Summer is here, and it’s time to travel. Or, that’s what travel companies want you to think. Many of us are staying put instead – whether it’s because we’re on a budget, we can’t get the days off, or we just don’t want to deal with throngs of other tourists. Or maybe we’re just feeling uninspired or too lazy to leave the house.
Whatever the reason, you don’t have to miss out just because you’re kicking back at home. You can turn to the Internet to virtually trot the globe without stepping foot outside.
There are a lot of travel websites on the Internet (we have a whole list of them here), but most of those are to get you to buy something. There are sites that will tell you where the “best of” are – that’s fine if you have plenty of cash, but quite frankly, those sites can be tiring.
If you’re looking for alternative sites that truly channel the spirit of travel, paired with terrific photography – some accompanied by well-written stories – here are our favorites for feeding your armchair wanderlust.
Roads and Kingdoms is a refreshing new travel site created by Nathan Thornburgh, a former foreign correspondent at Time Magazine, and Matt Goulding, the author of Eat This, Not That, with Anthony Bourdain serving as its editor-at-large. Similar to Bourdain’s approach to storytelling in his TV travelogues (the website could be mistaken as Bourdain’s website), Roads and Kingdoms covers travel from the viewpoint of a journalist. In addition to great photography, Roads and Kingdoms also has a large section dedicated to food. We like the streetcams that bring you live video from various parts of the world.
You could argue that National Geographic is the granddaddy of travel journalism (it even has a separate publication dedicated to travel). Like Playboy, you can tell people you read Nat Geo for the stories, but it’s really the stunning photography that we get lost in (and Nat Geo employs a lot of great photographers), whether it’s swimming in the Pacific Ocean or wandering through a national park. There’s a lot of content to sift through, but just head to the travel photos section if all you want to do is daydream in idyllic and not-so-peaceful settings.
Confession: It’s not uncommon to find us, late at night, browsing for hours on Google Maps and Google Earth. Google’s mapping software has come a long way from showing us streets and driving directions. With Google Maps and Earth, from an armchair traveler’s standpoint, the world really is your oyster. There are photos from as far as the remote Pitcairn Islands, or ancient sites like the Coliseum in Rome. With Street View, you can drop yourself into almost any major city (check out the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). You can explore historical images, go inside museums, and, if you’re bored with Earth, travel to the moon and Mars.
If you’ve watched Vice Magazine’s HBO series and thought, “Boy, I sure would like to go there,” you’re either crazy or you’ve got a thirst for adrenaline. Vice’s travel section is based on the magazine’s take on newsgathering (it’s like Roads and Kingdoms, but to the extreme), from a most-recent article on visiting a biker gang rally in Texas to the San Francisco of the Caucasus Mountains. If you want to step into a world that will take you out of the ordinary and into the bizarre and danger, this site is for you.
A similar but less intense site is the Lens Blog from the New York Times, which focuses on people and places through the lens of a camera.
Ever wonder what it’s like to live in a foreign country, not just visit? Expats Blog brings together all the personal blogs written by expats living in countries as well known as England to the more obscure, like the Seychelles. The writers give you a sense of the trials and tribulations of being away from their home countries, and there are plenty of photos to go along with their text.
While Airbnb uses it blog to announce news and other company-related information, it also highlights some of its “host” members. Like Expats Blog, these stories give you a local’s view of the communities these hosts live in, and oftentimes, they are the ones – not travel writers with a big expense account – who know where are the best places to eat and things to see. Beautiful photographs accompany these stories, which give you a resident’s point of view.
Thanks to smartphones in everyone’s pockets, more and more travelers are not only photographing their vacations, but sharing them, too. Trover is a great community-oriented site where users submit photos from their travels. There are a lot of photos to view (no stories here) and can get tiresome, but Trover does group photos into categories if you want a bit of curation.
For those who crave mountain climbs, dirt roads, and sleeping in tents in rugged, desolate terrains, instead of a comfy hotel mattress in a heavily populated city, Sidetracked has breathtaking photography from the world’s outdoors. In these photos of places untouched (yet) by mass population, they remind us there are still some beautiful places on the planet.
If you’re the opposite of the above mentioned, and prefer the lights, noise, and vibrancy of city life, you’ll enjoy the photos from Melting Butter. Cities are broken down into sub-categories like food, hotel, and nightlife, and are chock-full of magazine-quality photography – the kind that you get lost in for hours. Even if you never pay a visit to these cities, you’ll leave the site as if you have, filled with insider knowledge.
Do you have a favorite travel site for virtual travel? Share it in the comments!