Fun and Free: 20 Best Virtual Travel Experiences
We may be living in extraordinary times, but the travel industry is making huge efforts to help make life more enjoyable for parents and kids with virtual travel experiences — and to teach them something new at the same time. Family-friendly hotels, destinations, attractions and even sports teams are producing virtual travel content that will delight kids and parents alike. And the best part: It’s all free. Here are some fun virtual travel and e-learning experiences that you won’t want to miss.
1/20 Virtual Travel: Become a Marine Biologist
Get ready for a new type of homeschooling, where turtles are teachers and reef fish can be made out of egg cartons and bottle tops. Six Senses has launched a new, online Junior Marine Biology Program. It’s a free, 10-week virtual travel program inviting marine lovers of all ages to become a marine biologist at home. This adorable concept originated on-property at Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives. Now it’s been reinvented as part of the company’s new #AtHomeWithSixSenses initiative. Although the structure is slightly different to what children might enjoy on a vacation in the Maldives, the objective is the same. It aims to help foster an understanding of marine biology and see first-hand the importance of conserving our oceans. The course is open to everyone and there’s content suitable for all ages.
READ MORE: “26 of the Best Hotel Kids Programs”
2/20 Virtual Travel: Make Towel Animals
What kid doesn’t love getting a towel animal on their bed at a hotel? The housekeeping teams from Anantara hotels around the world have created a series of cute instructional virtual travel videos so that junior hoteliers in the making can practice their towel art skills. All you need is a couple of bath towels to bring a touch of the tropics to your bathrooms. First up, Naufa and Sharaf from Anantara Kihavah Maldives take us under the waves at the underwater restaurant SEA to create a manta ray. Twirl up a turtle with the Anantara Eastern Mangroves. Create your own elephant, Thailand’s national animal, at Anantara Siam Bangkok. Make a bunny with Manish from Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island. After you have fun with the little ones, share your creations on social media using the hashtag #AnantaraEscapism.
3/20 Virtual Travel: Become a Top Chef
Kids can learn the fundamentals of cooking — with supervision from an adult — by trying their hand at exclusive recipes provided by Club Med, the pioneer of the all-inclusive concept (celebrating its 70th anniversary this year). Through the new Club Med at Home virtual travel platform, a weekly series of activities designed to inspire and engage families at home, kids can access recipes and how-to videos of Club Med culinary favorites, like Club Med’s world-famous White Chocolate Bread, a traditional French brioche (berries included) from Club Med Valmorel or freshly-made guacamole courtesy of Club Med Cancun Yucatan.
4/20 Virtual Travel: Take Part in Wildlife Activities
Paws Up invites kids everywhere to take part in a series of “Live from Big Sky Country” videos being aired from Greenough, Montana. Get up close and personal with the resort’s experts in wildlife, outdoor activities and art. Some of the virtual travel activities that young at-home travelers can experience include a “Painted Horses” workshop, where an equestrian manager will show how to identify traits about horses, including how to tell its age. In “Sheds and Feathers,” kids can take part in an expedition to identify the different animals that make Montana their home. With the “Fuego y Fuego Challenge,” join wilderness experts as they attempt to build fires without using matches and follow that up with gourmet s’mores. Or paint with abstract artist Danielle LaGoy, who will show how to use foliage to create a painting. You can find the series on Paws Up’s Instagram Highlights and Facebook video page.
5/20 Virtual Travel: Check Out Nature in Costa Rica
Experience pura vida with a virtual visit to the lush Central America country of Costa Rica, which is inviting travelers to explore five of the country’s volcanoes through Google Earth. Virtually visit Arenal Volcano (home to 75% of Costa Rica’s bird population and one of the most well-known hot springs), Irazú Volcano (the country’s tallest volcano) and more —without the crowds. You can also travel during meal times by cooking Costa Rican dishes in your own kitchen. Through Tasty-style video tutorials, families can make local favorites like Gallo Pinto (a traditional breakfast dish), Sopa Negra (a delicious soup) and more. Want more travel inspiration? Check out films like Jurassic Park, Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams and Paddington, all of which feature scenes of Costa Rica’s tropical climate, diverse landscape and biodiversity.
