Image of Copenhagen from Google Street View

Image of Copenhagen from Google Street View

During the recent recession, a new type of vacation was born: the relaxing but slightly saddening "staycation". Thankfully, many of the world's economies have begun to recover, so now that winter's chill is thawing, cabin fever victims in the northern hemisphere are planning real getaways for summer 2011. Whether you're pondering a road trip to grandma's house or a European tour, Google's recently redesigned Street View website can come in handy.

Street View has been available for several years, but it's always felt like an integrated feature of Google Maps rather than a standalone service. (It's also generated a fair share of controversy, though most of that brou-ha-ha seems to be in the past.) Now, Google has revamped the Street View website, making it easier to use and showing off some of its niftier features. Among our favorites is the worldwide map showing where Google Street View cameras have been. As of today, they've zipped through most of North America and western Europe, as well as Australia, Japan, South Africa, and smaller portions of other countries.

Apart from the gee-whiz factor of scoping out destinations, Street View is particularly useful for those staying in hotels. We've used the service to case prospective lodgings, and it's helped us find the best, most conveniently located digs in our price range.

And don't forget, the service now has applications for art fans, too: Street View recently branched out to include museum tours at Google Art Project. Whether you want to chart a path through the maze of the Met, or you need a quick virtual vacation from the comfort of your work desk, the Art Project is a great way to stroll through some of the world's renowned repositories of fine art.

Our advice for a good vacation? Book early, check your maps (including Street View), and for road-trippers, take a second glance at the gas you're using. Because nobody likes a nasty surprise when they're hundreds of miles from home.

[Google via Mashable]