Armchair travel is nothing new, but now there are virtual travel opportunities that let us get places we might never have dreamt of before.
Since Homer first recited his poetic epics of sea-crossing heroes, the stories we tell have always had the power to transport us virtually to the far corners of our world. These stories bring the world to those who can’t leave home and inspire others to embark on their own real globe-spanning adventures. And today’s digital internet is picking up where yesterday’s campfire stories left off, letting us curate our own virtual travel, tour galleries far from home, see the world with different eyes, or connect us with places truly off the beaten path.
If you’re stuck at home, or looking for inspiration for your next physical adventure, here are some uniquely creative internet resources for virtual travel.
Radio Garden is a non-profit Dutch radio and digital research project that was originally launched in 2013. The website allows users to navigate the globe and select a local radio station to listen to. There’s something quite special about spinning the globe and clicking on a little green dot in the South Pacific, and hearing what the local people on that island are listening to right now: Bossa Nova in Brazil, folk music in the Czech Republic, and Flamenco in Spain (and of course, Taylor Swift everywhere). Radio Garden is so much more than just a global radio station website. It opens our ears to what ‘home’ sounds like in other cultures. It makes foreign lands suddenly feel more familiar. And in doing so it has the power to make us feel more connected to others.
Accidentally Wes Anderson
Founded in 2017 in a small apartment in Brooklyn, New York, Accidentally Wes Anderson (AWA) has since grown to an online community of over a million ‘Adventurers’. The site crowd-sources photographs of real-life places and architecture that look like something from a Wes Anderson set – they’re colourful, whimsical, carefully curated and rich in detail. And they publish their own city guides to help you go and discover the most Wes Anderson cities ever. Is your house, neighbourhood or city “accidentally Wes Anderson”? Go out and photograph it to help others embark on their armchair travels or get inspired to discover some place new.
Mapcrunch Random Street View
If you know the address, Google Maps will take you there. The app revolutionized the way we wayfind, but fine-tuned functionality also makes it utterly predictable. Mapcrunch, however, is armchair travel for those inspired by delightful randomness. Open the page and the app transports you to some street anywhere in the world – a residential alley in some middling flyover town, a bucolic country lane at sunset, or an exhaust-choked 16-lane motorway. Want more? Just click Go! and you’re on a new road, now in Texas, Taiwan or Timbuktu. The particular streets you find aren’t necessarily places to add to your bucket list – the random nature of Mapcrunch is more of an ironic than an aspirational experience. But they can help you see something of how the rest of the world really looks, unfiltered, unedited, un-Instagrammed.
While queues and ticket prices are still a barrier to entry for most of the world’s best galleries and museums, these same institutions are democratizing the visit with virtual experiences accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The British Museum now allows virtual visitors to tour the Great Court and discover the ancient Rosetta Stone and Egyptian mummies. You can use Google Street View to tour the Guggenheim’s famous spiral staircase, just whenever you have 5 minutes to spare. You can virtually walk through the Musee D’orsay in Paris (even after closing time). And you get to press your virtual nose against the canvas and count the characteristically thick brushstrokes in Van Gogh’s paintings at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
But are these virtual experiences is good as the real thing? The short answer is no. Consider the human experience of physically being in the same room as the Mona Lisa. Going on a road trip through Europe. Riding a train through Bavaria, standing in a real-life Wes Anderson set – or even island-hopping in the Aegean. We can’t do without those real experiences and all the senses they touch for us. But for the moments in between the spectacular trips we hope to take, virtual experiences with our ever-evolving media are essential – and thankfully, more accessible than ever. Even from the comfort of your home.