The Armchair Traveler: My Adventures in a Virtual World

My friends and family thought they would finally get a break from my travel photos on social media. Stuck at home, daydreaming about my next plane trip, how could I possibly barrage them with more photos of my adventures? Yet, even COVID can’t keep my wandering soul at a standstill. From the earliest days of the pandemic, I have been a virtual travel connoisseur. Lately, my friends are so bored that they, despite their best intentions, can no longer ignore my social media feeds. They have started inquiring as to how they, too, can be become armchair travelers. This post is for them.

What’s a Virtual Adventure?

Virtual events can take several forms, and you may need to experiment to find your preferred milieu. I am making up my own virtual event categories. So, don’t google them. It won’t work.

  • The Introvert: The introvert event usually involves a platform where you can log on to see the speaker, but you are part of a faceless crowd. You may introduce yourself and ask questions in the chat feature by typing. The speakers often are better when the audience chats with them, but no participation is required. In these events, you are simply learning/experiencing. Frequently, these talks are recorded. You may sign up and then listen to them later if you have an annoying scheduling conflict, such as your job. I store up the recordings, pour a glass of wine, sit on my patio and play them on the weekends.
  • The Interactive: The Interactive requires more from you. This format is usually a Zoom chat where you and the speaker are both on video to discuss the topic of the day. You need to comb your hair, shower (or appear to have showered), and possibly wear something other than a t-shirt with a hole in it. Interaction between you, the speaker and other participants generally is expected.
  • The Private Tour: This category is for you VIPs out there. They cost more, but you can have your own virtual experience led by a subject matter expert. With a private tour, you may invite friends and family to join you. Sometimes, you are upgraded to a private tour by surprise if no one else signs up.
  • The Shaky Camera: The host for the evening takes you on some type of walking tour with their camera. It can be a city street, a building, or even a live event happening in that strange alternate universe where people are still gathering in large crowds. (I am looking at you, my American friends, in Texas, Florida, and, of course, South Dakota.) The Shaky Camera events may be conducted in either “The Introvert” or “The Private Tour” format. See, now it’s getting complicated.
  • The Theater: A few, brave theater venues have brought people together to enjoy the talents of an artist. In this virtual venue, attendees may be asked to participate on video in the group event from their homes, usually on a Zoom-like platform.

Pro-Tips for a Successful Experience

  • Participate if you can. Especially in “The Introvert” events, participation is not required. But, it doesn’t cost you much emotionally to comment in the chat room–even just to type a “thank you” at the end. The speaker may be all business, and they don’t have time for any nonsense. Other hosts are much more personable, and they love the chat room. The chat room sometimes becomes like a group of friends hanging out at a bar on Saturday night. Judge the room and jump in if you feel up to it.
  • Americans: Don’t assume people know what “Minnesota” means. It has recently come to my attention that Americans have a strange and fascinating quirk. The speaker usually invites everyone to type in where they are from. Non-Americans type in the name of their country, or city and country. In contrast, Americans assume everyone understands our geography. We just type in a city or a state, and we leave out “United States.” However, “Indianapolis” might not ring a bell for someone joining the event from India or Thailand. I, myself, was guilty of this faux pas, and it occurs to me that someone could write an entire political science or psychology dissertation on this phenomenon. You are welcome, future Ph.D. candidate out there.
  • Prepare. The hosts provide explicit instructions in advance of the event. Follow the directions. If you must download an app or sign up for a log-in and password, don’t wait until two minutes before the event starts. Also, ensure your wifi network isn’t overloaded during the event. Log off that work computer. Turn off the TV. Most of all, if it turns out that you are having trouble during the event, don’t send 100 chats to the speaker about your technical problems. Contact the company later to figure out what went wrong for next time, but don’t treat the speaker like your personal IT department. Example:

Speaker: “I am now going to show a video about London.”

Mildred: “I can’t hear.”

Speaker: “Can everyone else hear?” [One hundred people type “Yes.”]

Mildred: “I still can’t hear.”

Speaker: “Mildred, did you accidentally mute your computer?”

Mildred: “OK, I’ve got it now.”

Mildred: “Now my video isn’t bright enough.”

  • The time zone. Ensure you know the time of your event. Usually, the events are listed in the time zone where the host is located. I have had to plan for local times in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Rome, Florence, Dublin, Kyoto, Edinburgh, and London during the pandemic. There are world clock apps available to keep you straight.
  • Americans: DON’T BE POLITICAL. If an Irish speaker in Ireland talks about a statue erected there in honor of President Barack Obama, no one is interested in your thoughts–pro or con. The entire world knows we are a bunch of crazy people right now. Let’s not share our psychosis further with the international audience that usually comprises these virtual events. Save that for fighting with your father-in-law on Facebook.
  • Thank your host/speakers. The travel, dining, and entertainment industries have been decimated in this pandemic. For ridiculously low sums of money, professional tour guides, authors, lecturers, and entertainers are providing these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to connect from the comfort of your own home. I have jumped in with both feet because I want to support these industries, but also because I am receiving FAR more than I am giving. So, thank your speakers and spread the word.

My post is getting a bit long. Obviously, this is because I have SO MUCH to tell you after being stuck in my house. For the specific list of virtual events and vendors I recommend, please see: My Virtual Pandemic.