The armchair traveller
It’s about this time of year when we all plan our overseas travel. Spring brings the warm weather and a taste of the outdoors as we emerge from the cocoon of winter. Pre-pandemic this meant travel to far flung places or even a road trip interstate.
The world is finally breathing a sigh of relief with less people circumnavigating the globe, many would-be adventurers are embracing virtual reality to bridge the gap as they try and imagine what travel might be like during the pandemic. From trips to Machu Picchu to the Galapagos Islands there has been a reported surge in interest in virtual travel experiences.
For others in lockdown, like New York Times reporter Reif Larsen travel via Google Street view is a viable option,“there is something tantalising about being there but not being there, about being everywhere and nowhere at once,” he says of the travelling around the globe one street at a time.
The Smithsonian Magazine has even created a list of travel experiences that it recommends from an Alaskan bob sled ride to Californian Napa valley wine country experiences.
VR or virtual reality has been around for a while and what have been the most popular are travel apps. Google Earth VR has its own version, while others can take you to the Grand Canyon or swim with sharks. These 360 degrees experiences have everything except the smells and sensation of being there.
Not to diminish the experience, but strapping on some goggles and feeling vaguely ill still seems odd even if it might be the only way we can experience the world at the moment.
We can’t travel overseas, we can barely travel interstate at the moment so I’ve done my share of lockdown projects.
It also has me thinking. But not about travel, about imagination and what sparks it. Because if I have found anything during lockdown and the pandemic it’s boredom and routine. Some early days of sitting at my work desk on Monday and standing up on Friday felt very much like Groundhog Day.
Now I’ve read the excellent book Bored and Brilliant: How Time Spent Doing Nothing Changes Everything – the notion that boredom stretches your brain to be more creative in a world where we have everything – literally – at our fingertips.
The idea behind Bored and Brilliant came from how cluttered our lives are with experiences, both virtual and digital and that doing a brain spring clean and detoxing from your mobile phone can positively impact and enhance your creative thinking and wellbeing.
Manoush Zomorodi, host of the WNYC podcast New Tech City and author of Bored and Brilliant said before she began the research on the book, “I kind of realised that I have not been bored since I got a smartphone seven years ago.”
Studies suggest that we get our most original ideas when we stop the constant stimulation and let ourselves get bored, Zomorodi says. She points to a study by a UK psychologist, Sandi Mann, who asked subjects to do something really boring and then try a creative task.
“And the participants came up with their most novel ideas when they did the most boring task of all — which was reading the phone book,” Zomorodi says. “And in fact [Mann] is on a mission to bring back boredom.”
She talked to Mann, who said that when we’re bored, we’re searching for something to stimulate us.
I like to think this is how virtual reality came about. After all, virtual reality came out of someone’s imagination – right? What if one day some tech boffin said ‘I’m bored. What if we could virtually travel?’
Can you see where we are going with this? Virtual reality and imagination. What sparks imagination. Boredom? Solitude? Reading?
Can reading actually take us on a virtual travel experience? What about a virtual imagination tour of Narnia or Middle Earth for instance?
Like all these beautiful online curated virtual travel experiences groaning under the weight of a Google search, our own flights of imagination can come from some of our favourite books.
Maybe the answer to all this virtual travel aspiration is your favourite book in your favourite chair – sort of like a virtual armchair traveller.
Take The Voyage of the Dawn Treader for starters. One of my favourites in the Narnia Chronicles. It’s the tale of a bonkers sea expedition in the tradition of the Old Norse sagas, following the good ship Dawn Treader as she navigates through magical archipelagos filled with salve traders and dragons and merpeople on her way to the edge of the world. There’s sea monsters and side quests. It’s the full virtual travel experience.
So while we can’t travel the world and no one knows when we will be able to do so, we literally have thousands of travel options available to us on our bookshelves.
So in this season of staying put and staying safe perhaps we can take comfort in our armchair travelling adventures.
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