Home-based learning, Work-From-Home, there are plenty of activities that have moved online. Unfortunately, flights have been grounded but for those bit by the travel bug, you might still be able to embark on the adventures your heart so desires…
With COVID-19 taking the world by storm, many of us are staying home to do our part in flattening the curve. Never before in the 21st century has a virus made such a large global impact. With so much time on my hands, I set out to embrace the wanderlust in the virtual hemisphere. I would soon realise that there is a whole lot more virtual travel has to offer than I could imagine.
Where to start
First up, Everest VR. This hour-long experience sees you scaling the giant starting from the base camp to the Khumbu Icefalls and the Hillary Step before finally conquering the summit. Immerse yourself in the icy settings with realistic touches like whipping winds and shallow breaths. The 360-degree view is stunning and once you complete your first summit attempt, you unlock God Mode to gain a unique vantage point of the Himalayas that can only be achieved through VR.
I may not ever have the courage or physical prowess to climb Mount Everest but this VR experience gives me a snippet of how it might be. Besides, I cannot deny that the quirky interactions with the crows and your teammates bring comedic relief and much-needed social interaction – although simulated.
After forging through subzero temperatures, head on up to the unknown territory of Mars to build your own space habitat in Mars 2030 Editor with the use of real NASA data. You can even build your own robotic companion for your journeys across the sandy landscape. Another VR experience, TheBlu, has crafted a submerged world of its own, full of mysterious marine life you can get up-close with. These deep-sea explorations opens up your eyes to all kinds of possibilities underwater.
Turning it up a notch
For the cultured at heart, check out Google’s Expeditions app that offers a wide selection of over 800 VR or AR Expeditions. The app was created as an immersive learning and teaching tool. Pair Expeditions with Google Cardboard or Daydream viewer for VR mode to join tours of Antarctica’s icy terrain and wildlife, New York City’s Guggenheim Museum of Art and more.
However, these VR headsets could get pretty pricey. Although one could say that your travel fund could supplement your virtual endeavours, what about travel experiences that would not break the bank and anger the missus? Well, BBC’s Natural History Unit answers the call with 360-degree views of incredible wildlife and landscapes. You can walk alongside the largest dinosaur ever discovered or get lost in the Costa Rican jungle – all from the comfort of your own home.
Keep it sentimental
Personally, the soothing narrating and video effects help the video come alive as you navigate on our screen. It’s an added bonus when you get to pick up bite-sized information on nature on your exploration as well.
A familiar name for virtual tours, Louvre Museum provides high-quality visuals to various art exhibits. The experience is smooth and it feels like you are walking through the museum. To view exhibits, hover your cursor over the magnifying glass icon for a clear photograph. Unfortunately, if you want to find out more about the exhibits, it is all in French. Other downsides include the static way of clicking and dragging. It almost feels like Google Street View. Which is a big bummer in a museum with long hallways and different pathways?
While it’s not ideal, I do think that it is still nice to admire “The Advent of the Artist” while home.
On Google Street View, you can also take a virtual tour of London’s National Gallery. Though there are no descriptions to read, you get to take close-up looks at Renaissance masterpieces from Northern Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany. The Gallery also displays works by Titan, Veronese and Holbein. For us common folk, it is enjoyable to gallivant around the museum and admire its classy interior as well.
The National Gallery also offers a Sainsbury Wing VR tour which can be viewed as a 360-degree tour on desktop and on mobile. Made possible with a collaboration with Oculus, this immersive experience invites you to step into their collection of Early Renaissance paintings from 1200 to 1500. You will get to enjoy over 270 paintings and navigate through the tour with a dollhouse or floorplan view as well. Think 3D model and 360-degree navigation; it is truly a tour that you can have fun with. The paintings also come with descriptions and background information in boxes that pop up when you click on the surrounding buttons.
Old time favourites
One of my favourites is the Sistine Chapel virtual tour from the Vatican. The Sistine Chapel is usually overrun with tourists and being able to take in the breathtaking artwork in an unobscured 360-degree view is wonderful. You are not able to see details when you zoom into the artwork. But hey, even if you are right there, there is no way you will be able to look at every crease and wrinkle of the man painted on the ceiling. St. Petersburg’s Hermitage and New Ports’s The Elms also offer gorgeous virtual experiences that will have you clicking away in no time.
You can also look out for destinations that have taken to social media for interactive travel experiences. One of them, “Discover Puerto Rico” has organised night activities such as salsa dancing lessons, cooking classes and cocktail classes over Instagram Live! Snippets of these classes are still available on their Instagram highlights if you are interested to take a peek.
Truth be told, visiting these faraway lands and places does cure some of my travel fever. After exploring the world, my final thoughts have got to be that VR and virtual experiences redefine what travelling is about. They are definitely worth a look into when you are home and craving a slice of the world outside.