One of the most intimidating aspects of being a doctoral student is arranging a research trip overseas. Sure, it’s a great way to explore a new country and take in a little local culture. But planning the trip, especially without knowing your way around a particular city, can be nothing short of a nightmare.

Two summers ago, I was in the midst of planning a research trip to Dijon, France. Friends and colleagues could barely contain their excitement when I told them where I was headed. They also routinely brushed off my trepidation when I indicated I was worried about finding a place to stay. “You’ll be fine,” they assured me. “France is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.”

It turns out that France is a beautiful country. And my research trip was a definite blast, once I got over my initial jet lag. But I can’t tell you how much peace of mind Google Maps gave me when I was planning my trip.

Technology is a wonderful thing. It not only helps us learn, communicate, and entertain, but it also helped me see the neighborhood I would be staying in well before my visit. If you’ve never used the Street View function in Google Maps, you should definitely check it out. It basically allows you to see a 360-degree view of the street on a particular map. It’s really easy to access, and Google has provided these helpful instructions to get you started.

When I finally secured an apartment in Dijon, I used the Street View function to check out the route from the train station to my digs. I saw all of the local sights, including restaurants, museums, and Dijon’s gorgeous Notre Dame cathedral. By the time I arrived in the city, I could identify all of the major landmarks around my apartment, and had even planned a lunch trip to a nearby patisserie.


Sure, I could have used a run-of-the-mill map to figure all of this out, but using a photographic map was so much more immersive and fun. Call me crazy, but using Street View made me feel a lot more confident when I actually arrived in Dijon.

Street View has been in the news lately since Google released an amazing panoramic exploration of Antarctica [UPDATE: You can also check out World Wonders in Street View here]. It may not give you the same rush as actually being there, but I still think it’s pretty awesome that technology allows us to see far-flung places from the comfort of our living rooms. I can’t wait to see what unique adventures Google Maps takes me on next.

Fast Facts About Google Street View:

  • It was launched on May 25th, 2007 in the United States.
  • Face-blurring technology is used to keep people anonymous in the photos.
  • Japan was the first country in Asia with Street View.
  • Google plans to showcase underwater views of the Great Barrier Reef in the near future.
  • Cars, bikes, and snowmobiles with mounted cameras are used to capture the images.

(Source: Wikipedia)