(Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher – photo taken by Sharon Schultz during 2023 virtual tour.)

In 2019 the now infamous pandemic, fueled by the deadly novel Coronavirus called COVID-19, spread around the world at breakneck speed. It was inevitable that the U.S. would eventually be infected by the contagious Coronavirus that claimed so many lives in its wake. The pandemic permanently changed lives in the U.S. and worldwide, forcing heartbreaking decisions to be made that could never be undone.

(Nativity in Prague – photo taken by Sharon Schultz during 2023 virtual tour.)

One of the most impactful social dilemmas that occurred during the height of viral contamination in the U.S. and the world, were the dreaded “lockdowns.” Adding insult to injury, those sickened were immediately isolated to protect everyone else and slow the spread, but it was too late. Eventually, whole organizations, businesses, schools, religious institutions, government agencies, even the YMCA, all went on lockdown, remaining closed to the public for weeks, even months, before the (almost) CLEAR! was sounded. 

In the interim, millions of normally busy people found themselves remarkably idle, maybe for the first time. Confined to quarters, obviously extensive travel was out, especially for recreational reasons. Folks were bored, justifiably. But when basic survival skills couple with good old human ingenuity, anything is possible. A new world of virtual travel was born, navigated by a new breed of people once on the move, the armchair traveler!

The year 2019 brought the world as we knew it to its knees. Meanwhile, a group of ambitious, unemployed tourist guides from the UK formed a new kind of travel company that would never be affected by COVID-19 lockdowns — virtual tours!

Imagine sitting in your favorite chair, in your favorite room, maybe with a glass of your favorite wine, or sweet tea with a twist of lemon. You even drag the old hassock to your chair and, up go your feet — heaven! 

Now it’s time for your tour to begin. You choose your device, a smartphone, tablet, laptop, and settle in for the next hour. During your virtual travels the platforms allow you direct communication with your guide in real time. You may ask questions about what you see, what you missed. You can also interact with fellow travelers using the chat feature. It’s the next best thing to being there — but without the germs!

An ad on social media got my attention and pulled me into the world of virtual travel. My first connection was with a group of virtual tour guides in Ireland. I’ve seen the Cliffs of Mohr, the Temple Bar in Dublin, and many places in between. 

Expert travel guides can be found in some of the world’s most fascinating countries. Virtual tours are available in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America, just to start. I’ve “gone” to London, Vancouver, Dublin, Paris, New York, and the list goes on. I’ve traveled worldwide from the comfort of my living room. No suitcases to pack — or lose. No food or lodging or transportation costs to consider. You can also take photos (screenshots) just like a real tourist! Your guide will provide Kodak moments for your approval.

Now you ask, how to go about finding a virtual travel platform? Google it: virtual tours, virtual travels, etc. A new virtual travel platform that just launched in time for the winter holidays called Together Virtually has an outstanding crew of professional guides, some of the best in Europe. Other streaming services cover their fair share of travel territory, as well. Rickshaw Virtual Tours, World Virtual Tours, and Rest Less Events are currently accepting virtual travel bookings.

Many of the virtual travel companies run their tours on Zoom, YouTube, and Facebook, as well as on their own individual websites. Fees are charged for some tours, $10-$20 average. Others require registration or tickets to guarantee a minimum number of participants. Free tours are just that, free to attend. However, these tours are usually tip-supported meaning the only compensation the guide gets are the tips left by generous supporters.

As the world muddled through the COVID-19 epidemic, many lifestyle changes were forced on the population for survival if nothing else. Many of those adjustments remain in place today, like the world that virtual travel offers. International travel from the safety of your favorite armchair. Now that is living, lockdown or not!

Sharon is a freelance photojournalist and a proud “Bay” Boomer from Anne Arundel County. Contact Sharon via email at [email protected].

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Sharon is a writer/photographer and a proud “Bay” Boomer from Anne Arundel County and can be contacted at [email protected]