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Virtual Experiences Let People 'Travel' Safely During The Pandemic

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Al Cooper was looking forward to a vacation.

AL COOPER: My wife and I were planning to go to Nassau, Bahamas, in June and have some of their local fish dishes and have me a Bahama Mama, one of my favorite Caribbean drinks there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the pandemic squashed that plan. Same story, different place for Omero Martinez (ph).

OMERO MARTINEZ: France - a lot of stuff to see - wine, castles. It was definitely disappointing not to have the trip.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if Akaxia Cruz could have her way, she'd jet off to the happiest place on Earth.

AKAXIA CRUZ: Disneyland - I love it. I still love it even - you know, now I'm almost 30. And I still love the cute Mickey and Minnie-shaped foods that they have. Minnie ears - that would have been really fun, too.

ANDREA ROMANO: You can still enjoy travel through virtual experiences and travel without actually having to travel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's journalist Andrea Romano with advice for anyone who had to cancel a trip and anyone who'd just really like a temporary and free escape. She suggests online soundboards. Her favorite is by Unify Cosmos and features sounds that evoke a South African national park.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATURE SOUNDBOARD)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Iceland's glacial lakes.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATURE SOUNDBOARD)

ROMANO: Just put in your headphones. Close your eyes. It can almost feel like meditation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And she believes it is an extension of the real travel experience.

ROMANO: People see virtual reality is as very cold and robotic. But this is just kind of a different way to experience the world through one of our five senses. It can be kind of a comfort.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Romano also likes WindowSwap, the site that allows people around the world to share recordings of the view outside their windows.

ROMANO: A lot of travelers are looking for that local experience. And this is the local experience. It's people living in their real homes and looking out their windows and seeing their neighborhoods. You know, you can see a suburban neighborhood in Stockholm. You can sometimes see people's pets, which is always very fun.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At Google Arts & Culture, you can click yourself into Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park.

ROMANO: You're being taken on a journey with a park ranger. They take you into a glacier.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PARK RANGER: It feels so still. But the ice is actually moving as it flows downhill. A week from now, this place will look completely different.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Andrea Romano says you can take others along for the ride and maybe even come back with something worth remembering.

ROMANO: You can sit on the couch with your spouse and your kids. And you can kind of go, let's go check out a museum in South Korea. Or let's go see this famous waterfall in Norway. And the whole family can have it. And that's something that is real, a warm, personal human thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.