6/20 Virtual Travel: Learn about the World
With recent school closures and restrictions in place due to COVID-19, Austin Adventures launched “Virtual Adventures for Kids” in an effort to help bring some positivity to the world, give children something to enjoy from the comfort of their own homes and give parents a small break. Austin Adventures president Kasey Austin — who has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and has been named the world’s top family guide — hosts the virtual travel adventures. Expect things like a Yellowstone National Park Virtual Adventure featuring videos of Old Faithful and a Q&A session with hundreds of great questions from the audience such as “Can I swim in a hot spring?” and “How many bears are in Yellowstone National Park?” There was no better candidate to host these adventures than Austin. The Virtual Adventures are open to anyone but are recommended for children ages 6-12.
7/20 Virtual Travel: Get to Know Our Furry Friends
Caretakers at the Oregon Zoo are giving a behind-the-scenes look at what the animals are up to while the zoo is closed to the public. Kids and adults alike delight in the near-daily animal videos that are posted to the zoo’s YouTube, Facebook and Instagram channels. On March 23, a fluffy new chick joined the Oregon Zoo’s Humboldt penguin colony. The chick will spend the next three months living its life in parallel to much of the human world: nesting in a cozy box, growing and staying healthy and drinking fish smoothies (okay, maybe not that last one). Watch all this — and so many more heartwarming moments.
8/20 Virtual Travel: Visit California
California is paradise for kids, and now pint-sized travelers can get outside, learn and explore without leaving their homes, thanks to virtual travel experiences across the state. For animal lovers, enjoy live cams at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, The Oakland Zoo, as well as the California Coastal Commission. Science and tech buffs will love the “Stuck at Home Science,” a family-friendly space for STEM learning with easy-to-follow activities at The California Science Center. With the virtual field trip to the San Jose Tech Interactive, a family-friendly science and technology center, kids can get a peek into the cutting-edge technology of Silicon Valley. For little aviation buffs, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum offers 3D virtual tours of Reagan’s Air Force One. Channel Islands National Park is offering ranger-led videos that showcase the remarkable natural resources of the islands and includes curriculum for fourth to sixth graders as well as live hikes and dives. A few other highlights throughout the state include a limited-time, 40-minute virtual tour of the Winchester Mystery House (which has reported paranormal activity); Zoo School at The Living Desert in Palm Springs; and online private music lesson at Palm Springs’s Music School.
9/20 Virtual Travel: Dream About Down Under
Destination New South Wales — home to Sydney, Australia — offers up virtual travel experiences for those at home and dreaming of travel. In addition to the stunning livestream of Sydney Harbour taking place daily, the Australian Reptile Park has started showing talks, educational videos and livestreams with its animals. Videos range from feeding time with koalas and Hugo, the giant tortoise, to lessons on Tasmanian devils and conservation and the lifestyle of a frog. For those in different time zones, the livestreams live on Australian Reptile Park’s Facebook, Instagram and TikTok pages.
10/20 Virtual Travel: Experience Hikes and History
South Dakota is loaded with history and adventure that your kids will love. Can’t make it to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in person? Tour this massive sculpture carved into the Black Hills with free virtual travel tours. Or check a more humorous side of Rushmore’s presidential mascots and see how they’re practicing social distancing in a series of funny, family-friendly videos, from Thomas Jefferson biking to Abe Lincoln hiking in Rapid City. Badlands National Park, located in the Black Hills region of western South Dakota, offers a live webcam and virtual tours of the otherworldly landscape and fossil trails, while Wind Cave National Park offers live virtual hikes and more. Finally, children can embark on a Custer State Park Virtual Field Trip on Facebook Live with the park’s interpretive program manager to learn about prairie dogs in the great plains. Visit South Dakota’s Kid Activity Pages to engage in coloring books for the whole family, and listen to storytime videos with park ranger Jim Ganser.
11/20 Virtual Travel: Work on Your STEM Skills
LEGOLAND California Resort is working to inspire STEM learning. Check out the online site, LEGOLAND Building Challenge, which is filled with instructional videos and activities that promote learning, creating and play. Every Wednesday, master model builder PJ Catalano announces a new theme and instructional “how to build” video to teach viewers how to build a variety of creations. There’s also have a section with coloring pages, drawing mazes, ad-libs, word searches, trivia and “brick-tac-toe” that families can download — all of which is updated weekly. And now, just in time for Mother’s Day, Catalano is showing viewers how to create builds that kids can “gift” moms, such as cupcakes and stars, to make her feel special.
12/20 Virtual Travel: Take a History Lesson
The National WWII Museum in New Orleans features immersive virtual travel exhibits, multimedia experiences and an expansive collection of artifacts and first-person oral histories, taking visitors inside the story of the war that changed the world. While the museum has temporarily closed, the institution makes at-home history lessons possible with free online resources including lesson plans, webinars and electronic field trips that transport students in grades 6 to 12 to historic sites around the world to experience WWII history virtually. One fun activity even instructs kids on how to make bird feeders and hand sanitizers.
