Virtual travel. How to take off, without leaving home.
Self-isolation. Confined to home. Only allowed to travel locally for essential reasons such as grocery shopping, medical appointments and urgent personal needs. A travel writer’s worst nightmare! But that’s the reality of the situation I and millions of my fellow Australians find themselves in during these unprecedented times, during the global coronavirus outbreak that is consuming our planet.
I am sitting at my computer at home. In self isolation. As are hundreds of thousands of my fellow Australians and countless tens of millions of people around the world. Held hostage to arguably the biggest threat to the world’s health and the world’s economy for two thousand and twenty years.
Dinah and I are avid travellers, both locally in Australia and internationally. To date, we have visited over 50 countries, with many more on our ‘to-see’ list. We started 2020 full of optimism with a two week road trip to the Central Tablelands of New South Wales to visit our family then followed up with a 10 day “Grass Roots” tour of Outback Queensland in our caravan to help support communities struggling with the ravages of drought, food and fire. A mid-year trip to Penang in Malaysia was in its early planning stages and we had pre-booked accommodation in Sanur, Bali for our annual pilgrimage to the “Island of the Gods” in September. Now, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, there will most likely be no travel in the foreseeable future; local, interstate or international.
The solution for us as well as for millions of people who had been planning to go see the planet this year, is to travel without travelling.
See the world without leaving home.
We humans are a remarkably resilient species. Where there is adversity, we find hope. Where there are seemingly insurmountable problems, we overcome. And fortunately at this time in our lives, technology is on our side to give us a hand to overcome. In the space of a little over one month, as a nation we have moved from face-to-face to almost completely online for our essential and routine life activities. Online grocery shopping, online banking, online schooling, online family gatherings, online social get-togethers and now, online travel. Not just our travel bookings online, which we have been doing for some time, actually travelling the world in an online virtual mode.
The web has already transformed the way many of us plan our travel. Rather than going to travel agents, we use their online sites or in many cases, put together our own travel itineraries with cheap online flights and hotel booking sites. But what happens when we cannot actually travel; cannot board a plane, a train, a ship, a bus or even drive our own vehicle across state borders? Yep. We embrace virtual travel and explore the world on our TV, computer screen, tablet or smart phone.
Take a ‘Staycation’.
The new buzz-word in travel is ‘Staycation” – the stay-at-home vacation. Through the use of the technology most have in our homes, we can now explore the world at our leisure; alone, with our partner or we can take the whole family. It is the next best thing to being there.
If nature is your thing, you can float through an amber kelp forest in the Channel Islands, hang out with manatees in Florida, and watch bald eagles nest in real-time on Explore.org, the world’s largest live nature cam network. Explore.org has close to one hundred webcams set up in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries around the world and aggregates their live streams on its website. Check www.explore.org
You can travel around the world, visiting amazing places through Google Earth’s curated virtual tours. Google Earth’s Voyager discovery page curates a huge amount of country and city tours, ranging from broad country tours such as “Discover Bermuda” and “Discover Argentina” to more specific ones such as “Tour the Staircases of Hong Kong”. If you’ve ever wanted to visit this fascinating city, what a way to get an appreciation of how so many people live and work on the extremely slopey sides of the rocky outcrop they call Hong Kong Island. Check out: www.thrillist.com
If art and culture are your thing, Google Arts & Culture will take you on fascinating virtual tours of Stonehenge in Britain, Machu Picchu – the lost city of the Incas, the Taj Mahal and other great world monuments. Thanks to its 360-degree mapping technology, Google offers an inside look at many of the world’s most iconic attractions. And in addition to monuments and tourist attractions, Google Arts & Culture allows you to tour the world’s foremost museums; more than 1200 cultural institutions around the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Visit: www.artsandculture.google.com
If you haven’t visited the Great Wall, climbed its sheer sides and walked its stone ramparts, then you have not experienced one of the true wonders of the world. The China Guide, a Beijing-based travel agency has developed a virtual tour of one of the Great Wall of China’s most iconic sections, Jinshanling to Simatai. This section crosses the border between Beijing and Hebei provinces and is the go-to destination for classic Great Wall photography. Hike over six miles of the 2,000 year old wall virtually. Go to: www.thechinaguide.com
In the main, travel blogs are an online service that allows visitors, in some cases subscribers, to access information to inform and educate them on travel and travel destinations. By checking out real-world, non-commercial appraisals of destinations around the world, it is a great way to “try before you buy”. In my case, goctheplanet.com is a platform that allows me to share my personal travel experiences and to provide ‘tips for the trip’ that may help in the planning and execution of travel. There are hundreds, if not thousands of blogs and bloggers that you can visit. For some of the best blogs worldwide, check out: www.placepass.com Younger travellers can check out: www.under30experience.com
Advantages of virtual travel
With today’s technology, you can not only access great places to travel to, you can actually immerse yourself in the journey and experience. It’s like being there. It’s great for trip planning. Instead of simply reading reviews and other people’s opinions, you can see for yourself. You really can ‘try before you buy”. It can take you to places that you may never be able to visit in person. And no more long-haul flights, endless immigration queues, crowded arrivals halls and lugging heavy bags to over-priced hotels.
Finally, its free. It really cost nothing to log on to a site and enjoy the travel experience in the comfort of your own home, in your own time and at your own pace. You can travel alone, with a partner or friend, or you can take the whole family.
Take off at home.
I’ve compiled a number of interesting sites that will give you additional information regarding online and virtual travel. There are lots more that you can Google.
“How to vacation from your couch during the coronavirus.”
“How Virtual Reality could help the Travel and Tourism Industry.”
“Try virtual tours to travel during coronavirus quarantine.”
“Travel worlds: Can we travel without travelling?”
“Take a virtual tour of these 12 amazing museums.”
Cleaned inside and out. Cover on. Our caravan is parked for the duration. Now let’s go and see the world, and travel without travelling.
Bon Voyage, coronavirus!
Main picture: Memories of great trips
- Virtual travel on your own device
- Pondering my next story in Seminyak, Bali
- Dinah enjoying a quiet dean in Asia
- Professional travel writer at work