This is one of the worst-case travel scenarios you never plan on: choose a destination, explore the best flight deals, spend months planning your itinerary just to get sick by the time you arrive. Don't worry, your trip is not a complete bust. Here are 8 ways to experience a foreign country without even leaving your hotel room:
1. Look out the window. It sounds too simple, but it's true; you get a great understanding of how a city works by watching the locals live their daily lives. Notice how people move: Do they bike, walk, ride, or use public transit? Look at where and when they are eating, how they dress, how they communicate, and acknowledge how different they are from your life at home. Plus, buses are always fun … and you don't have to bring them back from your room! Of course, you'll be curious about the weather as well. If it's cold and humid, it's best indoors anyway!
2. Read all about it! Even if you cannot read the language of the local newspaper, scroll through and view the photos; you'll probably see places you never knew existed. See magazines that give you an idea of your destination. Read brochures promoting local events and museums. Often these pamphlets will provide information about popular attractions and plenty of photos. If all else fails, read the completely ruthless and boring guide that will inevitably put you to sleep. But if you're sick, you need a zzz anyway.
3. Watch TV. You should always watch the local news to see if there are any weird stories to know. Plus, the news will show you around the city, especially human interest stories and local events. Watch popular sporting events or browse cultural and entertainment programs to find out what the locals are interested in. Just know that nudity and naughty language are acceptable in many foreign countries. It's like a pay cable at no extra cost. The result!
4. Order local food. The hotel staff will have many recommendations for great local restaurants that offer national or popular cuisine. Just call the concierge and ask if they can order you food that the locals eat. You may want to skip room service as the food is usually too high and inappropriate.
5. Contact the tourism office. Even small towns have tourist centers with staff that speaks little English. Ask them about events happening in the city or have them send reading materials to your hotel room. Tourist centers will have a wealth of information explaining customs and detailing cultural events, exhibitions and celebrations.
6. Meet the locals. Yes, you can do this without ever leaving your hotel room. Use an instant messaging service that lets you search for people in cities that are currently online. Go to MySpace or Facebook, search for groups for the place you are visiting, and send a message to some people. You can even go on Skype and talk or send face-to-face text with locals via webcam. Many locals will want to talk to you to brag about their country and practice their English.
7. Read reviews online. Here's something else you can do online: Go to sites like TripAdvisor or VirtualTourist and read about other people's experiences. Live Rooftop Through Other Travelers, Read First-Hand Stories About Their Experiences at Places You Plan to Visit. Better yet, check out travel blogs. Bloggers detail their journeys as a diary and offer an idea you can't get from a guide. Just search for a "travel blog" or "blog list" on the search engine and you'll come across thousands of blogs with articles for your destination.
8. Find a mini bar. Hotels usually fill the minibars with snacks and drinks available locally. Each country specializes in some type of food or drink and may already be in your room – everything from sodas to snacks. Of course, it may not be great for your belly, but it is well worth the taste.
Staying in your hotel room is obviously not the perfect way to spend your trip. But sometimes it's better to sacrifice one or two days for a full refund in order to enjoy the rest of your trip. Plus, no one should know that you never left your room!