Published 22 July 2020 ● Last Updated on 20 January 2022
Remember the year 2019 when life was immune to lockdowns, social distancing was n unknown concept, and Novak Djokovic could smash a tennis ball at any Grand Slam event in the world? Seems like a lifetime has passed since then! As a die-hard travel buff, I always believed that travel bans were reserved only for areas of conflict and the world was my oyster. All that changed when a little known virus turned our lives upside down.
Fast forward to 2022, we have seen three waves of Covid, innumerable lockdowns, and travel restrictions that come up fast and furious. This got me thinking, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to keep the backpack away for a little bit longer and try TFH (Travel from home) options.
In these times when physical travel means risking exposure or worse getting stuck in a place because of lockdowns, why not take the digital route, a Quarantine-cation! In my quest to experience the grand wonders of the world from the safety of my sanitised screen, I have discovered the surreal universe of virtual tours that cater to all types of travelers.
Virtual tour options exist in two versions: pre-recorded and LIVE tours. The pre-recorded ones are offered by providers such as AirPano or created by the places of interest – as in the case of the Vatican, Yosemite, and select museums around the world. The LIVE tours are offered by global travel companies such as Airbnb, TourHQ, Viator, ToursByLocals, Withlocals – who have pivoted their offerings in line with the new normal to identify a niche consumer need which is likely here to stay! These LIVE tours are typically 1-1.5 hrs interactive sessions costing an average of US$40 to US$120 for up to 6 users.
Here are my favourite picks for places that you can visit from the comfort of your home. Do share your experiences and stories of TFH with me!
For the Adventure Junkies
Shark Feeding in the Bahamas
Can you imagine diving straight into the ocean with no cage, no protection, and a bucket of shark bait? Adrenaline junkies will get a kick out of this unique tour where you are feeding hungry sharks virtually in the Bahamas while supporting eco-tourism! This pre-recorded virtual journey by AirPano is not for the weak-hearted, especially if you have been binge watching Jaws 1, 2 and 3 this pandemic. Watching the divers in the pre-recorded video surrounded by hungry sharks just waiting to feed sure sent a chill up my spine.
Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge
For people who have a fear of heights or are thrilled by them, a walk on the Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge is the ultimate high. A pre-recorded virtual tour by AirPano, it takes you on a virtual walk in the clouds with the ground far below. This walk is quite calming and cathartic because this feeling of being suspended amidst giants, of being a very small part of the big cosmos, is actually quite liberating. Highly recommended if you’re in zen space right now, or trying to conquer your fear of heights.
For the lovers of all things Nature
If you are the type of traveler who enjoys quiet fields of daffodils or cityscapes from a distance, then you’re in luck! Ideally the best way to truly marvel at the grand play of Nature and Man is to check into Google Earth and you can have your fix of stunning natural surroundings and streetscapes anytime you want. Just choose your destination and let Google work its magic. The detailing on Google Earth excites the voyeur in you, so I must admit that out of all the options available, I find this the most addictive!
Safari in Greater Kruger National Park
For wildlife lovers there are few things more enchanting than a trip sitting shotgun in a Safari jeep. To get close to the real deal, why not try a LIVE tour with TourHQ. One of their safaris takes you to the vast expanse of South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park, where you can spot the ‘Big 5’ – elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, and leopard – in their stunning landscape. Over the 1 hour 30 minutes open jeep safari tour, the local guide will take you through the Olifants West nature reserve in the Balule Conservancy within the Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP), expounding on the wildlife that inhabits the park, whilst you can interact with your guide and fellow tourists. This tour needs to be booked in advance, for details regarding fee and timings do check here.
The absolutely stunning views from the top of Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, come alive in this pre-recorded tour. The tour will transport you to the ancient site as you enjoy 360 degree views of the stunning mountain peaks and the Inca Citadel ruins that adorn the landscape. This tour is perfect eye candy for the wanderer’s soul and actually transports you to the Machu Picchu in ways that no Indiana Jones movie can. So if you are craving a shot of awe and wonder, this is it!
Volcanoes around the world
Nothing like fire and brimstone to get the adrenaline pumping! Imagine going on a tour to some of the hottest places on earth, like literally! Head over to AirPano to go on a grand tour of some of the most menacing volcanoes around the world where you get a bird’s eye view of the smoky, smouldering lava filled giants waiting to unleash their fury upon us.
