How to start a virtual trip around the world – by accident

I’m drifting off to sleep in front of a campfire crackling softly under the stars, while the glare of an old favourite sitcom lights up the inside of my tent. I’m propped up against a pillow that spans half of the tent wall and my binoculars and an easter bunny-eared copy of Ulysses are next to the tv remote. Welcome to camping in my living room – hovering between looking like a cry for help and a creative solution to locked-in cabin fever. It turns out to be the latter, but on a much bigger scale than I’d imagined.

Step 1: Go look for something ridiculous on the internet

And by ridiculous, I mean, not your camping chair you could dress up the living room with. Looking for a camp fire on YouTube started out as a bit of a preposterous idea – I mean, why stop after you’ve already sized up your living room to see which way to face a tent? But I found some excellent ones. And the next morning, when I found a sunrise and some bird sounds, I realised I could probably find anything. I’ll tell you about some of the things I’ve found, but I won’t give you the links. Half the fun is to go look for it – since you’re not able to go get lost in an unknown city without a map right now.

Step 2: Upgrade your travel reading

Yes, Ulysses is the kind of book I’d sometimes take on a trip because it would last long. But on a virtual trip, why stop there? You can be in Dublin and just go with him in a few clicks – and then end up visiting Maeve Binchy instead. In some of the next posts I’ll write about some of the places I landed in because of books, in many more ways than I first thought.

Step 3: Pack light on props

The tent lasted only a weekend, the novelty of circumnavigating your home wears off after a long weekend. But changing the coffee mug to the lid of a coffee flask or draping a thick waterproof jacket across a piece of furniture is all you need to “pack”. But take a journal or at least copy an paste your favourite links somewhere – because you might really go back there this time.

Step 4: Follow maps and forget them

One day it’s fun to go from one country to a country next to it, following a line that seems logical on a map. This gives you a sense of covering ground, of planning out a trip that you might take some day. On another day it’s fun to go with your mood. To feel too glum for a waterfall and end up in Atlantic City, to get fed-up with rugged mountains and wake up to a picnic on a rose farm. To eat something spicy and hop on a different plane in the wrong direction. For the most part, writing about this virtual journey is to show you what I got from it, not where I went.

And this trip is having an unexpected influence on the book about learning languages I’m working on at the moment. I’ll tell you about it soon. But right now, I’m opening the atlas again, to find this island off the coast of Canada in a book…





Virtual Dusty Roads

It was when I found myself in a tent in my living room on Easter Weekend, staring at a crackling campfire on YouTube, that I started traveling again. I rode a bus through London, bounced over waves on ferries and yachts, walked around ruins and museums – all from the creaking pages on my dusty shelf and the flickering screen to that untraveled virtual world.

The armchair travel came to a crashing halt with the passing of my dear friend and mentor, Barbara Sher, in May. Some evenings I still managed to smell the street food in Teheran or take a bus towards the Himalayas – but the grief together with the grueling pace of online work, made the dusty roads fade into the background again.

Yesterday afternoon I drifted back to the French countryside, on the smell of onion soup from a French cookbook. I always get a lot out of writing about cooking, but doing stovetop travel when the armchair refuses to budge, still managed to surprise me. The wonderful world out there stirred to life in steaming onions.

Lunch today was a picnic on a rose farm in Provence. And who knows where the globe will stop spinning next – stay tuned for my series on my armchair and stovetop travels and what it’s teaching me about travels, language learning and life.