Got the Travel Bug? Five Virtual Options to Explore the World from Home

Travel, particularly to far-flung destinations, remains off the cards for so much of the world right now. But anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone can take some time to get away, at least virtually — and with experiences that might otherwise be out of reach. Who knows, when circumstances allow, they might inspire a visit to somewhere you’d never considered before?

Get off the beaten track

Google Street View is already a useful tool for globetrotters looking to scope out destinations before they visit — it’s handy to get a feel for a place you’ve never been to before, especially if you’ve got hefty luggage to wheel about or a family in tow — but what you maybe didn’t know is that the tech giant’s cameras regularly go off the beaten track to give a virtual view of sights you might not expect.

Over the last few years, Google’s Trekker programme has loaned out backpack-mounted cameras to individuals and organisations the world over “to document the places they’re passionate about”. In Italy, for example, they’ve been taken afloat to map the canals of Venice for a blissfully unhurried exploration of that wondrous city.

Elsewhere, they’ve reached the heights of El Capitan, the remote Galapagos and the forests of Tanzania — specifically Gombe National Park, where primatologist Jane Goodall began her work in chimpanzee conservation.



Take things slow

Norwegian state TV began the craze for ‘slow television’ with its broadcast of a real-time seven-hour train journey from Bergen to Oslo. It became something of a surprise hit among viewers eager to slow things down and take in the sights, and it has inspired a host of immersive experiences making a virtue of the ‘getting there’, not only the destination. 

Try calming walking tours of Tokyo (or take a train out of the city), ride a classic double-decker tram around Hong Kong, or hop on board a leisurely cruise in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago.

In the lap of luxury

Perhaps your idea of a holiday is more luxurious, whiling away the sun-drenched days on board a yacht in the French Riviera. Yachting brands like X-Yachts and Burgess Yachts have stepped up during recent marina closures to offer their customers a virtual experience of their latest vessels — decked out with the finest furnishings for the utmost comfort at sea — but it’s also provided the perfect opportunity for the rest of us to peek inside and get a taste of the high life. 

If you feel like going ashore, a virtual tour of Monte Carlo, that Mediterranean magnet for the upper crust, might just take your fancy.



Get your culture on

Many of the world’s most iconic cultural sites are just a few clicks away, something that would barely have been dreamed of even a few years ago. Google has curated its own tours of such world wonders as the lost city of Petra in Jordan and the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, to name just a few.

Artistic marvels galore can be enjoyed in rich detail thanks to virtual tours of national galleries in Ireland and the UK, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam as well as Paris’s magnificent Louvre and Musée d’Orsay to mark just the beginning of an extraordinary journey — in some cases getting you closer to the art than you might if you were there in person.

And TV viewers in the UK can follow Samira Ahmed’s tour of rarely seen corners of Iran — “telling the story of a complex and fascinating people, culture and history” — in the new series Art of Persia, now showing on BBC Four and iPlayer.



Make a game of it

Have you ever imagined being dropped in some unknown part of the world, with no map to guide you, and trying to figure out where you are? That’s the concept behind GeoGuessr, the web-based geography game that challenges players to figure out their location purely from what they can see before them. Maybe a road sign or a flag will provide a clue? Or perhaps a particular style of building or type of roadside vegetation might point you in the right direction?

The more you play, you’ll find yourself picking up on the quirks unique to various parts of the globe. And as GeoGuessr is a popular choice among Let’s Players on Twitch and YouTube — Northernlion has an entertaining head-to-head contest with fellow gamer Sinvicta, for instance — there’s always the option to sit back and let others do the work.