Meet the agoraphobic photographer who uses Google Street View to 'travel' to the most remote places on Earth

  • Back in 2016, Jacqui Kenny logged into Google Street View and her world changed.
  • Kenny has agoraphobia, which is an extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places or being in places from which escape is difficult. Her condition has made long-distance travel difficult.
  • For the next several years, Kenny became a full-time virtual traveler, visiting places like Mongolia and Peru from the comfort of her home in London.
  • Fast forward to today: Kenny has visited almost every country mapped on Google Street View and taken 40,000 screenshots along the way.
  • Kenny posts her images of small towns and Google cars kicking up dust to her 131,000 followers on Instagram as the Agoraphobic Traveler.
  • Business Insider caught up with Kenny in May to learn about her virtual journeys, her favorite places to photograph, and her tips for virtual travel in the age of social distancing.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Ten years ago, photographer Jacqui Kenny was diagnosed with agoraphobia, an anxiety condition that makes traveling long distances on planes, trains, and buses difficult.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Kenny, now in her 40s, has lived with agoraphobia since her early 20s. In the years following her diagnosis, she said she found her world shrinking.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

"I didn't really want to go out that much," she told Business Insider. "I found myself in the situation where I needed to find some way to stay connected with the world."

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

One day in 2016, she sat down at her computer in London and opened up Google Street View. That's when her world changed.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

"I felt like I had so much more control in this world than I did in the real world at that point," she told Business Insider. "I could parachute into these countries with no fear of panic attacks, no fear of anxiety, no flying."

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

For the next two-and-half to three years, she became a full-time visual traveler. Kenny would open up Street View daily to travel to far-flung corners of the earth, sometimes for as many as 18 hours at a time.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

When Jacqui found an image she liked, she took a screenshot and began posting her "Street View portraits" on Instagram under the name the Agoraphobic Traveler.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Jacqui estimates that she's traveled to almost every country mapped on Google Street View and taken 40,000 images.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Today, Kenny isn't on Street View as often as she used to be. "I got to a point where I felt I got all that I needed from the project," she told Business Insider.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Instead, she's working on a book of her work scheduled to launch early next year and has been combing through her archive of images.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Rediscovering old images has been an opportunity for Kenny to contemplate what the project meant to her.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

"So many of the images I took were a reflection of what I was going through at the time," she said. "They feel quite isolated, but the colors are hopeful."

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

When Kenny first started traveling on Street View, everything was new and exciting, from a dog chasing to a cat to kids playing football.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Over time, she found that she was drawn to visual symbols of resilience like remote desert towns, cacti, and palm trees.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Mongolia, Senegal, Peru, Chile, Arizona, and New Mexico are among her favorite places to visit, with Mongolia topping the list.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Kenny discovered Mongolia early on her project and was drawn to how different it was from her life in London. She loves its mix of traditional and modern architecture, rolling landscapes, herds of wild horses, and light.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Over the course of her project, Kenny also realized she didn't have to travel to far-flung places to be happy and learned to appreciate her neighborhood in London more. "It was a great time to actually look around at what's close to me," she said.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Kenny used to recommend places to visit on Street View, but now encourages people to just pick a place and dive in, since everyone notices and appreciates different details.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

She recommends the website mapcrunch.com, which drops users in random locations on Street View.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Kenny also stressed the importance of connecting with others during the pandemic.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

"What we're going through at the moment is different from my experience with agoraphobia, but there are still similarities like the frustration of not connecting with the world in a way that you want," she said.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

Kenny's followers on Instagram have helped her feel that connection, recommending places around the world for her to virtually visit and sharing their own experiences with agoraphobia and mental health. "It makes me not feel that I'm so alone with it," she said.

Source: The Agoraphobic Traveler

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