Dreaming of far away? How to quench your wanderlust from your sofa


Historic gardens in the German city of Hanover can be explored virtually. — Hannover Marketing und Tourismus/dpa

Digitally exploring the world from your sofa might sound like a desperate alternative to real travel, but in the midst of a global lockdown we'll take what we can get. Virtual tours of faraway landscapes and museums have gotten impressive. Maybe it's not so bad?

Beaches deserted, city squares devoid of people: Many tourist attractions are currently unrecognisable. People are stuck at home because of coronavirus lockdowns, wondering when they can travel once again.

But that gives them plenty of time to plan and make the next trip really count.

To this end, there's lots of inspiration on the Internet, while many destinations are now offering online tours to whet your appetite. While the booming concept of virtual travel might trigger wanderlust for some, might it also go some way to assuaging it for others?

The Faroe Islands, 300 kilometres north of Scotland, have come up with a novel way to attract tourists: Direct a tour guide with a camera attached to their head across the spectacular Atlantic landscape and watch what they see live on your smartphone, tablet or computer.

It's called remote tourism and people can book a tour via the islands' tourism website. Tours take place at fixed times and users can take control of the guide for a minute at a time.

In South Africa, meanwhile, the hotel group Andbeyond is offering virtual game drives on four different wildlife reserves. The guide streams footage of the animals directly on to YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

Virtual visitors to Switzerland can hop from mountain peak to mountain peak and to various lookout points and enjoy a 360° view. Virtual trips around Lake Geneva are also available.

The medieval German village of Kronach is offering live tours of its half-timbered houses on Instagram.

Lots of museums are also offering virtual tours through their exhibition rooms.

On the website of the north German city of Hanover you can explore 360° photos of local sights, allowing visitors to complete a tour of the old town and the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen, the huge baroque gardens to the north of the city centre.

You can also "visit" the stunning region around the city, with the website offering 24 panoramic views that include Lake Steinhude and the Deister hills.

Travel agencies are also trying to inspire potential customers. DER Touristik for example has made 360° videos from places like the French city of Nice, South Africa and Mexico available on its website. Countless other 360° photos and videos can be found of stunning places on the website 360cities.net.

And you can take a virtual tour of a cruise ship with Tui Cruises or Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. Tui also allows you to virtually visit the Magic Life and Tui Blue hotels and even to inspect the rooms.

Virtual reality technology has made many things possible – though foreign countries and continents may be thousands of miles away you can still explore them. Apps like Google Earth can provide impressive insights into cities and buildings.

Viennese futurist Tristan Horx believes such technology can both satiate longings and provide inspiration for future trips.

But it also exhausts the brain. Horx says you can't wear VR headsets for longer than an hour.

It's such problems, as well as the unsuitability of films, that mean VR travel hasn't really taken off yet, according to Carsten Fischer.

The director of Interactive CMS has used headsets as part of his consulting work with travel agencies. But customer enthusiasm has failed to meet expectations – virtual reality can't replace a real holiday after all.

Horx says pictures and videos alone are not enough to take the place of the complexity of a real holiday. "The visual experience is only one aspect of many sensual impressions that we get when we're travelling," he says.

Interacting with nature, the culture and the locals are very important to the travel experience.

For those who want to get in the mood for their next holiday after the pandemic there is one very simple option – just get out a few old photos.

The memory of real experiences will come right back – sounds, smells, feelings and all – according to Horx, and that's something even the best technology cannot match. – dpa

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