I guess by now, we have all taken an up close and personal tour of our home and surrounding neighbourhoods on Google Maps. Is that my deckchair in the garden on extreme zoom? Who is that neighbour with a swimming pool or is it just a large rounded sheet of light blue canvas to look like one because they knew when the pictures were going to be taken!

But think wider, and further abroad. The tool has been developed and is expanding. Assuming you don’t want to go on a virtual holiday of your own vicinity (why would you? Get off the sofa and go out and look at it for real!) how about going diving to see the Great Barrier Reef- the largest reef-which lies off the coast of Queensland in north-east Australia, without ever leaving your home?

If you know your barrier reef geography (I don’t) then know that the reefs covered by Google include Heron Island, where you can walk from the Heron Island Resort, along the beach, and then take a dip in the waters by the reef, spotting turtles and tropical fish along the way. Also included in the tour are Wilson Island and Lady Elliot Island, both at the southern end of the reef. Good, and very realistic (and you don’t have to hold your breath while underwater).

Google Maps are currently testing a new ‘GL’ version of their standard service. It too looks set to make the useful mapping tool even better for travellers who want to plan their holidays in close up detail, and those who want to visit the locations in virtual reality. By “morphing” images taken by you, the public, around famous landmarks and sites, it provides new 360-degree photo tours that give you views at every angle.

So what do you think of seeing a place and hearing the sounds from it (to be added later) without leaving the comfort of your armchair, your e-mail and Facebook messages, and your faithful mouse? I guess unless you have unlimited time and money there is no way you are going to see all the world has to offer: Antarctica, a restricted (normally) walk through the Kennedy Space Station, a canoe trip up the Amazon River, a walk along the Great Wall of China.

Let’s remember how back in the early 90s the development of the internet had a massive impact on travel more than any almost any other industry. In the space of a few months people realised that they could access airlines and hotels directly to DIY their perfect holiday and cut out the middleman for lower prices. Package holidays seemed to be down the Swanny as consumers took matters into their own hands and crafted their own bespoke holidays.

But on a rainy winter’s evening, with your next holiday four months away, what better way to spend an evening than visiting ancient ruins or beautiful locations in the comfort of your own home?

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