Sure, we’d all love to be jet-setting around the world, living out the summer travel fantasies that are only attainable for influencers with all their expenses paid and the 0.000001%. But more likely, you’re stuck behind a desk, aggressively swiping through your friends’ vacation Insta stories.
If you get creative, there are definitely ways to make your summer in an office less of a soul-sucking, cubicleland-locked nightmare. But sometimes you just need to be (mentally) where the Coronas are. And that’s where planning a virtual vacation comes in.
It’s an online oasis, a digital escape — whatever you call it, whisk yourself away through world wide web and sail to far-off destinations that are only a click away.
So shove your luggage back in the closet, toss out that tube of sunscreen, and secure your place on the couch. Let us give you the best options for your digital getaway. You can even wear that socks-with-sandals combo from the comfort of your own home — don’t worry, we won’t judge.
1. Go on a virtual destination experience
Trekking across the globe from your own home has never been easier — everyone from big tech companies, to resorts and airlines have been utilizing the latest in VR and 360-filming technology to capture immersive vacation experiences. You can get a birds-eye view of bustling cities, or get up close and personal with undersea life.
The level of “realness” might vary – for example, Google Maps can use Street View to take you on a virtual safari of in South Africa, but you’ll probably need a VR headset to get the full experience of Hamilton Island, Australia’s breathtaking helicopter island tour video.
You can also use an app like Ascape, which describes itself as “the #1 travel agency for virtual reality trips.” The app hosts a multitude of 360 scenic virtual video and photo tours, with plenty of international options.
While Kayak.com may have played off this concept for an April Fool’s Day joke, we’re getting seriously close to Star Trek simulation room-levels of travel immersion. Okay, maybe not — but it’s still a step up from your average nature documentary.
2. Ride a theme park ride on YouTube
Let’s face it, the land of magic that Mickey Mouse built is overcrowded and expensive. Other big amusement parks are no different — so unless you want to personally reenact the Harry Potter ride 10-hour line debacle, there are other ways to beat the system.
Several dedicated theme park YouTube accounts have amassed a loyal following of serial park-goers and average Joes-alike, which make up a community known loosely as “Theme Park Tube.” The most famous of which is Defunctland, which shares the history of rides no longer in operation. But if you’d rather to strap yourself into the front seat of park attractions, we’ve got you covered.
Much like mall kiosks and VR “experiences” of yore, the ever-popular rollercoaster simulation has had new life breathed into it by first-person, ride-through videos. But these perspectives also act both as a way to experience rides from international parks and as a historical record of the aforementioned defunct attractions.
3. Check out adorable live zoo feeds
What does everyone need more of in their life? Adorable animals, that’s what! But if you’ve already exhausted the millions of cat videos on YouTube (which, how is that even possible?), there’s a more organic option.
A whole host of zoos already offer live cams and feeds to various habitats of their animals online. Love elephants? Check out the Houston Zoo’s Elephant Yard cam. Want to follow some pandas around and watch them do nothing? Smithsonian National Zoo’s Giant Panda Cam has got you covered.
We can’t guarantee that any of these creatures will do anything interesting when you tune in, but most of them run 24/7, so you’re bound to catch some animal tomfoolery at some point.
4. Scroll through travel and vacation inspiration accounts (at your own risk)
While this wouldn’t be the first option we recommend, there’s no denying that the primary reason why travel influencers, ya know, exist, is so we can live vicariously through their globe-trotting experiences.
But there are a lot of pretty cool accounts out there, if we’re being honest, especially locally-based accounts that show deep love and appreciation for their hometown, city, or country.
Just like vacation packages, there’s also thousands of options, and a little something different for everyone. There’s daredevil accounts, food travel accounts, accounts to give you all the best beach-y vibes.
It might help with some of your getaway daydreams to check out the hottest destinations and food spots on Instagram, but exercise caution lest you fall prey to “travel FOMO.” Always remember that tourist spots are not always as great as they seem, Photoshop exists, and some of those dream vacays might not even be real.
5. Crack open a cold one and turn on ambient scenery/soundscape videos
We’ve talked before about the power of ambient soundscapes to transport yourself to magical, fictional worlds. But it turns out that they can also just transport you to a really chill beach.
Similar to virtual vacation destinations, but more nebulous in their exact locations, ambient nature scenes and sound videos will give you hours of calming material without the risk of sunburn or sand infiltrating the crevices of your smartphone.
If you’re only going to the beach to gaze out into the waves and contemplate your existence anyways, you don’t have to brave the dreaded highway shore rush. Simply crack open a brew from your own fridge and settle in for some soothing beach-adjacent atmospheres. Brazen seagull attacks not included.
Have you ever sat at the bottom of a swimming pool lit by neon lights, but instead of water the pool is filled with peach soda? Or hung out in a small town by the beach in 1953 eating ice cream in the hazy, salty air with your gf, who is also alien? No?
Well even if you haven’t experienced those emotions IRL, they exist as extremely specific summer playlists that capture the most unrelatable of relatable moods. While some people can be whisked away to exotic destinations through watching videos, other people need a more auditory experience.
Close your eyes and let the aesthetics and story of these playlists play out in your mind, let it make you feel emotions that you didn’t know existed. Or create your own musical storylines, and craft the perfect soundtrack to your summer escape.
7. Go on a virtual museum tour
It’s hard to beat the experience of viewing a soulful piece of art in person, but now you don’t have to nod enthusiastically to make strangers passing by think you understand the symbolism behind the work. Many top-tier museums are going digital and offering ways to view their most famous offerings from the comfort of your laptop.
The Guggenheim in New York City has made some of their collections and exhibits available to view online, including works from Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Jackson Pollock. The Louvre in Paris goes a step further and offers a 360-degree online tour experience of some of their most popular exhibitions, including their Egyptian artifacts.
Google is also working to further open access to important works online with their Google Art Project — they partnered with over 60 museums and galleries worldwide to document art pieces and offer virtual tours through Google Street View.
Yes, everyone needs a digital detox once and while, but taking a virtual vacation can show you that the internet is sometimes a calming, mood-lifting place. So take a deep breath — relaxation is only a click away.