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10 Best Virtual Tours: How to Travel the World Without Leaving Home

by Skye Sherman - May 11 , 2020


Photo Credit: Northern Lights by Aleksi Mattsson, flickr.com
Photo Credit: Northern Lights by Aleksi Mattsson, flickr.com

Summer may be around the corner but in this day and age, it’s all about staying home and staying safe. People around the world are itching to get out there and explore the world after being quarantined due to COVID-19, but it’s crucial to wait until the time is right. A time to travel and enjoy gathering with others will come again, but for now, we have to make do with what we can.

The “new normal” due to the novel coronavirus doesn’t just mean social distancing, new life protocols to follow, different routines for going to the grocery store, and adjusting to working from home; it also means limited travel opportunities for the foreseeable future.

That’s why virtual travel experiences and virtual tours are all the rage right now. It may give you a dose of wanderlust or help alleviate your incurable case of wanderlust, but either way, virtual trips are as close as most of us can get to the real thing. As Japan Times puts it, “Goodbye to travel — for now. Due to COVID-19, planes are grounded around the world and any plans to visit anywhere, here or abroad, are on pause.”

Grab a fizzy quarantine and let’s dig in (yes, we have orange-flavored Nutrazul Vitamin C effervescent tablets in stock!).

Photo Credit: Glacier National Park by Manuel ROMARIS, flickr.com
Photo Credit: Glacier National Park by Manuel ROMARIS, flickr.com

What travel can do for you: Are there health benefits of virtual travel?

Before we get started, you might want to stop and take a moment to consider why we miss travel so much. Why is it so important to get a dose of travel in while we’re stuck at home? After all, it’s not essential to life. But, in truth, travel adds so much to our lives and enriches the human experience. It helps us to de-stress, learn new things, open our minds, enjoy other cultures, and much more.

As LoveToKnow reports, “Traveling is a good method to release stress because it gets you away from your problems. Just planning a vacation keeps your mind off things that can stress you out. Dreaming about where you're going to go and what you will do when you get there can take your mind off pressing issues that cause sleeplessness, high blood pressure, and tension.”

The article goes on to state that studies have shown that taking a vacation also improves performance at work, heart health, sleep, and more, as well as decreases your tension levels through play, relaxation, getting outdoors, and enjoying a little sunshine or a break from your tedious routine.

If you want to take a virtual trip to enjoy and explore some of the cities that easily fit into that category, check out this article with virtual tours of 10 of the least stressful cities worldwide. After all, you don’t want travel to be adding more stress or anxiety onto your plate, especially at a time like this! From Taiwan to Australia to the US and beyond, these cities will remind you what normal life is like in a place where many people love to live. You can tour the Sydney Opera House or meander the Singapore River Walk, all without having to plan one single stressful detail of an itinerary.

If you’ve been feeling extra stressed during quarantine, it might be time to plan a virtual “trip” to get away from it all, even if you don’t leave your house to do so. Best of all, you don’t even have to wear a face mask while you go on a virtual vacation! You can simply enjoy some of the benefits of travel with no risk to your health (or your wallet). As you take your virtual trips through your computer screen, let your dreams of future travel inspire you and help you unwind.

Virtual travel ideas and where to go on a virtual vacation

Wondering where to go if you’re interested in taking a virtual trip to somewhere far away? Luckily, there are more virtual opportunities than ever before. From the wonders of the world to relaxing beaches, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best virtual tours around the world. You can enjoy all these places and more from the comfort of your living room.

1. Hike Machu Picchu through a 360 immersive VR experience online

2. Take that bucket list trip to The Galápagos Islands via a 360° video on YouTube

3. Dive with giant manta rays in Mexico using a 3D 360 video on YouTube

4. Dive deep into the 5,000-year-old tomb of Queen Meresankh III in Egypt online

5. Enjoy the sights of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, using a virtual guide -- You can visit Copacabana Beach and Christ the Redeemer, take a helicopter ride, and even learn how to make Brazilian feijoada, which is a traditional bean and meat stew dish.

Photo Credit: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil by Flx, flickr.com
Photo Credit: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil by Flx, flickr.com

6. Watch the Northern Lights in a virtual reality tour

7. Visit the US National Parks through live webcams

8. Sign up for Airbnb Online Experiences to be paired with a local host to enjoy things like learning sake secrets, visiting rescued goats, learn trigger point therapy from an Olympic athlete, follow a plague doctor through Prague, and more.

9. Go on a virtual tour of Alaska on TravelAlaska’s website, including livestreams, webcam footage, 360-degree photo panoramas, and more

Photo Credit: Alaska Train Ride by Skye Sheman
Photo Credit: Alaska Train Ride by Skye Sheman

10. Embark upon the most scenic virtual train rides around the world, from the Flåm Railway in Norway to the Geibi Line and Fukuen Line in Japan to the Bernina Railway between Switzerland and Italy

Not into any of the above options? Don’t worry, there are plenty more to choose from. Elle lists their top picks: you can explore coral reefs, go hiking, surf sand dunes, wander Amsterdam, and visit museums such as the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay in Paris, British Museum in London, Guggenheim in New York, Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and more, such as Sweden’s Icehotel, the holy sites of Jerusalem, and Central Park in New York City.

