It is strange that the phrase ‘armchair travel’ does not appear in the Oxford dictionary. Perhaps it reflects the wariness that is felt about those who know a lot about places yet have never travelled there. Seems pretty crazy though, when we consider how many of us watch cooking shows but don’t cook, revel in Monty Don’s gardening shows yet only dabble with our windowsill herbs or indulge in watching the Olympic games but just about manage a stroll around the park. These days, armchair travellers might indeed have the upper hand. What, after all, can be more eco-friendly than travelling vicariously through the screen? No planes, trains, automobiles, no airmiles clocking up, no carbon footprint. No footprints at all in fact.
Seriously though, armchair travel might just have hit the zeitgeist. When there is no open road, no dusty highway, no rolling downs, no glowing cities awaiting our eager traveller spirit, just what are we supposed to do? We take to our screens, of course! In the words of Toad from Wind in the Willows, travel is ‘The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing!’ Travelling in the virtual world delivers never-ending new, albeit smaller, horizons. An endless scroll of blue skies and seas, exotic locations and what we like to call the ‘ahhhh’ moments – those dusky sunset shots.
And let’s face it, at the end of a long day, armchair travel does actually deliver some serious benefits of ‘real’ travel. We know that travel stimulates the senses, and virtual travel can offer a lot of the same feelings. The psychological effect of looking at nature’s blues, for example, can make us feel calm. The warm colours of red-orange sunsets and desert landscapes can evoke feelings of warmth and comfort. And the memories evoked of past holidays with friends can bring on laughter.
However, escaping to far-flung beaches and blistering views is not simply the domain of the screen. Last year many of us turned to reading. The World Book day’s shortlist included journeys to the decadence of Long Island with Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, a meander down the Nile with Agatha Christie and a bracing, wind-in-the-hair read of the south west coastal path with Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path. Reading is just as much of an escape, it seems, and can also be done in the comfort of an armchair. You might be putting your feet up, yet there is no end to where you can travel in your mind.
‘That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet,’ says American author, Jhumpa Lahiri. Psychologist, Lauria Helgoe, adds, ‘Reading is like travel, allowing you to exit your own life for a bit, and to come back with a renewed, even inspired perspective.’
Perhaps the most serious armchair travellers might consider taking the mischievous book by French academic Pierre Bayard, called How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been. In it he invokes a distinguished list of fantasists, cheats, liars and novelists, asserting Marco Polo probably never ventured beyond Constantinople let alone explored China. He claims that Phileas Fogg barely left his cabin as he raced around the world in 80 days.
So, whether you’re boarding a plane, train or automobile later this year, let’s give it up for all those armchair travellers out there who have never stopped travelling. We even wonder whether armchair travel might soon enter the Oxford Dictionary?