Are Carbon-Free Holidays a (Virtual) Reality?

Are Carbon-Free Holidays a (Virtual) Reality?

Is it possible to enjoy the feel-good factor of a far-flung getaway without getting eco-guilt for the plane ride there? In a post-pandemic world, virtual holidays may not be so novel. Considering their environmental impact and economic practicalities, we ask: will an online experience ever match up to travelling IRL?

started the summer in the midst of a global pandemic, with
international jaunts on ice. During our holiday hiatus, the
environment had a chance to inhale some much-needed fresh air. Air
pollution dropped. Mountains emerged from man-made smog. Waters
became clear.

Now, as the travel corks are popping and bubbles beginning to
flow across reopened borders, we can’t help but wonder: how can we
enjoy that feel-good factor of a trip without harming the Earth?

Enter: virtual holidays. This new realm promises to give us the
joy of warm waves breaking over toes and sundowners on a far-off
terrace, minus the carbon footprint. But can a virtual experience
really bridge the gap between the joy of travel and the need to be
more sustainable?

The digital travel sphere has blossomed during the pandemic,
allowing us to embrace that feeling of being on the move and
exploring far-off lands without leaving four walls. You can tune
into virtual tours of the Taj Mahal or peruse your
favourite gallery
without wandering into the background of
someone’s selfie. It follows that harnessing this technology may
help us explore the world in a more sustainable, eco-friendly

Air miles are a thing of the past with a virtual
. Zero emissions, a negligible carbon footprint, zero
stress. Holiday in your front room and you’ll harbour no eco-guilt
about how you got to your (albeit virtual) destination.

Virtually Visiting, a travel agency with a vision to
“empower people to experience the excitement of travel” through
technology, are among the pioneers of the virtual holiday. At the
time of writing, it’s offering a free virtual trip to Swedish
Lapland – complete with an itinerary. It’s a remarkably immersive
and educational experience, with guides “interacting” with you in
such a natural way that you’d be forgiven for trying to converse
back or perhaps find yourself cheering on your team of huskies as
you journey through the Narnia-esque landscapes.

Virtually Visiting isn’t a lone ranger in this field; other
companies have also followed suit, with walking-tour companies
offering virtual routes through major cities and the world’s most
scenic train journeys making their way to our screens. Catering to
our growing desire for immediacy, the virtual world lets you plug
in and enjoy.

To maximise the experience of virtual holidays, your smartphone
alone probably isn’t going to cut it. Transporting yourself to
another destination really relies on a VR headset, although these
needn’t be expensive; the Google Cardboard sets you back less than
a fiver – simply insert your phone and away you go. Stressful day
on Zoom? Sign out at six and transport yourself to Paris
for a sunset glass of wine within a few minutes. Aside from
satisfying our hunger for holidays and new experiences, VR also
provides travel possibilities and opportunities to those who have
other barriers to travel, be they physical or political.

Tech-savvy? Time to go one step further. A blueprint for a more
sophisticated, realistic virtual holiday could incorporate existing
5D cinematic experiences to interact with the senses, replicating a
different atmosphere by simulating scent and touch. Think water
droplets from the Amazon brushing your hand and bullet trains
whizzing past in Tokyo.
Travelling the world through taste has already been explored
virtually through cooking
and cocktail masterclasses, yet adding the smell of a
freshly shaken mojito or the garlic notes exuding from an
arrabbiata may just be the added edge a virtual escapade needs.

This year is testimony to the fact that technology can help us
overcome obstacles, but the biggest obstacle facing the virtual
holiday is whether or not it can really capture that feeling of
escapism. We want to hear the roar of crowds jostling for space in
spice markets, crush sand between our fingers, step off a plane and
into sun-baked air. Can adrenaline-inducing adventures or cultural
connections be truly replicated in the virtual sphere? If the
holidays are premised on “getting away from it all”, it’s hard not
to feel that we lose something from being able to plug in and out
at will. Most of all, we want to help the industry get back on its
feet and support the communities that rely on tourism. With virtual
holidays that connection is lost and so are our much-needed

Virtual holidays allow us to do a small part in protecting Earth
while still satisfying our hunger for adventure. Instead of taking
several trips a year in a bid to race your way around the world,
virtual holidays provide an element of escapism with little expense
to the planet and your pocket. There may still leap between virtual
experiences and those that happen IRL, but it’d be a mistake to
overlook their potentially positive effect on the environment. All
you need to do is plug in and unplug.

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