Virtual travel: Around the world in 80 days – from the sofa

virtual travel

Long-distance travel is harmful to the climate, mass tourism puts a strain on the local infrastructure, a pandemic restricts options. But travel with a cultural focus educates and has important functions for people and society.

  • It helps to reduce prejudice and fear of foreigners,
  • to understand foreign cultures and
  • appreciate the home.

Virtual travel can become an alternative to get to know faraway places and people. From the couch we can visit museums and world heritage sites. People lead us virtually through their city, artists bring us closer to their work.

I wanted to find out to what extent virtual travel is suitable to complement or even replace analog travel. Starting in April 2021, I traveled virtually for 80 days, writing a fiction travelogue for each cultural offering.

Disclaimer 2021: Virtual travel (without VR glasses) is still in its infancy

While researching the virtual cultural offerings, it turned out that the selection is not yet as appealing and attractive as we thought it would be. Virtual travel is still in its infancy, not only in German-speaking countries but also in English-speaking countries.

  • Many offers that were labeled as "virtual travel" turned out to be, for example, mere videos or documentations of places or buildings. More than scrolling back and forth a bit here and there: Missing.
  • Some tours, while offering me the opportunity to decide for myself where I wanted to go, were not very appealingly implemented, for example on a visual or narrative level.

However, I wanted to get my readers excited about the high quality, well thought out and really well done cultural offerings.

Virtually around the world: the journey by criteria

In order to create a varied, interesting itinerary, I developed criteria into which the virtual travel offers can be divided. These help you to choose the trips that suit you best.

1) Different providers:

  • Those who specialize in these offers, z. B.: listen to Kandinsky – with the Centre Pompidou and Google Arts & Culture or view over Rio de Janeiro – with YouVisit.
  • Those who make a concrete place virtually experienceable, z. B. Jane Austen's House or Hoi An – with the Vietnamese Tourism Association.

2) Different places:

  • World cultural heritage sites and cities, z. B. New York from the Empire State Building – with I love NY 360.
  • Space, z. B. Visit to exoplanets – with NASA Travel Bureau.
  • Jumps through time and space, z. B. Looking through windows of the world – with Window Swap or entertaining city guessing – with City Guesser.

3) Interaction possibilities:

When traveling virtually, the focus should not be on passive consumption, but on a certain degree of autonomy. This is best achieved in digital format through various means of interaction, such as:

  • Possibilities of orientation (thanks to an overview or a map),
  • independent travel,
  • Direct communication with fellow travelers,
  • Switching between digital formats (text, audio, chat, video) and
  • Appealing to different senses, for example, through an action in the analog world. So I painted a picture under the guidance of an artist who had previously guided us through Buenos Aires as a group: Street Art in Buenos Aires – with Airbnb.

4) Live or recorded:

The former option is usually tied to a point in time and offers the opportunity to get to know fellow travelers and ask the organizer or host questions, z. B. Virtual tour on Goree – with Heygo.

5) Sustainability:

Virtual tour inspires to value destination, advocate for its conservation and reduce mass tourism like carbon footprint, z. B. Great Barrier Reef – with David Attenborough.

Conclusion from the virtual journey "Around the world in 80 days – from the sofa"

Virtual travel expands horizons. However, it by no means replaces traveling itself, especially since the number of well-made offers is still manageable.

It's still worth it for the following reasons:

  1. To get to places you can no longer get to: for health reasons, when the political situation in the country is uncertain or you can no longer travel to the place in question in a sustainable way, z. B. Petra in today's Jordan – with Google Maps.
  2. As a supplement to the actual visit to the country or to explore aspects of the place that can only be experienced virtually.
  3. To let oneself drift and unexpectedly discover new things. This is exactly what has become difficult nowadays, as Google provides instant search results. Libraries, on the other hand, which used to be the main place for research, also let us discover things we hadn't actually looked for. A similarly curious attitude, which is necessary to let oneself drift, is also required for traveling – analog as well as virtual. Virtual travel contributes to bringing the joy of discovery to the Internet.

My personal conclusion as an author

One difficulty I expected but underestimated was that as a virtual traveler, I have little room to maneuver beyond "click" and "scroll". I can also describe less sensory impressions. So first I had to find a new language for this kind of text.

Over time, I discovered new ways of expressing myself and am grateful for the new format in which I was able to try out writing in a new way.