As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many of us remain in quarantine. So far, my trip to the UK was postponed, and with the new lockdown extension in Illinois, my birthday and Memorial Day camping trip have also been cancelled. I’m willing to stay home, though, if it helps stop the spread of this virus. So, let’s all do our part.
That doesn’t mean we can’t still experience some form of travel though! Thanks to the recent uptick in virtual and augmented reality tech, there are some impressive virtual experiences out there. My husband has bought pretty much every VR headset that’s come out, but I’ve never given it much thought. My response, why would I want to experience something virtually when I can go in person? Well, now I can’t , so I’ve paid a bit more attention to these VR opportunities.
I’ve compiled a list of 10 assorted VR experiences and videos for travel inspiration. It’s become a bit of a friendly argument in our house as I’ve confiscated my hubby’s VR headset for travel research. No more gaming!
Oculus has multiple VR headsets, so I’ve listed on which ones these experiences are available. While VR has largely been the realm of gaming, its quickly moved into other avenues as well. There are many travel related experiences and videos, but here are a few of my favorites, all tested on the Quest unless otherwise noted.
(Oculus Gear, Go, Quest)
This 3-part video series is available on Oculus TV and it’s stunning! The story begins in the French Alps and provides the backstory on cameraman and mountain climber John Griffith, who documents an attempt to climb Mt. Everest without bottled oxygen. The visuals are inspiring, and left me sure I do not want to climb Mt. Everest! I use to maintain delusions of someday attempting it, but after seeing Beck Weathers speak and reading his book, Left for Dead, a few years ago, I think a VR climb is the best I’ll do. Everest still fascinates me, so this video series was an adrenaline rush, but also nudged me to think once again of visiting Nepal. No, I’m not climbing the tallest mountain in the world, but I can still trek to the base camp, a worthy goal in and of itself.
(Oculus Gear, Go, Rift, Quest)
Perhaps more educational and historical than travel inspired, it’s an important VR experience. Created by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, it’s available in Story or Tour mode. I recommend the first for a fuller experience. Its moving, sad, and also in a sense, especially poignant at this juncture in time. She talks about being stuck inside, unable to go out or see people, yet maintains a darn positive outlook. She did this for two years, under far darker circumstances than ours. Can’t we just suck it up and deal with a couple months of quarantine?
(Oculus Gear, Go, Quest)
On a lighter note, Wander is a fun way to globe trot from your sofa. Using Google Streetview, it let’s you explore everything from famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, to remote jungles of Bolivia and beyond. I was delighted, perhaps a little too much so, to find the Oslo Opera House and show it to my dad- look, this is where we were! Wander also supports multiplayer mode, so visit London or Rome with your buddies.
Rebuilding Notre Dame
(Oculus Gear, Go, Quest)
Paris is my favorite city and I was so sad when Notre Dame caught fire last year. However, the rebuilding project is making great strides. This Oculus TV video shows before and after fire scenes (very sad), but provides great info on the efforts and a narrative by the Rector Archpriest of the cathedral. His outlook is so positive and encouraging! The VR video is great way to showcase Notre Dame, especially for anyone who didn’t visit before the fire. It shows the extent of the damage, so I hope they’ll update the video as the project progresses so we get the full story and a happy ending.
Il Divino: Michaelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling in VR
(Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Valve Index)
I found this one through Steam, and it works on several VR headsets, not just Oculus. A 3D rendering of the Sistine Chapel, this experience allows you to walk around the chapel and learn more about each fresco. It’s awesome!
I was just at the Sistine last May and it was a pretty dreadful experience. Security screams to keep moving, watches for cameras with hawkeye precision and the amount of people crammed into the tiny chapel is crushing, suffocating and the most unpleasant experience I had in Italy. (If you go, take the Vatican opening tour at 6am) So, thanks to this VR experience, I was able to actually see the Sistine Chapel. The info on each painting is far more comprehensive than you’d get on a tour.
The great thing about this option, its accessible from a phone, laptop or through a VR headset like Oculus. You’ll get two different experiences, but view the same content. Quality wise, it looks better on my phone, but the headset is more immersive. There are hundreds of 360 videos on YouTube, so I’ve picked a few that stood out to me.
Petra in 8k
Fly through this ancient city with closeup views, and explore Petra beyond the iconic Treasury building. The quality is excellent, audio provides some context and you’ll see the city better than you would in person! Did you know there’s a night viewing by candlelight? Me either!
Riding a camel through the desert is on my bucket list, in the style of Lawrence of Arabia or Indiana Jones (preferably without being shot at!), and camel transport is one way to get around Petra. Sign me up for this adventure in real life!
Arena Chapel/Scrovegni Chapel
Matthew Brennan created this 360 visit right before Italy went into lockdown. Its beautifully done, looking inside the 14th century chapel in Padua and the town itself. He ends the video with audio from one of the last masses performed before lockdown. It’s both eerie and beautiful.
This multi-part National Geographic series follows a scientific team into the Okavanga Delta in Botswana. They encounter angry elephants, curious lions, frightening hippos and more. The series isn’t recorded at the highest quality, but it’s still interesting. The narrator describes their disappointment in returning to civilization after weeks in the wild. I related to his comments, knowing that feeling of desperately needing a shower and hot meal, but still saddened to leave wild, peaceful nature behind for the digital drive world. After watching this series, check out this fascinating Okavanga safari and camping guide by Paula Pins the Planet.
Wild Atlantic Way- Malin Head
The Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s west coast, offers breathtaking scenery and countless hiking, biking, kayaking and general adventuring opportunities. The tourism board has put together several 360° videos, but Malin Head is the best quality on both the Oculus Quest and a laptop or phone. Find it at the link above, or directly on YouTube.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Closing out the list with AirPano VR’s Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, perhaps the most recognizable castle in the world. The 360 view is great, giving a full picture of the castle and it’s surroundings. For a 360 interior view, check out this video too.
Are there any VR travel experiences you recommend? Share them below! Until things return to normal, stay motivated, stay positive, and remember, we will travel again!