January 16, 2021

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Top Five Virtual Travel Experiences

Travel writer and associate editor of Sunday Independent’s Travel News column Clodagh Dooley shares some of her favourite virtual travel experiences around the world. These will give you serious wanderlust!

While regular travel might be off the cards for the time being, we can still think about what trips we want to take in the future. In fact, it’s a perfect time to create a bucket list for when this is all over.

But for now, there is actually some travelling you do from the safety of your home – you can still visit some of the destinations you have always dreamed of visiting, but virtually! And, there are the benefits of avoiding crowds and queues, plus you don’t have to move from your couch! Here are five that I recommend trying out…

Explore Machu Picchu

One of the main reasons I was attracted to this virtual tour of Machu Picchu in Peru was because I actually travelled there with Sunway in November 2019. So it brought back fond memories for me. I hiked the 42km Inca Trail across four days to reach the 15th-century Incan citadel, Machu Picchu. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Machu Picchu can, of course, be visited by bus or train, rather than hiking and camping for four days, but nothing can beat the thrill and challenge of the journey itself. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in hiking, adventure, history and breathtaking landscapes.

But until it’s safe to travel again, try this 360-degree virtual tour. It allows you to explore the impressive 32,592-hectare archaeological site from different viewpoints, as a guide talks you through its history. It gives you a good insight into Machu Picchu, particularly if you don’t know anything at all about it. It’s very useful for those who do plan on travelling there in the future. However, there’s nothing else to do on the site after you’ve done the tour. I think it would have been even better if you were also brought along the Inca Trail itself, to find out what to expect. But there are plenty of videos on YouTube that do this – I especially liked this one.

And to get an actual feeling of what the hiking is like, you could try out this Inca Trail Virtual Marathon. Each time you complete any distance-based exercise, such as walking, cycling or running, you advance along the Inca Trail. You can complete the challenge from anywhere and even earn an Inca Trail medal. Try to do the exercise activity uphill where possible, because big climbs are what you can expect on the Inca Trail!

Combine these three virtual experiences and you’ve got a taste of the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu before you witness it for real.

Tour of Machu Picchu – www.youvisit.com/tour/machupicchu

Video of Inca Trail – www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD6HGqGLhEA

Inca Trail Virtual Marathon – www.theconqueror.events/incatrail/

Visit Orlando

Orlando has been on my dream destination list since I was a child. It has both Universal Studios and Walt Disney World Resort, as well as many more attractions and theme parks. How magical a trip there would be and I know that one day, I will get there! But for now, I’ll just continue being a virtual visitor. 

I love the virtual vacation experiences that Visit Orlando now has on its site. I can’t recommend it enough for both keeping kids entertained and for adults who want to plan an upcoming trip to the city in central Florida. You can get a 360-degree perspective of everything from Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida to Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World. There’s plenty of videos which show you what to expect at these resorts, including videos of hotels and many of the thrilling rides. 

After recently watching all the Marvel movies on the new Disney+ subscription streaming service, I was especially excited to learn about Marvel Super Hero Island and its attractions. I also never knew there was an alligator park in Orlando. Here, you can zipline over alligators on the Screamin’ Gator Zipline. That’s one for the bucket list!

It’s not just virtual tours you can expect on the site. There are virtual educational activities too, which are fun experiences for kids, along with being informative. They can test out their creative skills with a video tutorial on how to draw Mickey Mouse with the Show Artist Stephen Ketchum. I actually tried this and there was something very therapeutic about drawing! Then, there’s a free online programme, created with the Khan Academy and Pixar, which provides interactive lessons and exercises on designing your own theme park. I watched some of these videos and it’s really cool to get an insight into the minds of Disney Imagineers.

There really are so many virtual activities to access on the Visit Orlando website. It’s a good way to pass a couple of hours. However, I did experience some connection difficulties when I tried to (virtually) ride some of the rollercoasters while doing the virtual tour. I’m not sure if this was an issue on the site or because of my own WiFi connection. But the 360-degree virtual tour comes in very useful for putting together a comprehensive list of what you ‘must-see’ in Orlando before travelling there. Which hopefully won’t be too long more to wait for!

Check out visitorlando.com/en/blog/post/orlando-virtual-experiences

New Jersey in the House!

I’ve never been to New Jersey, nor is it actually a destination I had on my bucket list…until now, that is! When I think of New Jersey, I think of beaches and MTV’s Jersey Shore. But after this virtual experience, I can see the US state, known as the Garden State, is so much more than that. There are, of course, beautiful beaches. New Jersey has 127 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. And you can even live stream the beaches on the site. Just be conscious of the time difference and the fact that you might feel a bit envious of those who live near these beaches! However, aside from the beaches, there are also some incredible attractions in New Jersey and you can virtually explore these.

