According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, there were 1.32 million people engaged in the business of global tourism in 2018, and there were 84 million more travelers than the year before. As it becomes easier, faster and cheaper, people are traveling more than ever before. Travel is a great hobby that helps humans to be more open minded and connected. However, there are many downsides such as a rise in carbon emissions from planes, financial strains on locals at popular tourist destinations, and a loss of culture due to over-tourism. Virtual travel offers a solution to all of these.
Virtual travelers can go anywhere, anytime without disrupting nature or the locals. It also offers a unique chance to see some of the world’s busiest places completely empty. It is a great opportunity for anyone to travel anywhere for free, and it can be a way to prepare for an actual trip.
Virtual Train Rides
Sometimes travel is about the journey, not the destination. This is especially true when you are traveling by train. Luckily, you don’t have to pack or take time off from work if you’re traveling virtually. Plus, there are so many distant locations that you can teleport to with the push of a button. You can, for example, pick the Flåm Railway and take a 12-mile route through the beautiful Norwegian mountains. This 42-minute experience takes you past beautiful natural scenes and through several tunnels.
You can also enjoy a 101-minute ride from England to North Wales along the shore line. Or there’s a shorter 32-minute excursion past iconic snowy mountains in Switzerland. If you love snow, then you can enjoy this three and a half hour tour through the winter wonderland of Bergen, in Norway. For city lovers, there’s a 41-minute rush hour commute on an express train in New York City. There are so many more of these fun train rides to join virtually. These include Japan, Peru, Montenegro, Colorado (USA), and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Some other perks of a virtual train ride are the free ticket, as much leg room as you want, no crying children (unless they are your own), and snacks and beverages of your choice. You can even order takeout in the middle of your ride! Imagine Uber Eats chasing a train while your food gets cold? No worries, though, when it comes to virtual experiences.
360 Virtual Reality of Iconic Destinations
Virtual Reality has always seemed like a far off futuristic technology that goes hand-in-hand with flying cars. However, it snuck up on us and is suddenly readily available with 360 videos and photos available on Youtube, Facebook, and many other streaming services as well as websites.
The best thing is that you don’t need fancy, expensive technology to enjoy it. You can simply use your mouse to scroll around if you’re on a computer or simply move your phone around to see what’s above, below, and behind you. Of course, there are expensive devices that will take it to the next level such as Oculus equipment. But you can also order a foldable piece of cardboard from Google or learn to make your own VR viewer for your phone here.
Once you have figured out how you will view it, all that’s left is to pick your destination. Will you travel to Machu Picchu and explore the ruins in a way that a real tour guide would never allow? Or are the Galapagos Islands more your scene, because you love the beach? You can even enjoy a walk along the Great Wall of China or enjoy the cherry blossoms blooming in Japan. National Geographic points out that virtual travel is the eco-friendly solution to over-tourism. Virtual reality can even take you where no tour guide can, such as into space!
Other virtual experiences that are worth checking out include the Northern Lights, a total solar eclipse in Chile, and Mount Everest from a helicopter. Finally, if you prefer a more fast-paced form of travel you can check out this Google Earth experience. Make sure to use a compatible browser such as chrome and you can enjoy 30 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can pick the order you’d like to explore and go from one to the next, bar-hopping style.
Virtual Hikes through National Parks
Sometimes we need to get out of the city or suburbia just to have a change of scene. The USA is known for having some incredible national parks located in various regions of the country. It would take weeks to travel to each one physically. Luckily, you can travel to all of them virtually in just one day! The following five national parks are offering great virtual tours, and they all feature different climates so you can enjoy snowy terrains as well as desert vistas!
Kenai Fjords National Park is a wonderful place to visit in Alaska. This virtual tour features a journey to an amazing frozen world with other explorers and a guide to explain what you are looking at. Despite standing on the edge of a dangerous crevasse and kayaking through icebergs, you can’t fall in! Once you finish exploring one park, you can click a button to teleport right on to the next. The parks available in this amazing interactive virtual travel experience also include Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, and Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida.
Online Airbnb Experiences
Airbnb has long since evolved past only offering accommodation. They have also been offering fun cultural experiences and tours led by locals. But you don’t have to travel abroad to enjoy them. You can browse through dozens of online experiences that you can enjoy from the comfort of your home. The one free experience is a tour of Japan’s oldest brewery, which specializes in sake! The other experiences are not free, but they are a lot cheaper than booking a flight and paying for the hotel and other expenses that come with travel.
Other paid experiences include meeting the dogs of Chernobyl, following a plague doctor through Prague, enjoying sangria with Portuguese drag queens, learning to dance like a K-pop star, learning about apartheid, and cooking vegetarian Balinese cuisine.
If none of these appeal to you, then check the other options. There are lots of dancing, cooking, and animal encounters as well as people teaching magic, photography, and other skills. It’s like an online course website meets virtual travel, and the result is an amazing selection of experiences!
The Seven Wonders of the World
Virtual travel doesn’t necessarily replace physical travel. However, it can be a great way to learn about exciting places and pre-visit them. It also lets you see these places from unique perspectives such as birds-eye or simply without tourists. That being said, this New York Times article is offering a great way to see all of the new Seven Wonders of the World. You do need a free account to view them, but you can create one using your Gmail or Facebook instantly with just one click.
These seven wonders include the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal in India, Petra in Jordan, the Colosseum in Rome, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Chichén Itzá in Mexico, and Machu Picchu in Peru. The article also gives some background information on when and how each wonder was built. Virtual exploration is a great way to discover the world and learn more about other cultures as well as their histories.
It seems unfair to only select seven wonders when there are so many wonderful places around the world. Other virtual tours of fascinating and globally-known destinations include the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, the CN Tower in Canada, Buckingham Palace in the UK, and Jerusalem’s Old City in Israel.
There are so many exciting places to travel to all over the world – natural landscapes to explore such as deserts, glaciers, rainforests, volcanoes, and beaches. There are amazingly constructed cities with skyscrapers and historically significant ruins. Finally, there are scenic roads that make the journey as worthwhile as the destination. We live in a wonderful time when all of the above can be done virtually, giving us the opportunity to explore, learn, and enjoy this breathtaking planet we all call home.
Photos: Shutterstock / photomontage: Martina Advaney