Illustration of virtual tourism
You don't have to leave your house to go on a rollercoaster ride or visit a museum. (Illustration by Malini Basu, Macalester College)

Virtual Tourism Can Save Your Quarantined Summer

You might have been forced to cancel your vacation, but there are safe and fun alternatives that could rescue your plans.

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Illustration of virtual tourism

You might have been forced to cancel your vacation, but there are safe and fun alternatives that could rescue your plans.

Canceling your vacation is an important way to protect both yourself and the residents of your favorite vacation spot. Travel increases your risk of contracting COVID-19 and raises the number of people you could transmit the illness to, especially harmful in small towns without the health resources to cope with an outbreak. However, doing your part to minimize the spread of COVID-19 doesn’t have to be boring, because virtual tourism is a rapidly growing, at-home option for summer fun.

Whether you are an art lover, foodie, naturalist, thrill-seeker or theater fan, there is an internet-based entertainment option that is right for you.

1. Enjoy a Night at the Museum

If you ever wanted to learn more about art, Google Arts and Culture is a great place to start. You can tour or view exhibits from over 2,000 museums around the world, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

If you prefer to better understand a specific artistic movement or the work of a particular artist, those are options as well. Learn the context for your favorite works of art in the art history section of Google Arts and Culture. You can navigate through artwork by time or by color, through three-dimensional videos or photos.

Seeing such a wide array of art may make you want to learn more about its history. If so, HarvardX offers online courses in art history, on topics from Japanese books to European paintings, helping viewers put their favorite masterpieces in context.

If learning about art and its history inspires you to interact with the art, you can do that too. The Art Transfer function in the Google Arts and Culture app allows you to apply famous artistic styles to your own photos, so you can create a masterpiece of your own.

2. Immerse Yourself in Nature

Even if you can’t step outside, virtual tourism in U.S. national parks allows you to immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of nature. Take a tour of the Crater Lake National Park, the deepest lake in America, or tune in to Yellowstone National Park’s live webcams and see historical landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty.

Google Street View can even take you underwater to the famous Great Barrier Reef. The sky’s the limit to your virtual adventures, because via Google Street View, you can hike through the Grand Canyon and climb Japan’s famous Mount Fuji.

If you would prefer to explore the wilderness from home in real time, live cameras on websites like Explore.org and Africam.com allow you to take a more free-form approach.

If you miss zoos and aquariums, many of those are open virtually as well. The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago is continuing to show the world its sharks, belugas and other aquatic creatures on social media until it reopens. The San Diego Zoo is showcasing its hippos, polar bears, tigers, elephants and other animals on live cameras, helping open minds to the value of wildlife conservation, even though the zoo’s gates remain closed.

3. Learn How to Cook a Restaurant Caliber Meal

While online cooking classes may not be the first thing you think about when you hear the words virtual tourism, with the right cooking techniques, restaurant-ready food from around the world can be accessible in your home kitchen. Through online cooking school platforms like Top Chef University and Cakeflix, you can learn everything from basic to advanced techniques.

In addition to improving your cooking skills, you can improve the ethical impact of your eating habits. As meat-packing plant conditions help perpetuate the spread of COVID-19 and put workers at risk, now is a great time to learn to cook vegan or vegetarian meals.

Milk Street Kitchen’s online course in vegetarian cooking is a wonderful resource for those who want to eliminate meat from their diet but don’t know where to start. If you have always wanted to learn to cook delicious vegan food, there are plenty of plant-based online cooking classes that could help you get started.

In addition to learning how to cook new foods, you can learn about the science behind cooking and how food affects your health. HarvardX has a selection of food and nutrition classes that offers insight into how food systems shape both human and planetary well-being. With their class Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter, you can learn about the chemical reactions behind your favorite foods.

4. See a Show

Even though physical theaters may stay closed for a while longer, you can still enjoy the magic of theatre. Classics including “Rent,” “Cats” and “Into the Woods” have been filmed and are available through streaming platforms like Google Play and Amazon Prime. London’s National Theatre is streaming a play on YouTube every Thursday night, free to watch for one week, until another show is released.

5. Go on a Rollercoaster Ride

Just because you are stuck in your home does not mean that the thrills of a rollercoaster ride are off the table this summer. One virtual tourism option for adrenaline junkies is virtual rollercoaster rides.

You can go to Disney through the YouTube channel Virtual Disney World, and take 360-degree tours through the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Extinct Attractions and more.

Virtual roller coasters don’t just exist as options here in the U.S. Canada’s Wonderland and Japan’s Nagashima Spaland are also offering virtual thrills.

Stay Home and Stay Well

This summer, stay safe while having fun. The world is yours to explore from the safety of your home.

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