Bespoke Living Travel & Leisure

Virtual Vacation: Five Ways to Experience Travel Without Leaving Home

From sunset safaris to midnight lights in Sweden, a range of online experiences can bring amazing international sights straight to your fingertips

If you’re craving a travel fix this summer, but aren’t ready to pack your suitcase just yet, you’re not alone. According to a report by the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization, international tourist numbers could fall by 60 to 80 percent in 2020. But that’s no reason to miss out on the world’s most incredible sights—instead, sit back and enjoy a virtual vacation from the comfort of your couch.

Explore the World’s Largest Cave in Vietnam

Intrepid National Geographic photographer Martin Edström takes us on a virtual tour of Son Doong, the largest natural cave in the world. Located in central Vietnam, it is a natural marvel that only a select few have explored—but now anyone can enter without leaving home.

A shaft of light penetrates the interior of Son Doong cave
Located in the remote Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, the opening to Son Doong was accidentally discovered by a local man in 1991—unable to enter at the time he turned back and only found it once again in 2009. Image: Getty Images

This five-mile (9 km) long limestone structure is an alien environment of spectacular rock formations, fast-flowing subterranean rivers and undiscovered species. Virtual adventurers can explore the Hand of Dog, which at more than 200ft (70 m) tall is the largest stalagmite in the world; two dolines—sinkholes where the cave roof has collapsed—that let in sunlight and allow prehistoric flora to grow deep underground; and chambers vast enough to fly a jumbo jet through.

With high-resolution 360-degree images, atmospheric sounds, and Edström’s enlightening narrative, this is an all-encompassing journey. And with tourist development proposed, it may also be a crucial record of the cave, forever preserving it in pristine condition.

Take a Sunset Safari in South Africa

Head out into the savannah, without leaving home, thanks to &Beyond’s WILDwatch Live. The travel company has collaborated with wildlife broadcaster WildEarth to livestream three-hour-long safaris twice a day—at sunrise and sunset—from five game reserves across South Africa. Tune in via their site or on YouTube at 6.30am CAT (12.30am ET) and 3.30pm CAT (9.30am ET), for a chance to see creatures ranging from the Big Five—lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo—to the tiniest birds.

Lionesses and lion cubs in a South African wildlife park
The live safaris often feature lions from the Birmingham Pride, one of the famous lion coalitions of the Greater Kruger National Park—as well as their latest, adorable additions. Image: WildEarth

The game drives are hosted by expert local guides, who interact with viewers via social media and answer their questions live on the show. The first 45 minutes of each afternoon drive is a dedicated time for younger wildlife fanatics to chat with the guides, making this an ideal virtual trip for all the family. Or, if you’d prefer a more personal experience, you can also book a privately guided virtual experience through the game reserve of your choice.

Journey into the Heart of Patagonia

With calming narration by British actress Saskia Reeves, Wilderness is an immersive trip into the mysterious, desolate expanse of Patagonia—a region shared by Chile and Argentina in the southernmost reaches of South America.

The El Chalten mountain, Patagonia, Argentina
Mountains, grasslands, forests, and deserts are all part of the Patagonian landscape, which spans more than 400,000 square miles (a million sq km) of South America. Image: Getty Images

This 360-degree video created by The Guardian newspaper allows you to experience a landscape historically associated with mythical giant men (the indigenous peoples were taller on average than the European colonists) but now populated by guanacos, cougars, and a handful of hardy souls. The dramatic skies, towering mountains and windswept plains of Patagonia are captured in all their bleak, rugged beauty.

But this isn’t merely a sightseeing tour. It’s also the story of how in 2018, the Chilean part of Patagonia was preserved by the establishment of five sprawling national parks—including Parque Patagonia, where the video was filmed—creating a haven for ecotourism, rewilding, and sustainable development.

Join David Attenborough in the Great Barrier Reef

The naturalist Sir David Attenborough is something of a national treasure in the United Kingdom, where his avuncular tones have narrated some of the BBC’s most acclaimed natural history programs for 60 years. Here, he presents a fascinating voyage along the complex aquatic ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches more than 1,400 miles (2,300 km) down the coast of Queensland, Australia. Through in-depth video and interactive content, you can explore the reef beneath the waves, learn more about its incredible biodiversity and hear from the people involved in its preservation.

An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef
Composed of more than 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, the Great Barrier Reef makes up almost 10 percent of the world's coral reef ecosystems, and is one of the most complex natural systems on Earth. Image: Getty Images

Today, however, the reef faces a multitude of environmental pressures—from corals bleached by warming seas, to the destructive crown-of-thorns starfish. The urgency of the conservation message is brought home by sobering statistics highlighting how much reef has been lost since the start of the online journey. Seeing the reef, and its multitude of inhabitants, in all its beauty—even virtually—will make you want to take action.

See the Northern Lights over Lapland

Witnessing the midnight dance of the aurora borealis is surely on the bucket list of many a traveler—and there are few better settings in which to catch the heavenly spectacle than Lapland, in the far northern reaches of Sweden.

The northern lights in the sky over Lapland
As the driest place in Sweden, and with the most clear nights of almost anywhere else in the Aurora belt, Abisko National Park offers the best chance of spotting the Northern Lights. Image: Getty Images

Although going there in person may not be on the cards for the moment, Lights Over Lapland’s virtual reality tours are the next best thing. Filmed in the remote Abisko National Park, the videos allow you to gaze at the Northern Lights all year round, wherever you are in the world—and you’re guaranteed to see them every time. For the full Lapland experience, you can also virtually embark on a dash through the snow on a dog or reindeer sled and survey the fairytale Arctic landscape in 360 degrees.

Banner image: Getty Images