One of the delights of this bizarre age we're living through—and yes, there have been delights, including a worldwide proliferation of home-baked cakes and cookies—has been the explosion in video conferencing.
Whether you use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or some other chatty app, 2020 has given us entree to the private spaces of friends and the famous alike. Don't pretend you haven't been fascinated to see what celebrities keep on their shelves near their home computers. Don't pretend you had assumed some of them lived better than they actually do. We're all transfixed. We are all Peeping Toms now.
Literally: The crisis has even permitted us to peep at Tom Hanks in his tastefully appointed kitchen as he virtually hosted Saturday Night Live.
The delight of sanctioned nosiness is improved only, perhaps, by the delight of kooky self-expression through fake digital backgrounds that you can upload to make it look like you're somewhere you're not.
We may never be able to explain to Grandpa what to click on Zoom so that everyone's picture is stacked like the opening of The Brady Bunch (it's Gallery View, Gramps), but we can at least baffle him by uploading wild and strange virtual backgrounds to appear behind us in our video calls.
Don't think the world's tourist attractions haven't seen a free marketing opportunity in our newfound hunger for custom backgrounds. Numerous destinations have created their own images that you merely have to download and then upload to your preferred video conferencing platform, no charge at all.
Now you can celebrate the world's wonders and conceal the growing pile of dirty laundry behind you, all at the same time.
These aren't photos that random people stole and posted as their own—they're 100% legit and provided to you with no strings attached by official offices. So you're good to go! Well, virtually.
Alexandria, Virginia: Images include Spite House, sailing on the Potomac, and Old Town Alexandria.
Anaheim: Images include Knott's Berry Farm, Anaheim Packing House, and Disneyland.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania: Images include Peddler's Village, Washington Crossing Historic Park, and Bucks County Playhouse.
Chesapeake, Virginia: Images include kayaking on Lake Drummond, sunset at Elizabeth River Park, and the Chesapeake Arboretum.
Detroit: Images include the Fisher Theatre, Belle Isle, and the Motown Museum.
Discovery Cove, Orlando: Images include marmosets, otters, dolphins, and a spotted eagle ray.
Georgia: Images include Savannah, peach tree blossoms, and coastal areas.
Idaho: Images include Blue Heart Springs, Shoshone Falls, and Craters of the Moon.
Las Vegas: Images include the Venetian, the Bellagio fountains, Fremont Street, the top of Hoover Dam, and the Seven Magic Mountains boulder sculpture.
London: Images include Tower Bridge, Somerset House, Greenwich, and the River Thames.
Los Angeles: Images include Griffith Park Observatory, Union Station, and Hermosa Beach Pier. Even as it tears down buildings for redevelopment, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) posted some of its best works, and the Hollywood Heritage Museum has some cool shots of classic Hollywood such as Paramount Pictures' Bronson Gate, the Capitol Records building, and vintage shots of Hollywood Boulevard.
The Maldives: Images include the Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu resorts.
Miami: Images include the Everglades, Little Havana, South Beach, and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
Myrtle Beach: Images include beach, sunset, and aerial shots.
Napa Valley, California: Images include vineyards, hot air balloons, and spring mustard blooms.
New York: Images include Chittenango Falls, Boldt Castle, the Finger Lakes, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The New York Public Library and Niagara Falls posted their own collections as well, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art got in on the gag by posting shots of some of the most lavish rooms in its interior design and architecture collections.
North Carolina: Images include the Charlotte skyline, Ocracoke Lighthouse, and the Appalachian Trail.
Oregon: Images include Umpqua River, Salt Creek Falls, and Painted Hills.
Orlando: Images include Gatorland, Universal Orlando, and Legoland Florida.
Palm Springs, California: Images include the Aerial Tramway, date palms, golf courses, and swimming pools.
Philadelphia: Images include Al Capone's prison cell, Elfreth's Alley, LOVE Park, the Rocky statue, and the Liberty Bell. The Museum of the American Revolution has its own suite of lively free backgrounds for download.
Philippines: Images include sunset at Boracay island, palm trees in Davao City, and Mayon Volcano.
Puerto Rico: Images include El Morro, Old San Juan, Culebra, and various beaches.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: Images include Playa Caballo, a sunset over town rooftops, and seascapes.
Salem, Massachusetts: Images include the Salem Witch Museum, the Schooner Fame, and the House of the Seven Gables.
San Antonio: Images include the Alamo, River Walk, and Mission Concepción.
San Diego: Images include Balboa Park, Torrey Pines, and Cabrillo National Monument.
San Francisco: Images include the Painted Ladies houses, the California Street cable car, the Castro, and the Pier 39 sea lions.
Santa Fe: Images include Old Town, adobe buildings, and Meow Wolf.
Sarasota, Florida: Images include the beaches at Siesta Key, Longboat Key, and Lido Key.
Seattle: Images include Pike Place Market, the Fremont Troll, Lake Union houseboats, and Snoqualmie Falls.
Schitt's Creek: Download images of the TV show's exteriors in Goodwood, Ontario.
SeaWorld Orlando: Images include a sea lion pup, a beluga whale, and penguins.
Sentosa, Singapore: Images include Madame Tussauds and beach resorts.
Tampa Bay, Florida: Images include an Ybor City rooster, the Florida Aquarium, and paddleboarding by the downtown skyline. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has its own selections, including the SheiKra and Tigris roller coasters and animals such as giraffes (pictured above), sloths, and tortoises.
United Airlines: Images include cockpit views, lounges, and airplanes in flight (so at least someone's flying).
U.S. National Parks: Hotel and restaurant operator Xanterra posted images including Glacier, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Zion national parks.
Vancouver: Images include skyline views, tulips, and the marina.
Washington, D.C.: Images include the Tidal Basin in cherry blossom season, Ben's Chili Bowl, and Nationals Park.
Home rental companies have also gotten in on the trend to promote their most eye-popping properties. Images from Airbnb include luxurious sites in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France; Arrowtown, New Zealand; and over the Sacred Valley of Urubamba, Peru. Images from Onefinestay include a loft on Place des Vosges in Paris, a pool by a mansion in Sydney, and a rooftop in the old city of Rome.
And just in case you need to know, here's how to add virtual backgrounds to one of the most popular video chat apps, Zoom:
1. Save the photo you want to your computer or device.
2. Once you’re logged into Zoom, open Account Settings (on a Mac: Preferences).
3. If your computer or device can support the function, “Virtual Background” appears as an option. Select it, then press the plus sign to upload the photo of your choice. You can also use video.
We don't think we can truly compete with the virtual wallpaper bonanza above, but we can provide a few of our own backgrounds with a distinct Frommer's spin.
Slap these shots of our book titles behind you the next time you're logged into virtual chat. People will think your place is stuffed with bookshelves, like you're some kind of library smarty-pants. They'll never see the stacks of dirty dishes behind you now!
Finally, if you're a fan of our weekly podcasts (always available for free at Frommers.com/podcast), then the title card for our radio show might be more on your wavelength:
Download away! Happy (virtual) travels!