So, you’re sitting at home, and getting itchy travel feet – you know the feeling. A sudden urge to start looking through flight comparison websites. Longing looks at the Lonely Planets in your local bookshop. Fondling backpacks in your local outdoors store, and getting suspicious looks from the staff. But you can’t decide where to go, and you need that little spark of inspiration.
Or perhaps you can’t travel at the moment, whether due to health issues or low funds, and you want to live vicariously and see the world without leaving your living room. Is it possible, without splashing out on an expensive virtual reality system?
Celebrate, my travel-loving friend, because I’ve got you covered!
Getting Travel Inspiration In Your Own Home
Sometimes getting travel inspiration is very easy – sometimes, all it can take is one pretty photo on Instagram (damn you, pictures of Cinque Terre!). But sometimes, you want to look a bit deeper at a place. Or maybe see, or read about, some places that you hadn’t even considered. Or perhaps you just need that thing that’s going to push you back into travel, that image in your mind or that idea that sets a fire in your imagination.
The good news is that you don’t need to go to the library and pore through every travel book you can get your hands on, or order half a dozen brochures. Those things are great, but do them later once you have a shortlist of destinations: to get that first, initial strike of inspiration, relax in your own home and treat yourself. Not to Netflix and a sharebag of chocolates, but to some entertaining travel via your television, bookshelf, computer or mobile phone. And yes, you can still have that sharebag. As long as you’re sharing it with me, anyway.
All of the shows, books, and games I’ve listed below are ones that I’ve personally purchased and enjoyed, and trust me, they’ve given me plenty of inspiration and ideas. In fact, I’ve now visited the Sorrento/Capri area of Italy four times, and it was all sparked off by a travel book – no photos or images, but pure travel writing. And television shows are great for inspiration; you’re seeing a place, living the trip, wishing you could see it with your own eyes. And if you can’t afford a trip right now, video games can be an excellent way to give the travel itch a temporary scratch, or in my case, help beat a fear of flying.
So here’s my personal top three travel television shows, books, and games!
1. Michael Palin’s Travel Documentaries
The Monty Python alumni is perhaps Britain’s favourite travel documentarian, having been followed by cameras on his trips around the world between 1988 and 2012. Palin makes for an ideal travel companion: always interesting, and interested in what is happening around him, a gentle sense of humour which occasionally veers into the surreal (what did you expect from an ex-Python?), and a dedication to making a quality documentary.
And as there aren’t many corners of the globe that he’s left uncovered, his shows provide the perfect travel inspiration, with cultured narration and beautiful photography. Starting off with the will-he-manage-it drama of Around The World In 80 Days, he progresses to the long and exotic journeys of Pole To Pole and Full Circle, a trip around the Pacific Rim which saw Palin on the road for an entire year. Hemingway Adventure and Brazil provide mini-documentaries, whilst Sahara and Himalaya explore their respective regions in full detail. New Europe rounds off the set, with a look at Central and Eastern Europe.
Available on DVD.
2. Whicker’s World
Running from 1958 to 1994, it would be easy to dismiss these documentaries, made by journalist and television legend Alan Whicker, as outdated. And they’re not strictly based on travel, as Whicker interviews various worldwide personalities, including dictators, celebrities, politicians, locals, and people who are just trying to get some plastic surgery. But their age is what makes them fantastic: although some of the views expressed are seriously outdated, it’s a glorious snapshot of the world at that time, when international travel was really beginning. The show was, for a lot of British people, the first time they’d seen the everyday life (or in some cases, the very unusual life) of people in other countries, and it sparked a desire for worldwide journeying. See the world as it was back then, and enjoy Alan Whicker’s dry wit and subtly snarky questioning of his interviewees.
Available on DVD.
3. The Amazing Race
Back in 2006, I visited my American friend in Nebraska, and whilst I sat at her dining table suffering from a serious case of jetlag, she told me about an American television show which featured 12 teams of 2 people racing around the world, doing tasks and generally making a whole heap of mistakes in order to win a million dollars. At first this sounded like something my poor, confuddled brain had imagined – surely making such a show would cost a fortune! And they still had enough left over to award the winners a million dollars?? – but I got home and discovered that, yes, it was true! And I’ve been hooked on it ever since.
Yes, some of the contestants are deeply annoying. Yes, some of them behave pretty badly abroad (to be punished with a highly-disapproving eyebrow arch from host Phil Keoghan). But it’s also a fantastic way to get travel inspiration: there’s few countries that the race hasn’t visited at some point over the seasons, and the production team do an amazing job of scouting some gorgeous locations, often off the beaten path. Plus if you’ve ever wanted to see people tumbling down a hill chasing some cheese, or getting hit in the face with a watermelon which has just rebounded from a catapult, you’re in luck.
Available on DVD.
1. Bill Bryson, various titles
Iowa native Bryson is my ultimate travel writing hero. Notes From A Small Island, his first tour around Great Britain, was the kind of book that you couldn’t read in public, lest you have a laughing fit (in 2003, it was named the book which “best sums up British identity and the state of the nation” after a poll of the public). I eagerly consumed previous works Neither Here Nor There: Travel in Europe, and The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America and found them just as insightful, colourful, and above all, bitingly witty. Bryson has a talent for storytelling, explaining the history and culture of a place very simply and in an entertaining manner, and slagging a place off without causing offence. He slated my hometown, and I still loved him for it; that’s skill! Following titles A Walk In The Woods, Down Under (renamed In A Sunburned Country for the U.S.), and The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From A Small Island do not dip in quality, and sit in pride of place on my travel bookshelf.
