My Virtual Pandemic

I have become a virtual event connoisseur during the pandemic. Professional tour guides, lecturers, professors, authors, chefs, sommeliers, actors, and travel experts are providing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to soak up their knowledge and wisdom from the comfort of your own home. Listed below are a few of my tested and favorite virtual adventures. A companion guide that explains how these events work and defines audience participation expectations can be found at The Armchair Traveler: My Adventures in a Virtual World. I will continue to add more events/resources before this pandemic is over.

Books/Authors

Food and Wine

Theater & Arts

Travel

Miscellaneous: Everything Else!


Books/Author Events:

Books and Books
When I lived in Miami for a few months last year, I fell in love with a bookstore in Coral Gables called Books & Books. I learned that they had an active speaker series that attracted some of the world’s finest writers. One amazing silver lining of the pandemic is that the speakers series has moved to a virtual platform, which means that I can join from 3,000 miles away. Note: You may sign up and record these events to listen to at your leisure. Many of the talks are free, but there is a fee for some of the more famous authors, which includes a copy of the book.

  • Website: https://booksandbooks.com/events/
  • Platform: Crowdcast (download as an app)
  • Audience Participation Style: “The Introvert”
  • Fee: No, with the exception of a few authors.

Book Passage
I have been following the events at Book Passage in Northern California for years, and have always wanted to visit this bookstore. Instead, the bookstore came to my living room with this fantastic virtual speaker series. Anyone who signs up for the series has access to the archives of past speakers. The series is free, but there is a fee for some some authors, which includes a copy of the books.

  • Website: https://www.bookpassage.com/
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Audience Participation Style: “The Introvert”
  • Fee: No, with the exception of a few authors

Food and Wine:

Wine.com
The geniuses at wine.com started offering virtual wine tastings at the start of the pandemic. The owners and managers of the vineyards themselves provide the commentary on the wines, and their enthusiasm and passion for their products is infectious. Wine.com offers the tastings as a live event, but one can also access a large catalog of prior recordings. Although it is not necessary to buy the wines to learn from the tastings, it is obviously more fun to do so. I bought a Wine.com StewardShip member for the year for $49, which allows me to buy the wines with free shipping and delivery right to my door.

  • Website: wine.com
  • Platform: YouTube
  • Audience Participation Style: “The Introvert”
  • Fee: No fee to watch the events, but the wine is extra.

Murray’s Cheese
Murray’s Cheese offers a variety of virtual tasting events centering around gourmet cheeses. Some of the events involve a wine pairing, but not all. The shop efficiently ships the cheese right to your door, but you must buy the suggested wine yourself. (I either order from wine.com or do contactless curb pick-up at Total Wine.)

  • Website: murrayscheese.com
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Audience Participation Style: “The Introvert”
  • Fee: Yes. These are gourmet events.

Johnny Madge Olive Oil Tasting
Johnny Madge is an olive oil expert who brings his passion for the subject to your home through this virtual experience. We were lucky enough to have the tasting to ourselves, and he walked my husband and I through several vials of pre-shipped olive oils. As his website notes, “During this live, interactive experience, you will learn the secrets of extra virgin olive oil history, production and how to properly taste for quality – all from an industry insider!” This experience was a game changer for us in terms of cooking and food preparation.

  • Website: JohnnyMadge.com
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Audience Participation Style: “The Interactive” or “The VIP”
  • Fee: Yes.

Curious Appetite Travel
Curious Appetite Travel offered food tours of Florence before the pandemic. Like the rest of us, the company has had to adapt during a rough time. Much to our benefit, Curious Appetite now offers virtual tours, including a sommelier-led wine and cheese pairing. Consider these classes prep sessions for your next trip to Italy.

  • Website: CuriousAppetiteTravel.com
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Audience Participation Style: “The Interactive” or “The VIP”
  • Fee: Yes.

Opening a Bottle
Disclosure: I have not done one of these tastings yet, but I am signed up! The presenter, Kevin Day, writes about wine for his website “Opening a Bottle.” The website notes, “Each session will be a visual presentation telling the story behind a certain category of wine that I am passionate about — from Nebbiolo to Gamay, Valpolicella to Prosecco — and, most importantly, why these wines matter for curious wine drinkers.”

  • Website: OpeningABottle.com
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Audience Participation Style: “The Introvert”
  • Fee: Yes.

Theater & Arts:

The Geffen Playhouse
Pre-pandemic, the Geffen playhouse was my favorite theater in the greater Los Angeles area. Located in the Westwood neighborhood, it is surrounded by cute shops and lovely restaurants. Going to the Geffen has always been a full-day event of shopping, people watching, eating, and, of course, theater. Instead of completely shutting down when the pandemic hit, the Geffen has temporarily rebranded as “the Stayhouse” and is hosting interactive, virtual theater experiences over Zoom. The first event was a dramatic magic show, which completely amazed and delighted me. A resounding and sold-out success, the Geffen now is offering new theater experiences to run through the Spring.

