Photo above by Nuuttipukki

What do you do when you can’t travel? Marc Latham argues for virtual travel, a combination of Google Maps, Wikipedia, blogging, and imagination.
What A Year for Travel!

In 2008, I climbed North America’s highest mountains, rolled down powder puff snow like a bear cub, swam in pristine lakes, sunbathed on the best beaches, met some of my heroes, encountered some wonderful animals, and socialised with Sasquatches.

That last one might have alerted you to the fact that it was no ordinary travel; in fact, my body never left the UK.

The travelling was all in my mind: virtual travel, that was nevertheless enjoyable.

With the world in the grip of a global recession and growing worries about human impact on the environment, there has never been a better time to travel virtually.

Mount Wilson, Nahanni National Park.
Photo above by Althewebmaster

Virtual travel is attractive for other reasons, too. On my virtual journeys, I could access any part of extraordinarily beautiful parks that I’d never even heard of before, such as the Nahanni National Park in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Cold lakes weren’t off limits, and traveling vast distances could be accomplished with a little shape-shifting.

I didn’t need a visa, and I didn’t worry about losing my stuff or running out of money.

I could relax while mentally climbing the highest mountains, running through cool forests, swimming in the most pristine lakes and seas, meeting strange animals and mythical creatures.

I also wrote blogs about some of my trips, and it felt good to be paying homage to them.

Emerald Lake in British Columbia, Canada
Photo above by panduh

The Idea

The idea of virtual travel came to me after I learnt to remember the six big provinces of Canada from west to east as BASMOQ (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec).

I thought that if I virtually travelled across North America forming such acronyms over the course of a year, then I should be able to remember the locations of all the provinces, territories and states by year’s end.

Moreover, I would learn about the places through a little research. I’d have fun reading along the way and writing about my journeys afterwards.

Five Reasons to Try Virtual Travel

Why should you make the effort to travel virtually across a continent or countries of your choice? Five good reasons are:

  • Visiting virtually is better than no visit at all.
  • If you know you are going to go somewhere, then virtual travelling is a good way to start planning and imagining more about that place.
  • As you research, you find yourself immersed in the place, and the mind enjoys finding out about the region.
  • Sometimes the information you find affects your emotions, making you happy or sad, and pleased or angry, just like the knowledge you gain while travelling.
  • You can encounter animals that you would not otherwise meet, even mythical creatures still a part of local folklore. You can interact with fictional characters, meet celebrities, or time-travel to find those from the past. This escapism is both entertaining and invigorating.

Bigelow Mountain, Appalachian Trail, Maine
Photo above by plfy

You might be thinking that it would be easier to just look at a map and a guidebook whenever you’re about to actually go somewhere. It might well be, but would it be as much fun, and would you remember as much about the places?

Moreover, are you sure you’re going to go there, or return to see the places you missed when you last travelled there?

I travelled across North America in 1993, but I didn’t get everywhere, and am unlikely to return to all the places I’d like to visit. I’ve flown over Newfoundland and Labrador, Maine and the Appalachians, but I’m unlikely to ever travel there on land.

Virtual travelling took me back, in mind at least. I put names to the places, found out about local industries, local celebrities, about their history and environment, and what animals can be seen.

The Means

I use Wikipedia to research each region. I also use Wiki maps and Google maps. Then I search for interesting places, events, people and animals in each province, territory and state and then set out the journey around them in my daily blog.

Discoveries and creations make the mental journey all the more rewarding, just as finding hidden gems in nooks and crannies of places you’d never even heard of does on real journeys.

At the start of the year, I rushed through my journeys. As I found myself enjoying the trips more and more, though, and taking time to find more and better information, I found myself learning more about the regions.

This discovery parallels real journeys, where you begin to slow down and appreciate things more after the initial excitement that comes with being free and independent.

Virtual travel isn’t meant to be a replacement for travelling, but it can be a useful mental stop-gap until your next journey, and you’ll have fun and learn a lot along the way. For the writers amongst you, I think it’s good practise for travel writing and fictional character development too.

Happy Trails!