with a Chinese-inspired dinner of beef and broccoli. “Where are we going next?’” he asked, after cleaning his plate.

Though it’s hardly the most serious casualty of the global pandemic, travel restrictions mean that families around the world have had to cancel trips to Paris and Tokyo, to beach resorts and Disneyland. They’re not just missing out on pampering hotels, photogenic views, and buzzy restaurants but on fresh perspectives, a sense of adventure, and cultural diversity.

“Research has shown that being in a state of awe”—often associated with travel—”benefits your mindset and helps reduce anxiety,” says Deepika Chopra, a Los Angeles-based psychologist and optimism expert.

Until genuine travel resumes, virtual vacations can encourage curiosity, teach children about other parts of the world, and help them feel less trapped at home. It can give grownups an outlet for their wanderlust—and even let them test-drive travel plans. For some, that has meant ordering lunch from a menu in Spanish, building Big Ben from cardboard, or making Mickey Mouse waffles and throwing a kitchen parade as a substitute for a few days in the Magic Kingdom. For others, it can be more elaborate, involving planned “itineraries” that include visits to virtual museums and shared research on a region’s history.

Just as with real vacations, however, these reenactments can easily misfire. How to maximize your odds of success? We tapped some experts to find out. The strategies vary by age, and they reveal some of the pitfalls in planning real trips, too.

Keep It Simple
For one family that asked around online, looking to recreate a trip to France, the ideas that came pouring in on Facebook were plentiful—maybe overwhelming. Build the Eiffel tower out of Legos! Make crepes Suzette! Paint the Mona Lisa! Sing along to Edith Piaf! Dress up as mimes! Bake croissants! Fold paper boats as if you’re in the Luxembourg Gardens! Don’t forget to stock up on plenty of Champagne for after bedtime! 

Replicating a full itinerary in all its detail isn’t just time-consuming. It’s unnecessary, says Samantha Stewart, a child and family psychiatrist in Los Angeles, particularly if you have kids up to 7 or 8 years old.

“Kids are being given a lot of tasks to fill the time right now,” says Stewart. And organized activities aren’t necessarily the most rewarding part of real travel. While real vacations may encourage curiosity and exploring, their biggest benefit for younger kids is simply getting to spend lots of time with parents who are in a more relaxed state.

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