The age of armchair travel: How to see the world from the safety of your own home

Flights might be grounded, but our imaginations are not. Here are six ways to fulfil your wanderlust without leaving the house

22 Feb 2012, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA --- Ancient Puebloan granaries in the canyon walls along the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona --- Image by © Patrick J. Endres/AlaskaPhotoGraphics/Corbis
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In this time of travel bans, grounded airlines and ­partial lockdowns, many of us are getting itchy feet. The good news is, you can still indulge in some of that wanderlust – through books and movies, social media feeds and virtual tours involving everything from art to animals. It's time to embark on some armchair travel.

Go on a book tour

Start with popular travel books based in or on your favourite cities, well-thumbed copies of National Geographic or that old Lonely Planet guidebook languishing in a corner. The best thing about books – and not just travel books, even detective fiction can do this – is how they can transport your mind to the farthest reaches of the world.

London, United Kingdom - July 20, 2011: Travel guide books for USA, Europe, London and India. These guides are published by Rough Guide and Lonely Planet, the largest travel guide book publisher in the world.

For instance, tomes such as Shantaram, Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Maximum City instantly carry readers deep into the crowds and chaos of Mumbai. Read On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara, In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson, or even the Tintin series, where the young reporter traverses the of the world – from the Congo to Tibet.

For children, there are classics (that can be purchased online) such as Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, taking young readers on an adventure through jungles and islands, and Miroslav Sasek's This is… series, which introduces big cities such as London, Paris and New York, along with fun facts and trivia.

Be a digital nomad

Experienced bloggers such as Nomadic Matt, Legal Nomads and Adventurous Kate don’t merely offer personal travel stories, but also practical advice and luscious photography.

If you’ve always been a secret trainspotter, Matthew Woodward documents his fascinating travels on train journeys that take several days and cover numerous stops on the way. Websites such as Carmen Sandiego and Kids World Travel Guide are enough to inspire nomads of all ages, talking about not only geography, but also culture and customs.

If reading feels like too much effort, simply plug in your earphones and listen to inspiring stories from the road – The Big Travel Podcast presented by UK journalist Lisa Francesca Nand is a good place to start.

Online communities Travel Massive and Lonely Planet’s Thorntree Forum are also great places to connect with other wanderlusters, and find recommendations for your future trips.

Reel it in

Now is the time to visit (or revisit) classic films, too: think Roman Holiday, Out of Africa, Amelie and even the unlikely contender Lost in Translation, which tap into the emotions of feeling lonely and adrift in a new place, or simply the discomfort of jet lag and cultural confusion.

David Attenborough documentaries can transport you to every corner of the Earth. Courtesy Emirates Literature Foundation

And then there are all those stunning documentaries by stalwarts such as David Attenborough and Michael Palin, visual masterpieces such as Antarctica: A Year on Ice, Desert Sea and Baraka, plus the fascinating YouTube series Most Dangerous Ways To School, which show how children across the world face and overcome daily challenges in their journey towards a basic education.

Spend a day at the museum

You could also spend the day at a museum, art gallery or opera house – a number of which around the world have closed their ticketing counters to visitors, only to have opened their digital doors. To make this exploration even easier, log into the Google Arts & Culture partner page and take a tour through hundreds of museums – from those with global collections such as the British Museum in London, Florence's Uffizi Gallery and New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, to lesser-known gems such as South Korea's National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art – Seoul and the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 04, 2018 The Metropolitan Museum of Art is seen before the Chanel Show in New York City. New York's Metropolitan Museum announced on May 15, 2019, that it will cease accepting gifts from the billionaire Sackler family, amid allegations that it profited off the sale of the opioid OxyContin that is blamed for tens of thousands of deaths. / AFP / Angela Weiss

Think of it as your best chance to see Vermeer's The Girl with a Pearl Earring up close at the Mauritshuis in The Hague, or delve deeper into Mona Lisa's mysterious smile in an uncrowded Louvre in Paris.

Teleport to the spot

Alternately, turn to Google Earth and Street View to take a hike through the Grand Canyon (one of the 32 US National Parks available) or a trip to the Taj Mahal (which is among 30 Unesco World Heritage Sites on offer).

AGRA, INDIA - MARCH 18: A general view of the historic monument Taj Mahal, closed for tourists to prevent spread of Covid-19, on March 18, 2020 in Agra, India. With coronavirus cases in India inching towards 150, the government has decided to keep all the public monuments and museums - including the iconic Taj Mahal and Red fort - shut until the end of this month. This is only the third time in history that the historic monument has been closed. The number of Covid-19 cases continue to rise in India which is the second most populated country in the world behind China. (Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)

Much like the museums, several nature parks, aquariums and wildlife zoos have launched live feeds, allowing people to take a peek at the wonders of nature: from the slothful lives of giant pandas on the iPanda China feed to watching the Old Faithful geyser erupt at the Yellowstone National Park in the US, and from seeing the mystical dance of the Northern Lights in Norway to Nasa’s Mars Rover feed, there is something for everyone (plus more on Explore Livecams and Earth Cam).

Cook up a storm

And finally, this is the perfect time to take culinary journeys from the comfort of your own kitchen – perhaps using that curry paste picked up from last year’s holiday. Toss up a quick Thai-style salad with crunchy greens, fresh vegetables and a creamy peanut sauce.

Or learn to cook an elaborate risotto along with 84-year-old nonna Nerina straight from the heart of Italy on Nonna Live; brush up on basics such as "what does julienne mean" or "how to roast a chicken" on the BBC's food channel; or up your cooking game with a masterclass from the likes of Gordon Ramsay online.