The article states, “Virtual travel sounds like a dreamed up future, where hover cars and smart contact lenses would be the norm. However, with the increased popularity of virtual reality (VR) and people’s growing interest in affordable travel, traveling virtually is enabling us to explore the world from the comfort of our own homes. … With coronavirus travel restrictions continuing to prohibit tourists booking holidays and forcing them to reconsider their finances, virtual escapism is stepping up to provide sounds and 360-degree sights of some of the world’s most famous locations.”

Japan Times reports, “During these strange days, the idea of online anything is proving more attractive — and vital. Families experience first-time conference calls, while musicians around the world put on internet gigs for locked-down audiences. Travel, too, is just a tap away, thanks to virtual reality. … Today there are plenty of 360 videos to escape into, partly thanks to better technology allowing regular folk to film and upload their own interactive videos to YouTube.”

Thanks to modern technology and things like Google Earth VR, there are more ways than ever before to get your fix and find ways to travel the world while social distancing. You can do it all from the comfort of your couch, and see things you may never have seen otherwise.

Photo Credit: Prague by Miquel Fabre, flickr.com
Photo Credit: Prague by Miquel Fabre, flickr.com

Other ways to travel the world while social distancing

If you have a VR headset, check out the National Geographic Explore VR for Oculus Quest programming, a partnership between National Geographic and Force Field VR. On a “visit” to Antarctica, you can paddle around icebergs in a kayak, climb an ice shelf, endure a snowstorm, search for a lost penguin colony, and much more. Machu Picchu is available now, too -- so if you don’t have a VR headset, now might be a good time to invest in one.

Companies are responding in innovative ways, too. For example, tour company G Adventures launched new Virtual Travel Experiences, which includes their first-ever live virtual small group tour. The first tour group departed for Italy, where G Adventures “chief experience officers” take travelers on a cross-country tour to five different “locations” in just under an hour. The participants received food and drink pairing recommendations in advance, got the opportunity to “meet” the other participants in Zoom, and more. Next, live virtual small group tours will head to Guatemala, Argentina, Vietnam, and beyond. G Adventures also offers virtual walking tours in cities like Florence, Buenos Aires, Antigua, Cape Town, Hanoi, and more.

AAA is another travel company that is adapting to the new normal in an innovative way, providing people ways to travel without leaving home. They have launched the AAA Virtual Travel Event series, a free online program that lets you “explore the world” from the comfort of your couch.

According to Fox19, “As we all adjust to our new normal, AAA is offering a new way to explore the world through a series of virtual events. AAA Virtual Travel Event series is a free online program that gives travelers the online option to dream and explore the exciting places they want to visit one day. To participate, visit AAA.com/events. You choose somewhere in world that interests you and sign up. Destinations include Amsterdam, Iceland, the Northern Lights in Finland, the Alaskan glaciers and Splendors of Egypt and the Nile. … You can interact with travel professionals, ask questions and learn about the different types of travel.”

Best of all, the article points out, the travel experience isn’t just fun and entertaining. It could be enriching for children at home, too, and parents as they adjusting to their newfound homeschooling career. The programs could provide an engaging geography lesson for children who are now learning remotely from home instead of being able to go to school as usual.

Will we ever go back to traveling “the old way”?

With all that you can do digitally now, some people are wondering whether we’ll ever go back to traveling the old way -- as in, really leaving home and taking a trip to visit a new place. People might feel more anxious or nervous about leaving their house than ever before, or might worry about what might happen if the virus has another wave or if they get stuck in a foreign country while there is an outbreak. Plus, using virtual reality to “visit” far-flung places actually minimizes our environmental impact and could be better for Planet Earth.

While another pandemic is not outside the realm of possibility, it’s unlikely that people will stay home forever, never working up the courage or desire to travel again. In an article titled Is virtual travel here to stay, even after the pandemic subsides?, National Geographic reports, “The coronavirus is changing how we travel. But will virtual reality—a welcome escape from the pandemic—ever be a substitute for the real thing? … Even as it has eased pollution, the pandemic has been devastating for the tourism industry. But will interest in traveling virtually last beyond the pandemic? And will VR technology sustain growing interest? …

“Ultimately, the impact of virtual reality on travel will be determined by the evolution and application of new technologies. So far, advances have been incremental—and not at a scale that is likely to disrupt the travel industry or support a drop in travel-related carbon emissions after the pandemic has ended. But just as travel platforms, from print to social media, offer some of the discoveries of actual exploration, virtual reality might bring faraway places closer—and in so doing encourage travelers to embrace sustainable practices wherever they choose to go (or not go) in the future.”

At the end of the day, virtual reality travel might help to tide us over for now, but it definitely comes with its limits. We can’t experience the same sensations we would on a real trip, nor can we have full choice to decide what to do or what not to do. Visiting a place virtually isn’t quite the same experience as actually leaving home and going there, but for now, it can scratch the itch to travel and inspire us to go new places once the restrictions ease.

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While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, not even for pets, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.