While we are temporarily grounded by the coronavirus, armchair travel has become the new normal. But there are lots of other reasons why people might want to indulge in a bit of virtual tourism, and I have rounded up six of the best ways to travel without leaving home.
What are the Benefits of Virtual Tourism?
There will always be times when circumstances prevent us from travelling. We may be limited by work, domestic commitments, health or money. And environmental considerations may persuade us to consider the way we travel and how often we do it.
Then there are practical considerations. Some destinations may be unsafe or politically undesirable, while others are suffering from overtourism. And some travel activities require a degree of physical fitness or risk-taking. Virtual travel removes all risks and constraints.
A final benefit of virtual travel is that it supplements real travel. It can assist with the planning process, and help us to remember the places we have visited in the past.
1. Visit a Museum Online
Many museums are now offering free virtual tours, where you can walk through the galleries and explore for yourself from the comfort of your own home. Search online for the museums you want to visit, or try some of my favourites below.
Vatican Museums (Rome). There are several different online walks through the Vatican Galleries. An added bonus: it’s not often that you get the Sistine Chapel all to yourself!
National Gallery (London). One of my favourite places ever, and now you can walk through the rooms with Google Street View (it doesn’t cover the whole gallery but there’s enough here for a satisfying experience.
Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam). This one is easy to navigate, and you can admire the museum’s splendid building as you walk around.
Roman Baths Museum (Bath, England). I’m very lucky because this fabulous museum is on my doorstep. Now you can walk through the site and explore the Roman baths online. Explore at your own pace or take a continuous walkthrough, but make sure you go to the end because that’s where you get to see the baths themselves. (Read more about the Roman Baths.)
2. Experience a Place with Virtual Reality
I must confess that I love virtual reality tours. With a VR headset, or inexpensive Google Cardboard, you can immerse yourself in a place or experience. It’s ideal when you can’t travel for any reason, or for activities (like extreme sports) that you might not want to tackle in real life.
Read more about virtual reality and travel.
3. Enjoy an Online Experiences From a Tour Operator
In normal times GetYourGuide offer a whole range of tours and other travel experiences around the world. But for now they are offering a whole range of free online experiences. Have a look at their magazine for a mixture of travel inspiration and suggestions for online activities. Or check out the YouTube channel with its choice of offerings including an online street art workshop or Italian cookery class. The YouTube videos are free, but GetYourGuide also have a range of paid tours that you can join in from home. These cover a whole range of subjects from a tour of the Paris catacombs to Venice highlights to a live cookery class with a professional chef. You can find the complete list of experiences here.
And LivItaly have created LivTalks, where their guides take you on an informative local tour. There is a modest charge for these, but my experience with LivTours suggests that they will be well worth the cost. You can get a 15% discount if you use booking code LivTalks15.
4. Cook Your Favourite Foreign Foods
Even in a globalised world places retain their distinctive cuisines, and food is one way to summon up a sense of place while you are at home. There are lots of YouTube videos which offer online cooking classes – have a look at this list for some of the best.
5. Read a Book
Books are the ultimate armchair travel experience. For me, they fall into three categories. Firstly, there are the books that tell you about a place, its history and its culture. They might be novels, guidebooks or personal accounts. I’ve compiled a few lists of books to read before you travel (read my guides to London, Ireland, Italy, Spain and New Zealand).
The second category is books to inspire you and to help you plan future travels. Not just guidebooks but inspirational titles too. Lonely Planet has a whole section on books to inspire your travels – two that I particularly like are Where to Go When and The Cities Book.
And then there are travelogues, books that can transport you to places that you may never visit yourself, stories that conjure up the sights and sounds of a place, capturing its culture and its people. My favourite ever travel writer is Dervla Murphy, an intrepid Irishwoman with outspoken views and a fearless approach to travel. And, although he has only written a few books, I also enjoy Will Randall’s accounts of his adventures in far-flung places.
6. Take a Virtual Holiday
I’ve often thought that there is a gap in the market for “virtual holidays”, bringing together different experiences to create a whole vacation without travelling. You could try it yourself by combining some of the previous ideas. Or have a look at the Visit Denmark site where they have grouped together experiences for a virtual holiday in Denmark.
Another place where you can find virtual package holidays is at HomeToGo. They have created #stayhometogo, with virtual itineraries for destinations including Italy, Mexico and Florida. These are a mixture of books, films and music to enjoy before you “travel”, followed by a weekend itinerary of food and virtual experiences (note that you need to be aware of time differences when following links to webcams).