Earlier this week, the world hit the one year mark of COVID-19 being officially declared an emergency by the WHO. Along with the chaos and turmoil that a global pandemic brings came the inevitable shut down of all non-essential global travel. For everyone far away from their homes, this has meant taking extreme measures to return with numerous COVID tests, forms and above all, very necessary precautions. Or, like many international students, this means staying put until we get better news, without putting yourself or your families at risk. Less important, but nevertheless disappointing, is also the inability to see the world and explore new places. Gone are the days of travelling just for the sake of walking the streets of a strange city and immersing yourself in the culture, or waking up with brand new noises and smells that show us how massive the world really is.
The internet, however, keeps reminding us that there is always a way to fulfil that yearning for travel when we feel cooped up with cabin fever. Google Earth and StreetView have long been an option, even in pre-pandemic times, to get a view from the Eiffel Tower, or virtually walk around the Taj Mahal, pretending you were really there. Although lately, the newest form of this seems to be playing Geoguessr. Over the last few months, this discovery game website has been trending, with numerous Twitch streamers playing it live, or posting their gameplays on YouTube. The game involves being dropped somewhere in the world and figuring out your location on a map as accurately as possible, based on clues from street signs, license plates on vehicles, flags, names of stores around you, etc. If you have ever been lost on a trip and successfully found your way back, or have generally been good at identifying context clues, you might be really good at this. The unpredictability of where you might land makes this game so incredibly exciting, and the fact that it is completely free does not hurt either. This is only amplified by the ability to see parts of the world that you might not have even known about or ever planned on going to see.
Lucky for us is also the fact that we live in an age where most of us have incredible cameras in our pockets and the ability to share information over the internet. This has given birth to various quarantine projects that have helped provide more personable travelling experiences. WindowSwap is one of these. The brainchild of Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramaniam, this website lets you choose from hundreds of windows to look out from, at views from all over the world. You can even submit your own! The stillness of the views from some windows is often contrasted by the hustle of the views from others. If you go through enough of the choices, you might even end up on a view you recognise. I once happened upon a window in Bengaluru, India, where I am from! Just as important as what you look at is where you are looking from. Personally, I think that the hills of Burgundy, France, are just as beautiful and compelling as a dog running in and out of the frame in a home in New Zealand.
Another product of isolation is Drive & Listen. Created by Erkam Seker, this website lets you pick a city and "drive" through first-person footage from YouTube. This road trip experience is furthered by being able to listen to local radio stations and the noise of the streets around you. The platform has been gaining popularity all over TikTok and has been known to be quite calming when kept playing in the background during work or some studying. The lengths of the videos almost make it feel real and help you forget for an hour or so that you have likely been in the exact same place for a year now.
These websites do no even scratch the surface of the amount, and variety, of content that helps you (not) travel right now. Being at home for so long is not something anybody expected to be doing in the early days of the pandemic last year, but we understand now that we are in it for the long haul. The vaccine is around the corner, with some parts of the world already distributing it to at-risk portions of their population. There is only so much we can do about how stuck and helpless many of us are right now, but it is important to keep reminding yourself that there is so much more out there. The internet is full of virtual tours, videos of train windows and drone footage that will continue to help us keep the faith and one day we will be free to explore again.
Until then stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, and if possible, get registered to get vaccinated.