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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Taking a Virtual Trip- With Google Maps

Living on a super tight budget with my family, I would say we have a very good life, and we have everything we need, and a lot of extras as well. But I must admit that one of the hardest things for me is knowing that since we're short on cash, there's a lot of things I had growing up that I will never be able to give to my kids. Among them is the experience of visiting all sorts of interesting places, including tourist destinations and the places where my parents grew up.
My husband and I both live and are raising our kids oceans away from where we grew up, and I wish that one day I'll be able to take my children to my hometown, to see where I lived. I tell them stories about growing up, show them pictures from my photo albums, but its simply not the same without being able to see the surrounding areas, to really be able to experience it. I would also love to be able to visit my husband's native South Africa.

Unfortunately, since money is tight, we do prioritize things that we need over extras, and things that are permanent over fleeting things, and memories, while amazing, can be had for free or very cheaply, even if they're not all the memories I would have liked to give to my children. And if we did have some money saved up, unfortunately we'll be putting it towards the possibility of a down payment for a home one day- because plane fare around the world from a large family, even from a cheap travel deals site like Expedia- is simply out of our budget, and lower down our list of priorities than being able to own a house one day.

So, since taking trips to far off locations isn't an option for us, I wanted to see if there was a way to show our kids where we grew up, the neighborhood, etc... without needing to pay large sums of money.

Enter Google Maps.

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My childhood home, courtesy of Google Maps street view

I know, sounds ridiculous, but it really isn't.

I've discovered that with Google Map's street view, I could take my children on virtual tours of various locations, including showing them my house, where I went to school, my street and neighbors, and tell them stories about the neighbors who lived in each house, show them where I used to take ballet lessons, where we'd go shopping, etc... And while doing that, I'd also be able to point out how things changed and are different than how they are now.

It's amazing.

Like a trip down memory lane for me, and a virtual exploration of Mommy's childhood place for my kids. 

I've showed my children and husband the few houses I had in the US, and when I was going on a trip to the US a little more than a year ago, I showed the children on Google Maps where I'd be going so they'd be able to relate to my trip more.

Mike has also taken the family on trips to his home town, showing us his old home, and how it has now been turned into a restaurant, with a hotel built on their property, showed us where his father's business was, etc...

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A place I loved to visit growing up
It has been fascinating to get a glimpse into his childhood, thanks to Google Maps, since us actually going to South Africa for a visit is highly unlikely to ever happen, unless we become rich one day...

Once we did some exploring on Google of our pasts, I decided to see where else we can explore together, taking virtual trips to check out other places.
We've discovered that you can't get street view in every place- our current town doesn't have street view available, and checking out Tahiti on street view doesn't work, but...

We've explored the Grand Canyon (a place I went to with my family growing up), Venice, and Tokyo, as well as various other places, and it has been pretty amazing seeing these places, being able to compare and contrast them to locations we know. (I was shocked that residential areas of Tokyo look nearly identical to the beach town where we visit every year.)

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Visiting Venice with Google Maps
If you haven't taken advantage of Google Map's street view feature, I highly recommend it. It doesn't exactly take the place of taking an actual trip to all these locations, but it is better than never being able to show these places to your children and loved ones.

My son has been so fascinated by the street view that he's asked me to download Google Maps onto our tablet, so he can explore different parts of the world, taking a virtual tour.

Technology is super amazing.

Oh- and I just remembered- even if you plan on going somewhere, Google Maps can help make sure you plan your trip correctly. When we were offered free accommodations at a hotel, we wanted to get the most for our money, and one of the places that seemed nice but not expensive was in an area that didn't have the best reputation. We first checked out the place on Google Maps, scouring out the area, seeing what it looked like, if it was well maintained or run down, etc... and once we saw that it looked well taken care of, we decided to go, and were happy with our decision.

PS- this post is not endorsed by Google Maps. I just am sharing something I love that you hopefully will enjoy as well!

If you live far from where you grew up, have you ever "gone back to visit" using Google Maps, either for your own knowledge or to show it to your loved ones? Have you ever checked out other cities that you've never been to, in lieu of actually visiting those places? Where has been the most fun to explore via street view?

3 comments:

  1. We encouraged both our parents-who have yet to visit us in the 3 years since we moved abroad - to check out our home and city on Google Street View.
    We've also done Google Street view touring. We "visited" Gibraltar, Singapore, and some American sites like Grand Canyon & Niagara Falls. It's a fun geography lesson and gives you more insight into the place than just a map ever could.

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  2. Yep! :) All the time! I visit Georgia and Ohio. I'm 5,000 miles away from there now so it's nice to see what I miss. I've enjoyed looking at Lapland and Paris! :)

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  3. That's a lovely idea! I used Google maps street view extensively when we were looking for a rental property, and ruled out so many homes because of their proximity to things that weren't on my list for quite living. A few minutes on street view saved me, and my realtor, a lot of time!

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