Article by Lauren Thomas & Jason Rogers
The temperatures are sky high. The pollution is down. The smell of kao rou and beer is around every corner. It must be summertime in Xi’an. For most of us summer is a time for vacation and relaxation with friends and family. However, with the borders closed and no new information on when they will reopen, we are left wondering if we can even enjoy our summer vacation. Well, my friends, I am happy to tell you that the answer is yes. All you need is some technology and a little creativity, and you too can be sipping Mai Tai’s on a Thai beach, without ever having to leave the comfort of your apartment.
With the whole world in quarantine, many people are looking for ways to escape their new normal. With this desire to escape has come the concept of “virtual travel”, where you can digitally travel when you otherwise cannot. I have researched many methods of virtual travel and I’ve broken them down into three categories so that you can choose your own adventure. So, turn off the Netflix and let’s get to it.asted after all.
The first and easiest way to leave Xi’an is via virtual landscapes. With this method you log in to watch a live stream of a popular vacation destination. There are many websites you can visit with many different options for live streams; from beaches, to cityscapes. You can even watch safari live streams where you may be lucky enough to spot a baby elephant.
Here are some things I suggest to make your vacation feel as authentic as possible.
• Play your live stream on the biggest screen you have available. Note some of the videos don’t have sound. Create a soundtrack of ocean waves, city noises or your favorite music of choice to help set the scene. (You can also sometimes find live streams that work with various VR rigs for a more immersive experience).
• Find a smell trigger to make your brain think you’re in your destination. Whether it be a scented candle, a room spray or even wearing your go-to sunscreen.
• Dress the part. Instead of staying in your sweats wear what you would normally wear on your vacation.
• Decorate your apartment. Now’s the time to break out those souvenirs from your last holiday. Place them around the room to make your escape even more immersive.
For live streams, check out Earthcam.com, HDontap.com, and mpalalive.org/live_cam/safari. Another option is to check out your favorite video sharing site such as Youku for videos of other great destinations. To find a 2-hour beach video on Youku I searched for 海浪 (ocean waves) and found a couple that worked well. These streams are definitely something that pulls you in.
The next experience on our list is the virtual tour. Many different tourist locations can be explored through your smartphone. Have you always wanted to visit the Louvre or walk through the Sistine Chapel? We got you. Want to visit the Great Wall of China but don’t want to deal with the crowds? We’ve got you there too. Missing the rush of adrenaline you get from riding your favorite theme park rides? Of course, we got you. Wishing you could experience the Grand Canyon in all its splendor? Then look no further than your smartphone. By simply going to a website and clicking a link you can be instantly transported to your next great adventure.
• Most of these virtual tours make use of 360o video or photos. So they are best viewed via smartphone or via VR headset (especially in the case of the theme park rides).
• Most of these tours are free.
• If you ever wanted to experience a theme park ride while having a few drinks, now you can!
Most of these tours can be found by going directly to the museum’s or organization’s website. For the theme park rides, head over to your favorite video streaming site (they won’t be officially affiliated with the theme parks, but they’re just as awesome).
The final experience is the most interactive and possibly the most fun way to travel virtually. Spearheaded by TripAdvisor, you can now take part in an immersive cultural experience. From learning to make traditional Italian pasta from Tuscany to solving the Jack the Ripper murders in London, you can delve into a unique cultural exchange with locals. The process is fairly simple. First you visit the TripAdvisor virtual tours site (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Articles-l226-Virtual_tours.html). Next choose your activity from their list and choose your preferred date and time.
• Most of these courses cost somewhere between 250 – 600 RMB for 2 people.
• You can pay via PayPal, credit card or Google pay. You will be charged in USD.
• Most of these classes can be done either privately or with a small group of strangers or friends.
• It’s also a great activity for couples to fight off the COVID cabin fever.
Some of my personal favorites from TripAdvisor’s list include the Tiramisu online cooking class, the virtual Aperitivo lesson and the Dance like the Greek live online lesson. Whichever you choose, it’s bound to be incredible.
Virtual travel has improved drastically in the last couple of years. Had you asked me just last year to do a virtual vacation instead of taking another trip to Thailand, I would have flat out refused. But now, especially in our current situation, if you told me that I can visit a cool new place and learn a useful and interesting skill all without the tiny airplane seats, crowds, and cumbersome luggage, I’d jump at the opportunity. So let’s embrace our new normal while still having a good holiday.