Travel in the dot-com age
In this file photo a car takes images of streets in Berlin on behalf of Google for its Street View program. | AP

Summer is up and so are your travel plans. It's fun travel in the digital age, to be one of a new breed of travellers. As a digital nomad, the first thing you do when the air turns hot is to log on to a digital device. And Google. Where you go, where you stay, with whom, what you do, how big a bite your credit card will take, and who will go with you are all decided digitally. The merit or unworthiness of hotels comes from the reviews of total strangers. In the place of the bulky guidebook, you now carry a sleek laptop.

Hundreds of websites such as promise to fetch you the best possible travel tips, tricks and offers “out there.” Blog pages give you “ideas” about the best — read scariest, cheapest, remotest, coldest, most romantic and exotic places, how-tos and other travel information. Travel companies offer solutions to suit every whim and oddity. As Venkat at Vacations Exotica says, “You can go to a little-known place today and find an Indian restaurant there.” Travel has never been so doable.

No more a hassle

Getting travel ready isn't a hassle either (though passing through airports can dampen your enthusiasm).You can learn the local language on the Internet or through an app on your smart phone. You could browse e-books to know of places you want to leave your footprint on. Packing is a breeze as we've shed heavy clothes and our inhibitions — a couple of jeans, keds and T-shirts are all we need. We can indulge in things we haven't dreamt of — White water rafting? Hang gliding? Scuba diving? Snorkelling? Rappelling? Skiing? We supply equipment! — get a minute-by-minute itinerary, know about food options and even a massage. You scan a 360-degree view of the rooms in a resort before booking your holiday there. If you're still in doubt, you can log on to Facebook, or start a tweet on your destination to buzz up advice. Want to talk it over? Call for a Skype conversation or a video chat.

But you hate to leave your couch and miss your daily dose of serials. You're suspicious of the food in strange places and will need curd rice for sustenance. You worry about the comfort quotient. Yet, you want to talk intelligently about travel. Right, you can watch travel programmes on someone else's tour choices or take a virtual vacation with Google Street View (GSV).

GSV mapping

Check out Google's latest Street View mapping projects. They allow you to take a leisurely stroll in the lush Amazon rainforest or find yourself in unknown areas in Thailand.

Google Street View isn't anything new. Its cameras have taken us voyeuristically through local roads, college campuses, malls and airports. But recently GSV has updated itself to take viewers comfortably on a trip through the Amazon basin or to watch the reconstruction of Thailand after last year's bludgeoning monsoon.

This is the highpoint of this particular GSV: there are hardly any roads in the Amazon, so you get to see a lot of jungle images, of places you would never have ventured into. Some 50,000 images taken along the rivers capture the beauty of the rainforest in 360-degree view. The GSV then helpfully picks your locations for “sightseeing.” You watch scenes of Tumbira, the largest community, in a developed village in the Amazon reserve, or float down the Rio Negro. The adventurous can try to navigate the jungle trails, and find out where Brazil nuts are harvested.

In faraway Thailand, you get to “walk” the roads of Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai by punching a few keys. The Tourism Authority of Thailand is particularly happy about this GSV since it shows how the cities have been rebuilt after nearly five months of flooding. Viewing the renewed streets of its historic places, Thailand hopes, will persuade travellers to pack their bags for a real experience. “We really want to show that Thailand isn't still under water,” David Marx, Google's Tokyo-based communications manager, told Reuters. “People should see Thailand for what it is.” You can, just go to GSV.

Google might have had its controversies, but this GSV project has been welcomed, especially by armchair travellers and eco activists. GSV images bring attention to how precious and fragile Amazon rain forests are, they say. It will sensitise the world to the challenges of climate change and help spread information about the effects of large-scale deforestation.

Is GSV the same as being there and getting one's feet wet and arms mosquito-bitten? Does it take away from an ‘authentic' experience? Answer these later. If you're feeling stressed and are in dire need of an instant vacation, get on board a virtual tour of the Amazon and Thailand.


* Sightseeing is done on “Trikes” or camera-mounted three-wheelers.

* The pictures are woven into Google Maps and Earth services.

* People can virtually peer about as if they were there.

* Satellite positioning equipment on Trikes pinpoints where images are gathered.

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