Curfew has been relaxed in Sri Lanka. However, the rest of the world is still largely under lockdown and the pandemic remains very much a major threat. While being temporarily grounded is for the better, there are those who cannot help but feel wanderlust rearing its curious head. Some people are just wired that way and while it is still not quite safe to set off into the sunset, humankind – as they often do – have found an interesting alternative.
The internet, with its infinite opportunities, now offers “virtual travel”. This has been interpreted in many ways but at its core, it allows you to experience the great outdoors and the faraway from the comfort of your own home, with social distancing being very much adhered to.
Virtual travel has manifested in many ways, one being virtual tours that can take you pretty much anywhere. Some such tours are in the form of 360-degree VR (virtual reality) movies from the Japan National Tourism Organisation; the VR tour of the coasts of Northern Ireland at the Giant’s Port, the hexagon-lined coast of the Grand Causeway; a virtual hike of the Great Wall of China for which the tour spans six-and-a-half miles of the wall between Jinshanling and Simatai; download Chile 360, a free app that will help you virtually explore wonders from the Torres del Paine to the Atacama Desert to Easter Island; and numerous others.
In addition to virtual tours, there are also those options where travel experiences are shared, such as the efforts by Sensory Indulgences in association with Leopard Trails where they offer a small portfolio of curated experiences hosted by various local personalities.
Brindley Wijeysooria and Udaya Wickramage, who launched Sensory Indulgences, shared that it will be a while before the global tourism industry bounces back from the effects of Covid-19; travel restrictions will hinder free travel for some time to come, they opined. Taking into consideration this delay in the travel industry picking up for six months at the very least, the team at Sensory Indulgences, together with Leopard Trails, hopes to add value to the local travel scene with their contribution.
Soul & Surf, Ahangama, a yoga and surfing company with branches in India, Sri Lanka, and Portugal, is also contributing to the virtual travel concept with their “Pause Weekends” – a two-day virtual holiday where the company offers a schedule of live online yoga and cooking classes as well as surfing tutorials. Speaking on the programme, the Soul & Surf team said: “The programme will include around 10 live sessions and five pre-recorded sessions including yoga, surf, fitness movies, food, chats, etc. to replicate our retreats in real life as much as we can.” They also shared that they will be donating 10% of the proceeds to a chosen cause.
With these various interpretations of virtual travel, we posed the question to persons who’ve been doing it for years – travel bloggers; people who have built an audience consuming virtual content on travel.
We spoke to Shenelle Rodrigo, who is currently sharing her epic Bali experience on her YouTube channel. She shared her thoughts on virtual travel and whether this concept is essentially similar to what travel vloggers do. “I think it is a wonderful concept, and I do believe that travel blogging falls under virtual travel, which is content that allows people to either travel vicariously or help better plan their next trip.
“If people cannot step out, then naturally they look for content online and right now it is safer to stay home. While the curfew is relaxed in Sri Lanka, it is not so in other places. This is also comforting content which is good for people’s mental health as well,” she shared.
We also spoke to Long Weekend’s Yaseen who actually vlogged his travel experience from last weekend where he visited the South. He shared with us his take on virtual travel. “While virtual travel does take away the benefits, and thrill and adventure of conventional travel, I think it is also a positive thing given the current situation because travel is not just about going to new places and exploring; it’s about people, interaction, and experiences. That’s what we enjoy the most when we travel – the company, and the idea of community, friendship, etc. So if currently people are unable to do that due to Covid-19, then this is the next best alternative,” he shared.
“It may not be ideal, but it’s still a way for people to feel connected to one another and experience something together. At a time of isolation and social distancing, something like this can be very helpful to someone who is suffering through anxiety or someone who really needs a break from the mundane routine. It’s not ideal, but it’s not a bad thing. Just as long as people don’t think that this is permanent and stick to this; I see it more as a temporary solution to satisfy a need that we are facing currently.
“We need to stay connected to the world and nature as much as possible, even via the internet, so that we don’t forget all the beautiful things that are out there waiting for us when we can finally safely go out,” he said, adding that he strongly believes in this, which is why he continued to post travel content throughout the lockdown everyday so that “we can keep ourselves motivated for the things outside that we can experience when we can go out; it’s to be hopeful”.
We also reached out to Sinbad Travels. The man behind the channel organises large groups of travellers for guided tours in addition to vlogging his experiences. He shared that with regard to the concept of virtual travel, what vloggers have been doing is somewhat similar to what you get these days with regards to VR excursions, and while it would likely never replace real life travel which comes with its own set of challenges unique to each location you chose to tackle, you are allowed the opportunity at least curb your wanderlust long enough till you can finally step out.
Virtual travel may sound like a new concept, but it has been around for a while. And while social distancing remains the safest way to contain the virus, all those bitten by the travel bug will have to make do with virtual travel for the near foreseeable future.