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Your family vacation may have been sidelined by a virus, but it’s still possible to see the wonders of the world from the comfort of your couch. Museums around the world are offering virtual visits and online lessons. Zoos are live streaming their animals. The national parks are online, too. It’s not the same as being there in person, but these resources make it possible to travel at home. It’s the next best thing to being there IRL.
One of my happiest memories was the time I checked in for my next flight using the in-flight wifi of the plane I was on at that moment. Alas, that only happened once. There are many times, like now, when travel is simply isn’t possible. Just because you can’t visit a museum in person doesn’t mean you can’t visit at all. The same goes for zoos. And Broadway shows. And national parks.
As the country rallies around all of us who are homebound for the near term, museums, zoos, cultural institutions and national parks are bringing their wonders to our living rooms. We’re calling it “travel at home.” All it takes is a decent wifi connection and a screen connected to the internet.
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No, it isn’t exactly the same as seeing these wonders in person, but it’s a really good replacement for now. When you’ve had enough of playing board games, gather around the computer and try one of these virtual vacations.
Our TravelingMom fans shared their own suggestions and resources during a Facebook Live on March 26. The best ideas have been added to this list. We will keep adding to it until the world returns to normal and we can all do more than travel at home!
TravelingMom Tip: Several of the resources on this list are paid subscription services. We include them here because the company is offering a free trial, usually for 7 to 30 days. If you subscribe to get the free trial and don’t want to continue on to the paid service, be sure to create a calendar notification to remind you to cancel your subscription before you’re charged.
Just for Fun
Learn to Make a Towel Elephant
Needed: 1 hand towel and 1 bath towel
- Lay the bath towel flat in a ‘landscape’ orientation
- Roll the towel from the top and bottom until they meet in the middle, forming a double “scroll” look
- Fold the “scroll” so that the rolls are facing “out.” (This forms the body and legs of the elephant)
- Grab your hand towel and lay it flat
- Fold the top two corners in to the middle forming a triangle in the middle
- Roll the right and left edges to meet in the middle
- Pick up the towel and pull down the front piece. Then fold the ‘ears’ out to create elephant ears
- Place the head on to the body
- Leave out on your bed as a lovely surprise and personal touch for family or the kids to enjoy!
Watch the Sun Set
Los Angeles is sharing its “Magic Hour” sunset via live webcam each day at 6:45pm PST.
Virtual Museums You Can Visit from Home
It’s no surprise that the Smithsonian Museums, a national treasure, would offer one of the best online museum experiences. Log on, then click the arrows or drag your curser around for a 360-degree view of all of the museum’s exhibit areas.
Without a doubt one of the best children’s museums anywhere, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has a full “Museum at Home” operation that can help you travel at home. You can tour the museum exhibits, like this video tour of the Dinosphere. Or you can learn from the scientists at the museum via Facebook Live presentations and video lessons. I love this especially timely video lesson that uses baby oil and glitter to show kids how germs are transferred:
Inspire your budding artists with a virtual tour of this Oslo, Norway, museum. It’s a kaleidoscope of wonderful art made by children from 180 countries.
Museums Around the World
Google has collated lots of resources through an Arts & Culture site that includes virtual tours of thousands of museums around the world. Check out the section called “Once Upon a Try” for videos talking about how things were invented. They’re easy enough for kids to understand, but have some fun stuff to engage adults, too, like this one about how the toilet was invented. It includes info on NASA’s space toilets that help “astronauts go where few have gone before.” Funny stuff, right?
Travel at Home to Visit Zoos and Aquariums
If you liked the Panda Cam at the Atlanta Zoo, head over to the Houston Zoo for a whole bunch of live animal cams. The zoo has cameras streaming live from 7am-7pm Central time showing the habitats for gorillas, chimps, elephants, giraffes, rhinos and leafcutter ants. Sadly, the ant cam wasn’t working when we checked in. We definitely want to see an ant cutting a leaf, assuming its name reflects its work.
San Diego Zoo
There are more animal cams here. For some reason, when we clicked on the giraffe cam, we saw a bunch of rhinos walking around. There’s a panda cam in San Diego too!
If you need a moment of zen, tune in to the secret reef cam. The fish leisurely swimming around is downright mesmerizing. Challenge the kids to watch for the sharks to swim by. That should keep them busy for at least a few minutes!
Live Streams Around the World
If you aren’t into pandas or sharks, how about elephants on a wildlife preserve in Africa? I spent waaaaay too much time watching one of these majestic creatures drinking at a pond in Tembe Elephant Park in Emangusi, South Africa, while I dreamed of my bucket list African safari. Elephants are just one of the hundreds of live cams available via the Explore live cams portal.
Visit National Parks from Home
Cherry Blossoms in DC
Social distancing means you shouldn’t join hordes of others strolling along the National Mall in Washington DC admiring the gorgeous cherry blossoms this spring. But you can still see them via this cherry blossoms cam.
Parts of the Grand Canyon are open, but not all. While you’re waiting for the chance to see this majestic landscape with your kids, you can get to know the park by watching one of the free National Park Service videos showcasing parts of the park, like this one:
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Explore the Nahuku Lava Tube in this virtual tour. Lava tubes are formed by lava flowing from a volcano during an eruption. Part emotional connection, part education, this virtual tour also has beautiful photos of the volcanic coastal cliffs, an active volcano, and the aftereffects of a 1959 eruption.
Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
The breathtaking Alaskan wilderness is the focus of this virtual tour. The kids can see glaciers, fjords, and icebergs. There’s an educational lesson about the effects of climate change on Alaska and information on how a glacier melts.
