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Karen Bayly

Author and Copywriter

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The Art of Armchair Travel

With the world in the grip of Covid-19, travel is fast becoming a distant memory for many people. It doesnt affect me at the moment as I’d planned to travel when I retired. By that stage, I hoped to have saved enough to journey to distant lands. Unlike my peers, I’ve rarely had spare cash available for hopping on planes to go overseas. I’ve done some travel within Australia and over to New Zealand, and there was a semi-business trip to Los Angeles, but that’s about it.

There are places I’ve dreamed of visiting for many years. Unfortunately, life has not worked out as I expected in so many ways, and the likelihood of overseas travel, if not dead, is definitely in palliative care.

However, I’m learning the art of armchair travel. Nowadays, there are a multitude of ways one can “travel” from the comfort of one's own home. There have always been books - stories set in far-off places, travel books, autobiographies, and lusciously photographed coffee table books. You can add to this the joy of YouTube - thousands of videos extolling the landscape and culture of just about any country you can visit (and a few you can’t!).

It helps that I’ve always been able to insert myself into books and especially into movies. I’ve “taken part” in more movies than most actors!

Is arm chair the same as real travel? Of course not, but it’s better than nothing. Here are my top three favourites.

Iceland

Iceland has fascinated me since high school, where I learned about its geology. It lies on the divergent boundary between the Eurasian plate and the North American plate and sits right above a hotspot, the Iceland plume. Magma, and therefore heat, is close to the surface, and this gives Iceland its geothermal phenomena, such as geysers and hot springs.

People used to think I was odd for wanting to go there. Now it’s a popular tourist destination and I know many people who have visited (cries into pillow).

However, its popularity means that it is far easier to find information on Iceland. There are novels now translated into English (I’m fond of Icelandic noir and Ragnar Jónasson is a current favourite), images abound on the internet, and you can watch numerous videos on YouTube e.g. Discover Iceland - A Winter Road Trip , or Iceland - Land of Fire and Ice.

Then there are Icelandic horses. These amazing creatures have five gaits - walk, trot, gallop, tolt (which is like a trot but where the legs move parallel not opposite) and a flying pace (a super fast tolt). This video shows the paces slowed down as well as normal speed. And even standing still, they are shaggy beauties.

Image: Drew Doggett

Simien Mountains in Ethiopia

I first heard about this spectacular place on a travel documentary hosted by Joanna Lumley. The Simien Mountains offers uninterrupted views of endless high peaks including Ethiopia’s highest mountain, Ras Dashen, interspersed with vast, green valleys. You can see fascinating wildlife, including the endemic Gelada Baboons and rare Walia Ibex, and a vast array of unique flowers, trees and plants. Sounds amazing.

It’s not a hugely popular destination but you can still find videos on YouTube, like Hiking in the Simien Mountains, or Ras Dashen - Simien Mountains National Park.

Image: African Budget Safaris

Białowieża Forest, Poland

Białowieża Forest (pronunciation here) is one of the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain. The forest is home to 800 European bison, Europe's heaviest land animal. Primeval forest! How awesome is that!  There are some wonderful documentaries on YouTube - check out Bialowieza primeval forest part 1 and Wild Things - Wildlife in Bialowieza, Poland (English).

Sadly, Poland keeps threatening to log it and so few of the rest of the world even know it exists. Not a great recipe for preservation.

Image: © WWF/LawnikAdam

Other things that were on my list include:

  • Gypsy Caravan Adventure in Ireland
  • What I refer to as my “Ancestral Tour” i.e. visiting the places my forebears lived. This includes London, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, Normandy, and Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany
  • The Carpathian Mountaines - maybe horse riding in the Calimani National Park, or a four-day trekking tour in Gorgany, the wildest region in the Carpathian Mountains 
  • Timisoara, Romania
  • Horse riding the Camino de Santiago from the Pyrenees (Camino Frances). My knees a shot so walking such a long distance is not really an option.
  • Finistere in Brittany
  • A week in Paris
  • Comic-Con 
  • A white Christmas with real snow

All are possible as an armchair traveller. Well, maybe not a week in Paris, or a white Christmas with real snow, but I can still watch videos about Paris, and opt for Christmas in July in the Snowy Mountains in my home state. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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