In particular, I enjoyed the virtual visit to Cape May County Park and Zoo. There are videos uploaded daily to this, and a zoo worker introduces a different animal each day. I never experienced a guided tour at a zoo before, so I was surprised by how much I learned through this virtual one.

Discovering Hoboken, a city in Hudson County, New Jersey, was another highlight on the site. I won’t give too much away, but the city has a fascinating history. It’s known as the birthplace of famous American singer Frank Sinatra and the birthplace of baseball. The virtual experiences don’t stop there. The libraries in New Jersey all have daily events or story-time videos for kids and there’s virtual cooking classes from New Jersey chefs. There’s even a special Spotify playlist to access which gives you a feel for the sound and soul of the Garden State. Along with Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi are Jersey natives. Turn up your speakers on a sunny day, lie back on a hammock in your garden and close your eyes. You’ll think you are in New Jersey!

For more, check out visitnj.org/new-jersey-house

Auschwitz-Birkenau Tour

I once visited Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen in Germany and it was one of the most eye-opening, eerie experience I ever had. I was a school-goer at the time, but to stand in the same place that thousands of prisoners had been treated horrifically, tortured and killed was all very surreal.

Since that visit, I’ve read many books related to Auschwitz, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centres. These books include the Diary of Anne Frank, The Librarian of Auschwitz and The Tattooist of Auschwitz. I just felt that these books allowed me to get to know the actual people who spent half their lives at the camp on a more personal level, and the appalling conditions they endured.

I’ve yet to visit Auschwitz, which is located in Poland, but I think that when I do, these stories will be in the back of my mind. And I wonder what emotions I will experience then. In the meantime, to get an idea of what the tour and the grounds are like, I’ve been scrolling through this site. As well as getting a panorama 360-degree view of Auschwitz, you can also read about the camp’s history. It was interesting to see things like the view from a watchtower and find out some facts about how the guards monitored the camp.

I’ve not yet read through them all, but there are also online lessons which cover everything from the categories prisoners were divided into, including Jews and Soviets, to information about the gas chambers. It’s a good resource for secondary school students. And I think it’s a great way for students to realise the true horrors of that time. They can challenge the discrimination and prejudice that still happens today.

Poland, and Auschwitz in particular, was next to visit on my list of city breaks before the pandemic happened. But for now, I’ll just keep expanding my knowledge and reading up about the past happenings, and I’m sure I’ll feel a strong connection when I do eventually visit.

For the virtual tour, visit panorama.auschwitz.org/tour1,en.html

Stay at Home Thai Style

Another destination I visited and adored was Thailand. Back in 2018, I travelled around Phuket and fell in love with the incredible views, culture and cuisine. Pad Thai, a classic noodle dish, was my absolute favourite. I even had the opportunity to make this from scratch using local ingredients during a cooking class at the gorgeous 5-Star Nai Harn resort in Phuket.

So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered a simple Pad Thai recipe that I could make at home on the Tourism Thailand site! Because we are unable to travel right now, Tourism Thailand have created a special virtual experience. It’s called ‘Stay at Home Thai Style’. From this, you can access cooking classes, relaxing wellness videos, a Muay Thai boxing workout and more.

Muay Thai is the national combat sport of Thailand. Having experienced this on my travels too, I can say it will have you feeling ready to take on the world afterwards! There’s also a very good exercise for healthy posture and alignment on the site. I found this very helpful because I tend to slouch over my laptop. So I’m going to keep practising this over the next few weeks as I work from home. Hopefully, I’ll improve my posture.

Another activity I’ll be trying over the coming weeks is learning Thai phrases. On the ‘Stay at Home Thai Style’ page, there’s a handy guide on simple phrases and their pronunciation. I tried to pick up a couple of words on my travels in Thailand but they’ve since slipped my mind. So, this will help me brush up on my language skills for the time I get to travel there again. I would love to go back and explore some of Thailand’s amazing islands. For now, I’m going to head off and rustle up some Pad Thai for my family. It won’t be as good as the real thing, but it will no doubt give them a flavour of Thailand!  

To access ‘Stay at Home Thai Style’, visit fanclubthailand.co.uk/stay-at-home-thai-style/

We also did a review of the Top Five Virtual Fitness Experiences on the site recently too, you can read by clicking here

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