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For the past several years, I've spent odd hours wandering roads here and there around the world in Google Street View.  It's strange, but you can really get a thin kind of travel experience from it - obviously not as good as being there, but more than just looking at random still photographs.  You would be surprised what parts of the world have been thoroughly covered by Street View.  For instance, Japan is almost completely covered, so if you want to see what the roads and communities are like over there, it's totally available.  North America and Europe are thick with coverage, as is Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and parts of Brazil and Thailand.  Just thought I'd mention this as an option for people who have no time or money to travel, but want to see the world.

Lately I've been Google-traveling Alaska, which is oddly well-covered for such a sparsely-populated region.  There's actual Street View all the way from Northermost Barrow on the North Slope all the way down through Fairbanks and to Anchorage, so I've had the pleasure of ever so slowly virtually traveling the roads through the dead-empty tundra over otherworldly mountain ranges past Arctic swamps with those spooky-looking Boreal trees, over the Yukon river, through the rare civilized parts, and through unimaginably beautiful wilderness.  I had no idea that was Alaska - it's been genuinely enlightening, also because the Street Views are in both Summer and Fall, so it's in various weather except for the snow that predominates most of the year (but that's obvious).

I just wish there were a "hold continue" button so that it would automatically move down streets in Street View rather than requiring the viewer to keep clicking to zoom forward.  Other than that, it's one of the relatively few things in our modern electronic world that isn't just a superfluous doodad or gadget designed to suck your money and time.  It really is valuable, and hopefully someone will build a service along similar lines that is even more valuable.  I've already used it extensively in planning real travels, not just in terms of where to go, but in getting a sense of what's there to see.  It doesn't ruin the surprise at all: Quite the contrary.  Now if only we could build a society where everyone had equal access to this country that technically belongs to them rather than being rooted to their local communities like serfs for lacking the means to travel...

Anyway, here are a couple of screencaps from Street View in Alaska that struck me as somehow surreal.  I'm sure Almighty Google won't mind the fair use...

Google Maps 2

Google Maps 3

I've basically been "traveling" the Pan-American highway starting from Barrow going South, and am right now a bit Southeast of Fairbanks on the map.  This kind of "travel" has the upside that you can start and stop whenever you want, in perfect comfort.  The only downside is that you can't smell the air, but maybe someday I'll have a chance to take this road for real.  The way some of this scenery looks, I ache to know the reality of it in person.  Just thought I'd mention this, because I'm really enjoying it.

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