The Poster House
During the course of my virtual travels, I stumbled upon an event that eerily ecompassed my most favorite things: travel, vintage travel posters, and cocktails. Yes, Poster House held a “Virtual Vintage Travel Poster and Cocktails Party.” The only way it could have been better is if it had somehow incorporated a chocolate tasting. According to the website, Poster House, located in New York City, is “the first museum in the United States dedicated exclusively to posters.” The virtual Posters and Cocktails Party series makes me feel as if I am having drinks with sophisticated friends at a glamorous art deco style hotel pool. You can watch the recordings at your leisure, but the live chat room is half the fun.

Travel:

The Points Guy: The Future of Travel Series
According to the Points Guy Website, “The Future of Travel with Brian Kelley is a series of live events looking ahead at what’s in store for the travel industry as it begins to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Join Brian as he interviews top experts and company executives on a range of topics, including traveler health, cleanliness measures, loyalty programs and what it all means for the traveling public.” These are live sessions that are recorded so that you can watch at your convenience. Pre-pandemic, The Points Guy was always an outstanding resource for practical travel tips and tricks. Now, I consider them an even more valuable tool for understanding the current and future state of travel.

The Tour Guy
The Tour Guy was one of the first sites to pivot to virtual events. As a result, I have participated in quite a few of these online presentations. The events are generally serious tours of a city using photos and a lecture style. They are not for kids; rather, the webinars are for adults trying to learn more about the art, history and culture of a city. I did, however, participate in a recent Harry Potter/Edinburgh themed tour, which would be fun for fans of any age.

  • Website: https://thetourguy.com
  • Platform: Website (Uses a presentation platform called Bigmarker)
  • Audience Participation Style: “The Introvert”
  • Fee: Yes

Travel Adventure Show
Every year, I attend the Travel Adventure Show in Los Angeles. I peruse the many exhibitor booths to get ideas for upcoming travel, and I get to hear from my favorite travel celebrities, such as Rick Steves and Samantha Brown. I thought the event would be cancelled as another disappointing sacrifice to the pandemic. Instead, the event has moved masterfully online. Every few weeks, the Travel Adventure Show will be showcasing a different part of the world, with speaker presentations available on demand until January 2021. The event offers chat rooms, live and on-demand video presentations, and Q&A sessions.

  • Website: https://travelshows.com
  • Platform: Website (Chrome is recommended, but I used Safari)
  • Audience Participation Style: “The Introvert” in Speaker Series and “The Interactive” in Exhibitor Booths
  • Fee: Yes – A small fee will allow you to subscribe to the entire series.


Viator
Viator is a ticketing site for travel companies around the world offering international virtual tours, cooking lessons, cultural experiences, and entertainment. Pre-pandemic, many people use Viator to book their in-person travel, and now it is a treasure trove for adventures from your home. Each company decides the event platform, time and cost.

Miscellaneous: Everything Else!

Amazon Explore
Another disclosure: I haven’t used Amazon Explore yet, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Amazon is beta testing a website that matches up virtual experience providers with Amazon customers. At first glance, the prices seem to be higher than on the other websites I use, but I will test out some of the experiences listed. The virtual adventure include topics such as tours, cooking, wine tasting, shopping, and language lessons.

Eventbrite
According to the website, “Eventbrite is a global self-service ticketing platform for live experiences that allows anyone to create, share, find and attend events that fuel their passions and enrich their lives.” I was a frequent patron of Eventbrite for live events, and now I find that Eventbrite offers an astounding array of virtual experiences. From cars to science to holiday events, Eventbrite is going to have something for everyone. Pro-Tip: If you find an experience you like, then “follow” that organizer on Evenbrite. For instance, I am currently following 22 organizations, and I receive e-mails telling me about their latest virtual events.

New York Adventure Club
While researching virtual experiences early in the pandemic, I found the New York Adventure Club. The website reads, “New York Adventure Club is dedicated to exploring the hidden spots, fascinating individuals, unbelievable secrets, rich history, and captivating stories that define this truly incredible city.” In the pre-pandemic world, the club hosted in-person events, but they switched to a virtual environment early in the pandemic. The events are longer than most virtual experiences, (1.5-2 hours as opposed to 1 hour), and they are for people who are truly interested in learning. Their catalog offers webinars on New York society, history, and culture, but branches out far beyond that. I took one class on pandemic fashion in 1918 and another on the history of toilets!

  • Website: https://nyadventureclub.com
  • Platform: Website (Uses a presentation platform called Live storm)
  • Audience Participation Style: “The Introvert”
  • Fee: Yes

As always, I receive no compensation for any recommendations. I would only include a company if I enjoyed their work.