How Virtual Reality is Changing the Way We Travel

Google Cardboard


It's a brave new world. We're at the brink of being able to try out a vacation before purchasing it, thanks to recent advances in virtual reality that are making the technology much more affordable and accessible.

While a virtual vacation can't ever replace the real thing, it can potentially help you make vacation choices by delivering immersive trial experiences. Here's a taste of what's happening now.

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Tour your hotel room before you book

JW Marriott Studio Virtual Tour
JW Marriott Grande Lakes

At the most basic level are 360-degree online tours. From the luxurious Grande Lakes properties in Orlando to the Hilton Chicago and Embassy Suites in Anaheim, California, many hotels already offer vitual, interactive, panoramic tours of accommodations so you can see your digs before making your reservation. 

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Visit a destination in your mind

Google Cardboard Travel

The easiest and cheapest way to jump into the virtual travel dimension is by pairing Google Cardboard with the Cardboard mobile app, available via iTunes and Google Play

With the Cardboard app, you can launch many VR travel experiences, from flying around in Google Earth, to taking a Street View tour, to visiting Versailles with a guide.

More VR apps to check out:

  • Orbulus, which offers tours that put you at the center of incredible landscapes, cities, and museums
  • Space Needle 360, which lets you stand on the spire 600 feet up in the air, walk along the Needle's halo (outermost ring) and fly around the city of Seattle in a seaplane
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Get onboard a virtual cruise

Virtual Reality Cruise Experience
Carnival Cruise Lines

Never taken a family cruise before? Now you can try out a virtual sailing before committing to the real thing.

Carnival Cruise Lines is partnering with AT&T and Samsung to let would-be cruisers access sun and fun on the high seas. Customers in over 133 AT&T stores in 37 states can now experience a fully immersive virtual reality cruise experience on the Samsung Gear VR, powered by Oculus.

Simply walk up to the Gear VR demo, put on the headset, and you'll be surrounded by the sights and sounds of a warm and sunny cruise vacation, from interior views of staterooms and ship spaces to experiences in ports of call. The virtual reality content is first-of-its-kind and exclusively developed by Carnival Corporation and its 10 global cruise line brands.

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Take along a virtual reality-ready camera

Sphericam 2 Virtual Reality-ready camera
Sphericam 2

What if, instead of merely remembering a trip, we could actually relive it?

VR headsets such as Oculus Rift, Sony's Playstation VR, and budget-friendly Google Cardboard are paving the way for virtual travel.

Meanwhile, VR-ready cameras such as GoPro’s six-camera mount and the Sphericam 2, available on Kickstarter, are becoming ever more affordable and consumer-friendly, which means we're getting closer to the day when we all can bring back relivable memories.

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Get a teaser of your tour

Virtual reality helicopter tour over Manhattan
Thomas Cook Group

Not sure you'll enjoy that helicopter tour over Manhattan? There's a way to know before you go thanks to an immersive sampling tour, as more travel brands turn to VR for marketing.

In some Thomas Cook travel agency locations in the U.K., Germany, and Belgium, you can strap on a VR headset and try a tour before you book. Fly first class on Qantas Airlines and you can have a VR experience of visiting Sydney's Harbor Bridge and taking a crusie in Kakadu National Park even before you land.

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Ride a VR-enhanced roller coaster

Six Flags Virtual Reality Coasters
Six Flags

Six Flags theme parks are converting some of its roller coasters into VR experiences. Instead of using VR to merely simulate coaster rides, these are actual coaster rides enhanced with VR overlays to create otherworldly experiences. Riders are given a Samsung Gear VR headset. It includes a Samsung Galaxy smartphone loaded with an exclusive app. The phones communicate wirelessly with sensors mounted on the train so that they can accurately track the coaster's movement. When riders board the coaster and place the headsets over their eyes, they are transported to a virtual world, thanks to a 360-degree view of a CGI landscape. 

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