The Armchair Traveller

Written by: Phoebe Harper

Along with most of the population, my ‘travelling’ for the past few months has been taken entirely from the comfort of my armchair, mug of the tea at the ready, seeking escapism on the television screen, online or in the pages of a book. With stringent travel restrictions looming overhead and closed borders at practically every turn, in the Covid-age, the armchair traveller is king. 
 
The everyday culture that we consume at home seems intended to mould our wanderlust appetites, in a way that will sensibly recalibrate our travel behaviours to suit the context of this global pandemic. Now more than ever, we are being encouraged to look to our very own British Isles for future holidays. It seems that we are set to become a nation of committed ‘staycationers’, with Cornwall being targeted as the new ultimate holiday destination – Matt Hancock will be taking his summer holidays there, not to mention the gathering of world leaders set to descend on Carbis Bay near St. Ives for the G7 summit this August. Costa-del-Cornwall is also featuring on our screens as Julia Bradbury blows the trumpet for suitably sustainable slow travel, with her ITV series Cornwall and Devon Walks. Admittedly, her picturesque routes from Dartmoor to Land’s End, are sufficient persuasion to visit this stunning part of the UK. Along with our allotted daily walks, we are discovering a renewed appreciation for our local surroundings, in both the wider and more immediate sense. 
 
On a similar note, Netflix’s hugely popular series Bridgerton, forecasted by the streaming channel to have reached over 63 million households within the first four weeks of release, showcases some of the UK’s finest country houses and stately homes, leaving me lusting after a National Trust membership. The stunning backdrop of Castle Howard, Hertfordshire’s Hatfield House and the honey-coloured hues of Bath appear extremely inviting and will no doubt boost visitor numbers as soon as lockdown restrictions ease. 
 
‘Edutainment’ has also become a television genre of its own, as David Attenborough continues to fight the good fight for the preservation of our world, demonstrating the perils of climate change in BBC iPlayer’s A Perfect Planet. Proclaiming the detrimental effects of increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, viewers are alerted to our harmful consumption of fossil fuels and the impact of our individual carbon footprints, something that aviation significantly contributes to. We can take comfort in the fact that by staying at home, our impact is minimised, while the natural world is left to regenerate. Arguably, this has been the most uplifting take from the temporarily decreased mobilisation of the human race. 

Meanwhile, BBC iPlayer’s chilling series The Serpent serves as quite an effective deterrent for our younger generation of would-be backpackers and gap year trippers. 
 
But for those truly yearning to escape their own living rooms, there is always the possibility of doing so virtually. Virtual touring website, Virtualtrips is a fantastic alternative to quench the thirst of avid travellers. I spoke with Virtualtrips CEO and founder John Tertan to get an understanding of what makes his business so popular. “For me, Virtualtrips is about bringing the world closer together. For thousands of people, going on our live-streams is the highlight of their day because they’re an incredibly social and immersive experience - it makes you feel part of a global community that is curious, positive and friendly.” Offering tours from Tokyo to Tel Aviv led by licensed local guides who are financially supported by tip payments when you make a booking, the site has met with a fantastic reception, recently enjoying “stellar growth”. 

As Tertan informs me, on an average week, attendees on Virtualtrips tours amount to more than 10,000 people. That number continues to grow exponentially. “Our live-streaming technology is customised for live touring and makes it really easy for individuals or organisations to share the places they know best,” adds Tertan. It is perhaps unsurprising that the site has met such a great response, with over 17,000 reviews averaging 4.7/5 stars across their tours, rated on both the experience and technology. Enjoy unencumbered travel to far flung corners of the globe without any of the hassle of pre-departure PCR testing and enforced hotel quarantines. 
 
Although worldwide travel is on standby for now, we must not lose sight of the fact that the world needs tourism, whatever that may look like as the travel industry calibrates to the ‘new normal’. Our appetites as travellers should not diminish and there is hope going forward – you only have to sit through one advert break to encounter hopeful promises of summer holidays to come and new beginnings from the likes of TUI and On the Beach.
 
So, in the meantime, inspiration and a virtual kind of travel is there if we seek it. All great trips take great planning so we should use this time to our advantage, whilst rethinking how we travel in the responsible way that the present world demands. An armchair seems like the most comfortable place to do it.