Everywhere you turn, someone's talking about virtual travel, virtual tourism, virtual tours...
I'd like to shed some light on this because there's nothing new about this at all, except that the COVID-19 pandemic has made this kind of travel not only fashionable, but clearly necessary.
There are plenty of definitions for virtual travel: we can call it simulated travel, make-believe travel, pretend travel, but whatever we call it, it's what we do when we cannot do the real thing. It allows us to experience a place without actually having to go somewhere.
To those of us who love travel, this may be the closest we might get for a while.
Virtual travel can be many things:
And whatever else technology brings us the moment we turn away.
Virtual travel has plenty of positives. True, it's not the same as travel but in the absence of being able to get on a plane or train, traveling virtually is a credible, if inferior, alternative.
Virtual travel is nothing new.
It has been used with great success by such industries as real estate, to give potential buyers an idea of a potential purchase without actually having to visit.
Another example is college visits; with dozens to see, a virtual visit will tell the potential student in your family which schools are worth a personal visit and which ones might be less enticing.
And of course, tourism destinations have been using virtual reality for years to show off their beauty and attractions and get us to go there.
In so-called normal times, virtual travel let's you see what you're getting into.
In these less normal times, virtual travel helps you experiences places you cannot go.
So yes, the one, huge downside is that... we can't BE there, with everything that entails — our own lack of enjoyment, for example. By not being somewhere, we don't get to eat the food, meet the people, enjoy the smells... however realistic a virtual visit, it still isn't the real thing.
Also, by not traveling to a place, we may have positive impacts on it, as I mentioned above, but we also have negative ones. A major one is economic, as our lack of travel has a major impact on the tourism industry, whether on huge corporations like airlines and hotel chains or on small businesses and local workers whose livelihoods depend on our presence. Also, some of the money we spend is also recycled into the local economy and can be felt in areas like education or health, so our absences can contribute to diminishing services.
Virtual tourism is also accessible to the privileged, those who have strong Internet connections and new-ish computers, and that isn't everyone. Mind you, neither is traditional tourism accessible to all. It remains a relatively elitist pursuit, however agreeable and beneficial.
Probably, in some form.
We have seen how virtual tourism was here before, and there's no reason for it to disappear, but as soon as we can get back on the road, we will. There's hope we may travel more consciously, but if we can, those of us who are curious about the world will gladly take ourselves to distant lands.
As virtual travel expands due to travel restrictions, new technologies are being explored because demand for them is growing. Never in our wildest dreams could we have expected what was once a marketing tool or a brief moment of enjoyment would become so central to our travel experiences.
Some of the most popular virtual visits involve museums, which have demonstrated major talent in showcasing their contents online for the rest of us to see. When it comes to museums, this virtual approach has distinct advantages because it allows us to get close to the art and to spend as much time as we want with it, without having to worry about the crowds.
Here are just a few museums, of every style, to whet your appetite!
Museums may do this well, but destinations are just as good at making us relive or experience what they have to offer.
Here are some of those destinations. It's an appetizer — there are many more!
And here's a novel approach from Virtual Trips, a live-streaming platform with real-time tours using real-time guides. While these are technically free, the guides are professionals and they do need to make a living, so please leave a tip!
One of the biggest challenges we travelers face when we have to stay home is our lack of contact with nature. Virtual visits are something of a substitute but they'll never capture the utter beauty of our environment or the delight we'll feel when we're in contact with our natural surroundings.
If we're unable to travel, we can still stay in touch with nature, whether wildlife or national parks, the sky or the seas.
Ready for more virtual trips around the world? Not enough above? Here's more!