Yosemite National Park
Now if there was ever a National Parks pageant, Yosemite would be among the list-toppers for sure. A nature buff’s dream come true, Yosemite has much to offer to travelers. If you are a fitness freak then its trails and valleys offer a chance to hike through one of the most stunning parks in the world. Being more of a couch potato myself, I quite enjoyed the experience of this virtual tour that took me right up to Glacier Point, without breaking a sweat! Yosemite National Park offers a ton of attractions and things to do here. The Chilnualna Waterfalls are spectacular and a must-visit if you’re in the neighbourhood. I must admit, after this tour I did run a google search on ‘when can we travel again’, because this just seemed like a 360 degree travel experience that caters to everything I love and miss right now.
For the History Buff
Museum of the world
If museums are your thing then the Museum of the World is a great place to sit back and get lost in time. The project is a partnership between The British Museum and Google Cultural Institute. What’s interesting about this experience is the feeling you get of being in a time warp – jumping through decades, centuries, across cultures and traditions. A futuristic look at the past, the interface here kind of gives you the feel of AI inspired movies that are all about picking the time and place of the past you want to visit.
A history of Singapore 1819 onwards
I am a big fan of period cinema. Watching history come alive onscreen is my go-to happy place. So when I explored the history of Singapore from 1819 onwards, a project developed by The National Museum of Singapore and the National Heritage Board, it really hit the mark for me. Fascinating, engaging, and completely catering to my love for cinematic experience of the past, this is a must visit.
Tomb of Queen Meresankh III (G 7530-7540)
The Tombs of Ancient Egyptian Royalty and Nobility have fascinated adventurers and explorers for decades. They are literally a treasure trove of intricate carvings, secret rituals, and elaborate testimonials of their lives and beliefs. This virtual tour of the Tomb of Queen Meresankh III gives you a sneak peek at the fabulous life of Egyptian royalty many centuries ago.
A tour of the Vatican
The Vatican opens its virtual doors to your screen where you can explore and wonder at the sheer opulence of the grand halls, churches, and chapels. This tour also caters to the art aficionados because the frescoes are absolutely breathtaking. I enjoyed the tour of the various Vatican treasures, but I must admit that it left me wanting more. To me the Vatican needs to be experienced in person, this tour has definitely made me turn to God and pray hard for a chance to travel soon!
The Art Lover’s fix
Musee d’Orsay, Paris
When you say art, I hear Paris. There really isn’t any other place that could match up to this little town by the Seine that has such a large, vibrant, and diverse exhibit of Art on display. Musee d’Orsay, Paris’ virtual tour makes for a perfect stop if you wish to ogle at the sheer genius of Van Gogh, or the subtle strokes of Monet. A visual treat with a never ending banquet of art, artists, movements, sculptures, mediums, historic events and personalities – this virtual tour is like chicken soup for the art aficionado’s soul.
Art and architecture come alive at The Guggenheim Tour where you wind down literally to some of the greatest works of our times. The Guggenheim is a stark white canvas dotted with the most sought-after pieces in the world of Art. For me, the charm of the Guggenheim is also its location, New York City. So, while the tour was fun, I would really love to make that trip to Fifth Avenue in the Upper East Side and explore the museum to my heart’s content. I hope that day is not far, until then this virtual tour will have to do.
For the Booklovers
The Harry Potter trail
A Hogwarts fan would drool all over in this tour that caters to a niche crowd of Potterheads. This tour is an experiential exercise that you have to book in advance and takes you through the magical word of the boy wizard. Peppered with quizzes, trivia and activities during the trail, this trip is one you should go only if you’re prepared, wands and spells and all!
*Pro-tip: Our founder, Anuja Aggarwal has been on this tour and highly recommends it!
Take a virtual trip…
Most virtual tours come alive if you have invested in VR hardware because that really elevates the experience of virtual travel. If you don’t have one and would rather save the money to pay for your next trip, whenever it is safe to get on the plane and take -off, then do so for there is really no comparison to travelling, real time. Until that day, we can either keep wondering about safe travel during COVID, or we can take flight on screen and keep adding destinations and experiences to our bucket lists!