Over the past year, physical limitations on travel have forced many to reimagine new ways of discovering new places. Welcome to the immersive world of digitalised travel! You won’t have to fork out on a flashy headset or fumble around with cardboard goggles to explore these virtual destinations. Instead, we recommend trying the accessible, easy-to-use online experiences that are claiming a space in the world of travel. Maybe they won’t give you a tan or any photos for your instagram - but what you will get are some fabulous opportunities to partake in offbeat experiences you might usually never come across or consider while travelling.
What should I expect?
Imagine sitting down on your sofa, opening up your laptop, and logging onto what can best be described as a personalised live-stream documentary. It is broadcast straight to you from a place you’ve always wanted to visit, hosted by a local you can directly interact with, and enlivened by a group of virtual travellers joining you from around the world.
Taking place over Zoom, these online experiences are normally hosted in English (other languages are also available depending on the experience), and costs range widely depending on what you choose. The average, however, is about $10 per person.
2021's Best Live-Streamed Experiences
While firsthand travel experiences continue to be restricted, limited and complicated, the likes of Beeyonder, Amazon Explore and Airbnb Experiences have been curating and developing a roster of interactive online travel experiences. Here are our top picks:
Follow a Plague Doctor Through Prague
It would be difficult to find a more unique way to visit the city of Prague than by following a Plague Doctor through the deserted streets of Old Town at night. Close at his heels, you will explore Prague as it were in the 18th century during the time of the Black Death. With crisp high quality visuals that were pre-recorded at the time the city was in quarantine (so this one is technically not live-streamed!), your guide David will relay tales of old, show you famous landmarks, and answer any questions during one hour of eerie informative bliss!
New Zealand Nature Highlights
This wholesome, nature-filled experience is live-streamed straight from Arthur’s farm which is located two hours north of Wellington, New Zealand. Come rain or shine, Arthur will show you around the paddocks, introduce you to his animals, teach you about how he operates his farm and sustainability practices. As well as cute animals there will also be lots of beautiful views of New Zealand landscapes. What’s not to love?
Cook Kenyan Food in a Nairobi Kitchen
Spend an evening with Josephine learning how to cook like a Kenyan. From her kitchen in Nairobi, Josephine will help you prepare a dish of your choice (on Sundays, for example, it’s biryani served with kachumbari). All you need to do is to gather together your ingredients, roll up your sleeves and be instructed step by step as you cook and chat with other participants about all things Kenyan before enjoying a delicious meal at the end. This is a great one to do with strangers or friends.
Explore a Wild Platypus Habitat in Byron Bay
If you have ever dreamed about getting up close and personal with platypus, now might be your chance! Expert local guide and environmental scientist Wendy, has created a one hour live-stream that takes guests around the natural habitat of platypus in Byron Bay, Australia. Like any real wildlife experience, there is no guarantee of seeing these reclusive creatures but you are sure to learn lots about all things platypus and view the beautiful surrounding wetlands.
Discover the Ancient Town of Hoi An at Night
The ancient town of Hoi An is located on the central coast of Vietnam. It is where Loi, the host of this experience, lives. Armed with his camera and a passion for this region, Loi will take you around this ancient town at night, teaching you about the local culture and some basics of his language as you walk. You will be shown the lanterns, the temples, night markets and more. A real highlight is being introduced to the street vendors and visually feasting on the local delicacies while having the chance to ask them questions.
Cook Up Polish Communist Recipes
Before the pandemic, the host of this experience Olga would run this local cooking class for visitors in her apartment in Kraków. Now online, Olga welcomes you into her kitchen to hear stories of Communist Poland while cooking what is perhaps considered the classic dish of Poland - pierogi. As well as cooking you will also learn about the Polish alcohol culture and be granted intel on Olga’s mothers special homemade liqueur recipe.
Visit a Colombian Coffee Farm
In real time, take a virtual visit around a family's coffee farm in the mountains of Colombia. Hosted in a beautiful setting, find out how coffee is produced from bean to cup, learn about farm life, cultural drinking habits and cool coffee facts (did you know a coffee actually comes from a cherry?!). This is an experience packed full of local knowledge and tasty looking coffee.
Sketch and Stroll in Singapore's Last Fishing Village
Amble around Pulau Ubin, hailed as “Singapore's last fishing village”, with local artist Terence Tan. This small laid-back kampong (village) is located on an island northeast of Singapore, and is a charming jumble of old 18th century wooden houses, floating fish farms and lush mangroves. Terence will be able to show you around, recommend a view for you to sketch, and be on hand to give you drawing tips. This means that after you've hit the exit button on this beautiful island - you’ll have a postcard sized souvenir to remember your virtual holiday by.
More Great Ways to Explore the World Virtually:
- WindowSwap - If you're bored of looking at the view out your own window, try looking out someone else's with this brilliantly addictive concept. Jump from Javier's window in Chile, to Violet's window in Brooklyn.
- Google Maps Treks - Scaling El Capitan in Yosemite pitch by pitch, or walking through the Khumbu Valley in Nepal has never been so easy.
- Ascape - Click and drag your way around a library of high quality 360 degree videos, showing iconic places around the world.
- Explore.org - With channels like "Nestflix" streaming the latest action live from bird nests around the world, this website lets you toggle between a selection of live wildlife cameras to see what's going on in the animal kingdom.
Are these virtual travel experiences worth it?
These virtual experiences are a quick and accessible antidote for wanderlust. All you really need is a stable internet connection and you’re able to hop over to Yosemite on your lunch break, or spend your evening transported to an Italian kitchen cooking ravioli in Sicily with Alessandro and his mum. Plus, in a world where we are increasingly thinking about how to travel in more eco-friendly ways, these kinds of experiences definitely have a particular value.
Ultimately, the real magic of travel will always of course lie in the act of travel - the multi-sensory, full-body experience of waking and walking in new lands. So while virtual travel might not be a substitute for the real thing, it can be treated as a worthwhile travel experience in its own right.