8 Great Ways Alternative Travel Came to Our Rescue in 2020

8 Great Ways Alternative Travel Came to Our Rescue in 2020
Virtual reality helped lessen the pain of not being able to travel

From walking tours, street view applications and online experiences to binge-watching films and reading our favourite travel books, here is how we travelled without moving in the year that was

Prannay Pathak
December 30 , 2020
10 Min Read

Okay, we can all agree that the way Amazon is planning for us all to experience exotic places through its recently announced platform Explore, is unacceptable to those who’d go to the end of the world for the ‘real’ deal. Flights to nowhere, too, are something of a bird-in-hand option right now. But the way 2020 panned out, what would have we done without the alternatives that the world of technology had, stashed away, to toss up at us? Certainly the ‘monoliths’ wouldn’t have done. We emptied our drawers to raise a toast to eight superb ways armchair or virtual travel kept our spirits high and our expectations for 2021 higher.

MapCrunch and Google Street View
Zilina in Slovakia, through MapCrunch


A couple of months into the lockdown, netizens went hunting nerdy old ways of virtual travel, and since Google Earth is too mainstream (and nausea-inducing), MapCrunch came to be ‘revived’. Travel-deprived users started taking e-walks through streets of cities they had never even heard about. The artistic ones even started an Instagram art movement based on the scenes they saw. Google Street View and virtual stargazing platforms, too, peaked as avenues of some much-needed edutainment. The Street art website Inspiring City even released a map that can be used to trace major locations in the UK where one can see murals by Banksy.

Tours de Force

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Garden tours, museum tours, ghost and cemetery tours, tours to cities all over the world and tours to the Grand Canyon and the Kenai Fjords—this year brought a windfall for those in the virtual experience business. We ourselves indulged a bit with a live walking tour of the beautiful, historical city of San Juan. Even if tango classes and shibori lessons weren’t to be had without paying a pretty penny, fret not. Some of the world’s most iconic museums did experiential tours and showarounds of their premises for free on Instagram. Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro buffs were treated to special sneak peeks of Studio Ghibli’s museum in Mitaka, Tokyo.

Read: Delhi-Based Travel and Food Blogger Harish Bali

Window Swap
The view out of an apartment window in New York City, on Window Swap
Ever fancied a room with a view? WindowSwap, a browser-based video experience conceptualized by Singapore’s Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramanian, allowed people in 25 countries to share videos of the views outside their windows—an expansive aerial view of Istanbul, an urban apartment patio in Chennai, the goings-on of a busy street in Hong Kong or just cars passing in Brixton, London, and a calming rural landscape in Lombardy’s Italy, to recall a few. The experience is real-time if not live, unadulterated, comes with the sounds of the surroundings, and anyone can share their clips (2-10 mins) to the feed.

Read: The Top 10 Food Podcasts of 2020

Travelling through Sci-Fi

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Science fiction, multiplex movies, Timothee Chalamet—Anyone remotely interested in either of the three would know that the new Dune movie has long been in the works. So, after months of trying to buy the book on the internet and bookstores all over the city, I had the crazy idea that everyone had bought its copies off. Considering that this was the year Mars come the closest possible to the earth, traces of phosphine were found in Venus’ atmosphere, a new solar cycle began, the monolith prank was played and Saturn and Jupiter aligned—we figured that reaching for our favourite speculative books and shows would be a grand idea for alternative travel. Here’s the list we did.

Movies and Streaming Shows
Those scoffing with foreknowledge that we’re going to talk about Emily in Paris or about the fact that we did a whole piece on it—we get you, too, sweeties. But truth be told, it did have us experiencing the City of Lights through Lily Collins’ eyes.
Jodie Comer saunters down a street in Barcelona (still from Killing Eve)
My pick for this year’s travel binge, will have to be the slick spy show Killing Eve (the show's third season premiered earlier this year) that whisks you from one corner of Europe to another constantly, and you’ll see the alleys of London, the backstreets of Barcelona, dreary Russian prisons and laidback French apartments. This was also the year we went crazy doing and reading lists on travel movies to watch—there were listicles for road-trip lovers, those who would holiday only in Europe, and lovers of genres like Nordic noir and Belgian thrillers.

Read: Unconventional Classic Flicks to Remind You of Travel

Online Festivals and Events
Those who had planned on finally visiting the Hornbill Festival this year or volunteering at the Dharamshala International Film Festival, were sure upset, but one could still enjoy them on their screens.

The summer solstice celebrations at the Stonehenge and the Notting Hill Carnival were also moved online, as were pride parades throughout the world in the month of June. Comic Con lovers were in for a pleasant surprise with virtual events all over the world that they could stream, including the DC Fandome and the San Diego Comic Con. With Coronavirus rearing its spiky head again in various cities, Christmas-themed events were shifted online and special concerts and performances were up for streaming from around the world.

Nature Cams

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During a pandemic, wildlife safaris would be one of the more ideal ways of safe travel, but during the initial months when we could move out of our homes only for grocery-shopping, many turned to nature cams to watch wildlife from close quarters in South Africa, Tanzania and North America. International Wolf Center’s live cam is a treat for those who have the patience. Live webcam feed for city streets, volcano eruptions, and beaches were also on armchair-travellers’ go-to options—read all about it and where to find them all in our special July story.

Read: These Remote Islands are Using Gaming Tech to Make Remote Tourism Livelier


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Earlier in 2020, before the pandemic enforced lockdowns and suspension of travel all over the world, Khawla Al Romaithi of Abu Dhabi bizarrely took a trip around the world in three-and-a-half days—faster than most people will finish George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, and that’s just two cities. But only yesterday, NYT reported that book sales went up in 2020, and a lot more book-buying happened. Telecommute and increased time at home meant more time for reading and reflection. Check out this list of queer travel books that we did earlier on in the year.

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