If you’re like me and love to travel but hate to do the research and plan an itinerary, Google Earth is about to rock your world.
The latest update, "Voyager," brings you interactive guided tours, each centered on a theme — from “Explore New York City” to “Lost Civilizations from Above” — through which you can see far-flung sites. (And what better timing to explore our beautiful planet than right before Earth Day on April 22!)
Each stop on your tour features history, facts and additional photos from leading storytellers, scientists and nonprofits.
For my first virtual tour, I chose "Explore Paris" from the Editor’s Picks section, since I was recently there myself and wanted to see how Google’s recommendations stacked up to my own experience.
The 72-hour itinerary, broken up by day, covered most, if not all, of the expected sites, from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre to the Place de la Bastille. By clicking on the icon of a person, you can zoom into the area for a street view, as if you’re truly standing there.
Of course, the less touristy highlights, like the best place to get ice cream (Berthillon, on Île Saint-Louis — trust me), were missing, but for someone planning their first trip to the city, this would definitely be a useful guide.
My favorite part was the quick facts that accompanied each site. To me, the Conciergerie is just an impressive building I would snap a photo of as I walk along the Seine. But now, when my mom asks me what this building is as she scrolls through my post-vacation photo reel, I can tell her: It’s a “Gothic, riverside fortress and French Revolution prison, housing Marie Antoinette’s former cell.” Thanks, Google!
And if you’re just feeling general wanderlust without an actual destination in mind, try the “I’m feeling lucky” feature and let Google choose a location for you.
Plus, the update allows you to access Google Earth from any computer with Google Chrome installed — no more downloading necessary.
As summer vacation season nears, get the kids involved. Know you want to go camping? Search national parks and let the photos sell you on which you want to explore in person.
Of course, if a staycation is in the cards this year, you can at least pretend you’re somewhere else. And hey, who has to know you weren’t actually in London yourself? We won’t tell.