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Visit Virtually Anywhere

Planning a summer holiday? Most people who will take a summer break away from home have apparently already made decisions and booked in some form. The May improvement in the rate of Euro exchange to pound sterling has concentrated even more minds on going to Europe for a break.

However, ever keep to help (and mop up more advertising revenue) Google has come up with what is in effect the virtual vacation. Just get as far as your laptop or device and the world is your oyster.

Google as Travel Agent

According to Mark Brown in the May 2012 edition of Wired Magazine (UK) Google has put 15,000 landmarks on photos on Google Maps from holiday snaps on photo-sharing site Picasa and geo-oriented site Panaromio and made 3D slideshows of most of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

Go to a famous hotspot like the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Grand Canyon to see a full-screen photo which automatically pans and zooms before blending into another of the same setting.

Using publicly taken and shared photos, Brown points out that ‘you’ll have to contend with different cameras and vastly different lighting conditions (and the odd blurry photo), but the effect works well’.

He explains that Google’s algorithms create the 3D shape of each landmark, so your picture ‘can swoop around corners and fly over bits of ancient Roman rock’. Obviously not all the globe is covered yet, but give it time. It’s easy to search and see what is available.

For unconfident people who can’t decide where to visit virtually, Google comes up with suggestions, and once you’ve installed Google Maps with WebGL, off you go.

Presumably in the near future you can put your own actual holiday snaps in and merge with others to create a sequence of unusual and yet familiar angles to dazzle and make jealous friends and relatives.

And how long before you can just superimpose images of yourself in to show to all intents and purposes that you went there? In fact, you could be simultaneously there whilst watching yourself from your home couch. In some uses, you can do that now.

Arrive Without Leaving

Actually, virtual holidays are well established. Holidays from Home is a social enterprise run by volunteers, operated from Norwich. They aim to increase access to the world by people who are unable to experience it first hand, due to illness, disability, age, financial or environmental reasons.

They say; ‘Arrive without leaving, create virtual experiences without leaving home’. Clare Wade explained that she was bedbound for six years with ME/CFS and was upset that she couldn’t have a holiday. The anger and frustration from that lack drove her to create the concept of bringing a place to life in an experience ‘which can take you away from the boredom of daily life to discover something new and exciting’.

By this process you can look at brochures and TV ads and dream of beaches, cities, skylines and make them all ‘happen’. It’s good for those who are afraid of flying, heights, insects, different foods, open spaces… anything really.

You customise the sights, sounds and images of your sightseeing, museums, shopping, sea and sand, nightlife, culture and foods. Guidebooks are provided and you can see it all without stress of travel delays, airports, luggage and high prices and all the hell that is a contemporary holiday.

New this summer to coincide with the Olympics, they are running a virtual holiday to London alongside existing packages to Australia and New York. You get to explore the sights and enjoy what the big event has to offer. The download package sells at £29.99, but unlike ‘real’ holidays, can be enjoyed again and again.

This is an idea set to take off. There are several armchair, kiosk type travel agencies catering for the immobile and housebound. But it will start to appeal to others with no particular problem, they will just prefer it that way. Less hassle. Cheaper.
As digital simulation improves, augmented reality becomes the norm, we can see anything anywhere at any time. So, not just for the disabled, ill or old or the less intrepid, but also for the time-poor of tomorrow.

A horrifying prospect for children to only simulate the enjoyment and feel of sand and sea under their bare feet. But as several have surmised, in the future the only way the world will see and understand endangered species is by virtual recreation.

As long as it doesn’t apply to the human race!


Wired, May 2012.

Holidays from Home.

Image: G36