Austin Adventures, one of my favorite tour companies for family tours of US national park and other amazing spots around the world, is hosting interactive “Virtual Adventures for Kids” on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The lessons are aimed at kids ages 6-12 and the videos will be available on demand after they air live. Register for more information.
View the World from Your Hallway
A good friend of mine used the paper maps from years of National Geographic magazines to wallpaper his upstairs hallway. At parties, I would head upstairs and spend waaaaay too much time searching the world while the party was happening downstairs.
Using maps for wallpaper is just one way to bring the world front and center in your home. Here are some other ideas from Redfin.
Arts and Culture Resources
Just because you can’t go out to dinner and a show doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy dinner and a show, thanks to Broadway HD, a streaming service that films and shows live Broadways performances. It’s a subscription service ($8.99/month or $99/year) but there’s a 7-day free trial. There is a group of family friendly shows, including Peter Pan and Cats, but I think this might be a good date night option. Settle the kids in front of a computer to watch the newly released “Frozen 2” on Disney+ while the adults laugh through “Kinky Boots” or watch Patrick Stewart’s Tony Award-nominated turn in “MacBeth.”
Opera and Ballet
- Peter and the Wolf, The Royal Ballet
- Acis and Galatea, The Royal Opera
- Così fan tutte, The Royal Opera
- The Metamorphosis, The Royal Ballet
The Metropolitan Opera House in New York is also offering free live audio streams of its operas, available live once a week.
The streaming service Marquee TV has a large selection of opera and ballet. It’s a subscription service, but there is a 30-day free trial.
Kid-Friendly Movies that Inspire Travel
The Lizzie McGuire Movie
During summer break, Lizzie McGuire (played by Hilary Duff) and her friends head to Rome. The movie showcases some of Rome’s classic spots. Let the kids watch it while you dream of a trip to Italy. Then make spaghetti for dinner to extend the Italian feeling.
Indiana Jones Movies
These fun adventure movies follow the exploits of an archaeology professor who traipses around the world in search of antiquities. Scenes are set in Egypt, Peru, the Amazon rainforest and more.
Sure, it’s animated, but the beautiful Hawaiian scenes can still inspire a desire to experience the island life.
This was my dog-loving daughter’s favorite movie for years. She loved the heroic dog who saved the children of Nome, Alaska, by delivering the serum they needed to fight diphtheria. I loved seeing the Alaskan wilderness.
Kahn Academy was my savior when my son started learning physics in high school. I wasn’t able to help him, but the terrific instructors at Kahn Academy could. In fact, I even learned a little physics! Kahn is a nonprofit whose mission is to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. It was an early entrant into the e-learning world and it truly has something for all ages – pre-K through college. While the courses are all free, a welcome message on the site asks those who can afford it to send a little something as the nationwide school closures have exponentially increased (see that math analogy?) demand on Kahn’s servers, raising the organization’s costs.
And it’s not all physics, either. Kahn Academy is offering free Disney Imagineering classes!
The funny animal videos are sure to entertain the little ones (we chuckled over that funny baby duck who had to go the bathroom). And it’s got some fun science experiments for tweens, including this one that teaches them how to make a squishy egg, using ingredients you likely already have at home.
This site makes learning history fun for kids, with lessons broken out by grade (1st-8th) and region of the world (America, Egypt, Middle Ages, etc.). It includes printable worksheets and a quiz for each section.
The University of Miami Center for Autism created a resource for kids on the spectrum. But Ted Miller, who shared the resources on the Facebook Live, says it can be helpful for any family with kids dealing with this new normal.
Just beware before setting your kids in front on these videos: You likely will have to up your story reading game. These videos come with music and animation and they are read by some of the world’s most beautiful people. The storytelling is presented free by the SAG-Aftra Foundation, the nonprofit that supports members of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. That’s the labor union that represents some 160,000 film and television actors, journalists, radio personalities, recording artists, singers, voice actors, and other media professionals around the world. Those same actors – including some well-known celebrities — read children’s books so you don’t have to.
First, kids create their own monster. Then they work through math problems and reading lessons. Best of all for busy parents, it includes a monster “teacher” who walks them through the correct answer each time they make a mistake. It’s a paid subscription site but includes a free one-month trial. A $9.95/month subscription is good for up to 5 kids.
Get a “starter list” of K-5 science lessons for free. Lessons are available in English and Spanish.
This series of videos answers fun questions from real kids such as: “Why do we get goosebumps?” and “Can a turtle live outside of its shell?” Sign up for a free account.
Early learners, ages 3-8, can build their reading skills here. Cost is $60 for up to three kids for a year, but there’s a free two-week trial.
This free museum in Chicago is a terrific art museum for engaging little kids because the art is easy to understand and painted in the most vibrant colors. During the shutdown, the museum is offering photos of its art for little kids to play “I Spy.”
This free site lets kids color Waldo coloring pages, has fun matching games and more.
Ages 8 and up
We live in a keyboarded world. Yes, talk-to-text is a wonderful thing, but typing still is an important skill. These free online typing lessons make learning fun for kids. (And adults who need to learn to type!) The free version has ads. There’s a paid premium level without ads and “exclusive content,” but the free version, offered in 16 languages including American and British English, has 684 lessons. That’s enough to get us all through the next few weeks!
This reading comprehension site is aimed at ages 8-15 in grades 2-8. Cost is $60 for up to three kids for a year, but there’s a free two-week trial.