2. Lauren Juliff – How Not To Travel The World: Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker
I have many things to be grateful to the wonderful Lauren for, but this is where I first read her story, when I picked up her book on a whim on Kindle. The book is a brilliant read, which I quite literally couldn’t put down, and tells the story of how she became a backpacker and the various misadventures which happened along the way. Tsunami? Check! Awkward (to say the least) massage in Thailand? Check! Punching a Chinese scammer? Check! But aside from being a book which was wonderfully written and made me cry with laughter, this really was one that changed my life – as a fellow anxiety sufferer, I noticed so many points in Lauren’s story about early travel fears and anxiety which I really empathised with, and could’ve been taken from my own experiences. It was comforting to know that I’m not the only one who has experienced those fears. This was the book that made me really want to push myself out of my comfort zone, and made me realise that if someone else in a similar situation could do it, then so could I. And it’s the book that’s launched me on my current journey, and I think, made me a more confident and less anxious person. I very strongly recommend it!
3. Michael Palin, various titles
Yes, Michael Palin again! If you enjoyed his television documentaries, or if they sound intriguing but you’re really more of a reading kind of person, I heartily recommend reading his books. Titled with the same names as his shows (see the Television section above), they are the published diaries he kept during his travels. As well as a few behind-the-scenes tidbits, they’re well worth reading purely for Palin’s more in-depth exploration of the things he sees and the people he meets, and a wonderfully thoughtful narrative style. You really get a better sense of long-term travel, and the logistics of taking himself, his loyal Passpartout crew, and the amount of equipment required to film a BBC series, literally around the globe. A fascinating look into the world, as well as the heart and mind of Michael Palin, who comes across as the cool travelling uncle you never had.
I always feel that video games are something of a neglected art – they’re too easily stereotyped as Call of Duty, “kill everything in sight” type shooters, but the reality is that CoD and the like are just one subgenre. Some of the best plots I’ve ever experienced have come not from movies, but from video games. Some of the most tender, peaceful, and most relaxing arts that I’ve experienced have not come from books, but from the humble game or app. Plus I’m a massive nerd, and I just love video games. So let’s have a look at the ones that let you live out your travel fantasies, and maybe give you some ideas at the same time!
1. Euro Truck Simulator 2 / American Truck Simulator
Ever fancied a road trip across Europe, or the South West of America? Lack the funds to do it, or in my case, the driving license? Fret no more; ETS2 and ATS give you the opportunity to do just that, hauling a cargo which could be anything from sulphuric acid to fishfingers at the same time. Whilst a truck simulator might sound painfully dull on the surface, any doubts you might have melt away as soon as you play it (I can personally attest to this – my non-gamer brother gave it a try, and was immediately hooked), and with 4.5 million copies of ETS2 sold, it’s obviously doing something right. Maps are vast and realistic, covering most of the major cities, and it’s ridiculously relaxing just to kick back, tune into the radio, and drive from Sicily to Stockholm, or Phoenix to Los Angeles. The fact that you can grow a trucking empire becomes largely irrelevant: for the travel fan, it’s a great way of preparing for your next big road trip.
Available for PC via Steam.
2. 80 Days
80 Days started out as a humble IoS app; the fact that it’s now available on PC gaming platform Steam attests to its popularity. And for good reason: the game, which puts the player into the role of Jean Passpartout in a slightly steampunk-inspired version of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, is fabulously well-written. If you ever had one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books when you were a kid, then you’ll be familiar with the format, and Meg Jayanth’s atmospheric writing really gives you a flavour of the various locations you’ll find yourself in. Hop on the Orient Express, solve crimes on the Pacific Ocean, travel to the centre of the earth, the North Pole, or the Moon, and attempt to get back to London within 80 days, whilst keeping Phileas Fogg moderately happy. Oh, and did I mention that the app doesn’t require any internet connection? So you can play it in airplane mode, and travel around the world whilst simultaneously travelling around the world! It’s sophisticated interactive storytelling.
Available for IoS, Android, and PC via Steam.
3. Urlaubsflug Simulator – Holiday Flight Simulator
Previously holding the slightly snappier title of Ready For Takeoff!, this flight simulator is the game that really helped me with my flight anxiety. A lot simpler to control than most flight simulators (if you want something more advanced, go for Microsoft Flight Simulator X, or X-Plane), the first time I played it, I found myself at the beginning of the runway with an increasing heartbeat and sweaty palms. Yup, even flying in a video game was too terrifying, though it speaks well for the realism of US’s graphics. But after a few unfortunate incidents, I found that the plane wanted to be in the air – the game accurately captured the design of the planes, and the lift upon it once it was in motion. Indeed, if I took my hands off the controller once I was in midair, it pleasingly gained altitude without me even trying. And it made me feel so much better about flying! Flying from London, to Paris, Berlin, Majorca, or Turkey made flying a more familiar experience, and it really helped when I flew to Italy a couple of months later. If I’m being critical, it offers far less variety than other flight sims, but in terms of simplicity and helping to beat a phobia, it has been absolutely invaluable.
So there’s my picks! Have you watched/read/played any of the above? I’d love to know if you have; be sure to comment below!