In my work in progress, Vengeance Is Mine, the protagonist travels a lot. To make it easier for me, I only let him go to places I've been. That way I can create better descriptions of the locations. But the other day I wished I was in Albuquerque again to get a bit a detail I needed for a scene. I wanted there to be a house close to the Petroglyph National Monument, but I didn't know if there was one or not. In the old days, such research might require a tax-deductible trip to look around first hand. But, no longer.
Here's all I had to do. I opened Google Maps in my browser and typed in Petroglyph National Monument. Then I clicked on the little orange Google man and moved him to the streets around the park. I found just what I needed. There was a whole neighborhood near the park's parking lot. Close enough to serve my needs.
From Albuquerque, my characters went to Rowe, a small town in Massachusetts I know quite well, but a place where most people don't vacation. My memory of the place was good, but I had not been to a private airport in nearby North Adams that I wanted to use in the story. With Google Maps I was able to start at the airport and follow the road to Rowe. I learned there are many turns along the way. I looked for photos as I made my virtual trip in hopes of finding a winter scene but there were none. Luckily, I went to Rowe this year and a friend there had some photos taken while there was snow on the ground.
So, no longer must we go to a villa in France or spend time on a barge in the Netherlands to absorb details enough for a realistic description. All we have to do is turn on the computer.