13/20 Virtual Travel: Learn About Animal Rehabilitation
Watch live footage of Florida wildlife being rehabilitated at Sanibel Island’s CROW Clinic, one of the nation’s top facilities for native wildlife rehabilitation. Live virtual travel webcams look into their state-of-the-art animal hospital and the animal ambassador enclosure, home to Billy the Armadillo, Talon the Red-Tailed Hawk and more.
14/20 Virtual Travel: Learn About Hawaiian Culture
From native Hawaiian language classes to hula dance lessons and lei making, Hawaiian Airlines’ newly launched virtual learning series shares cultural activities with keiki (kids) led by employees, recipes prepared by local chefs, and local music and entertainment. Showcasing the culture of the Hawaiian islands with those at home, the “Sharing Aloha Series” started off making Banana Cereal Pancakes with current Top Chef contestant Lee Anne Wong, Hawaiian Airlines’ executive chef, and the month of May will focus on cultural content fully led by Hawaiian employees. Hawaiian will be posting on Facebook, Instagram and the Sharing Aloha Series website.
15/20 Virtual Travel: Learn About Pollinating
While the Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont is currently closed to guests, life on a dairy farm can be experienced through the Billings Farm At Home landing page. For the museum’s Pollinator Week taking place from May 4 through May 8, the Billings Farm & Museum educators have crafted kid-friendly mocktail recipes for children to learn about the importance of pollinators. Each day during “Pollinator Week,” one mocktail recipe (and a cocktail recipe for adults) will be shared on the Billings Farm social channels. On its YouTube, Facebook and Instagram channels, Billings will also be doing virtual farmhouse tours, storytime book readings, cooking demonstrations and interactive art projects.
16/20 Virtual Travel: Take a Virtual Vacation in Scotland
There’s so much for kids to do in Scotland, and now they can experience it all virtually. From viewing a panda cam at the Edinburgh Zoo to checking out puffins in the Shetland islands to the daily #WildlifeMoment courtesy of Scottish Natural Heritage, it’s easy to experience Scotland’s abundant nature. Glasgow Science Centre is bringing a bit of science into your home every day with #GCSAtHome on its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. Want to share some culture with your kids? The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh was the first museum in the country available for exploration online via Google Arts & Culture’s Museum View experience, and there’s also a great section of the website filled with stories, games, films and other educational opportunities.
17/20 Virtual Travel: Learn About Sealife
Follow Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium team as they go live on their Facebook page every day at 11:30 a.m. EST. The aquarium is home to Winter and Hope, the stars of the 3D major motion pictures Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2. For grades 1-5, lesson plans are available, created in accordance with Next Generation Science. Free curriculums can be found here.
18/20 Virtual Travel: Color and Cook
Elite luxury vacation club Exclusive Resorts is helping keep the travel dream alive for children through virtual family trips to cafes in Paris, France; the beaches of Los Cabos, Mexico; the ski slopes in Vail, Colorado and more with these downloadable Zoom backgrounds. The Club is also helping comfort children during these uncertain times by encouraging them to daydream about future travel by providing coloring book pages depicting a few of its 70+ destinations around the world. Exclusive Resorts also has family Taco Tuesday covered with this downloadable recipe booklet and virtual cooking tutorials like this one where private chef Sophie Chamberlain in Tuscany teaches viewers to prepare authentic cavatelli with wild garlic pesto.
19/20 Virtual Travel: Keep Your Kids Entertained (and Well-Rested)
Explore Scottsdale is offering virtual travel and tours that will appeal to everyone in the family, from a digital safari at the Phoenix Zoo to a dive into uncharted waters with OdySea Aquarium’s virtual classroom – all from the comfort and safety of your home. Architecture buffs will love taking a walk-through of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West (a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Want to make sure the kids sleep better right now? Check out CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa’s blog with tips for better sleep, mindful eating and a livestream of the breathtaking Scottsdale sunsets.
20/20 Virtual Travel: Become an Equine Expert
Keeneland Racecourse, an internationally renowned racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky, is offering a series of virtual travel programs from the Keeneland Kids Club, including “horse schooling,” a fun and educational course in all things horse. Families can download their own horse schooling booklet to discover the history of the Thoroughbred (and how they’re different from ponies), how racehorses are trained, what a racehorse eats in a day, and more.
By Laura Begley Bloom