The growth in sightseeing drones is yet another way to spoil travel and take away from the moment. Let’s stop trying to shortcut adventure, says Flash Pack contributor Anna Brech
This weekend, the Times reported on a surge in “sightseeing drones”, whereby tourists abroad can plug into a virtual reality headset and explore nearby sights beamed from the bird’s eye camera.
The set-up is apparently “a godsend” for people who don’t want to battle crowds at major landmarks or generally go to the effort of – well, travelling.
A new generation of companies are getting in on the trend, providing a nifty way for folk to see the world without ever leaving their deckchairs.
A shortcut too far
I’m all for using tech to enhance travel, but this idea goes in the opposite direction: one that is frankly, depressing.
But in the same breath, you lose all the colour, sensation and meaning that brings the experience to life.
You can’t understand the leafy alleyways of Old Town Hanoi without smelling the pungent waft of bánh mì from scattered pavement stalls, or without dodging the path of a thousand bleeping scooters.
The ancient gladiatorial sights of Sicily are nothing without the sun beating down on your back, and history whispering from every new nook you uncover.
It’s empty, meaningless. Like watching David Attenborough to understand what safaris feel like: the two things just don’t add up.
No more explorer
The other major flaw of this approach is that it takes away your agency.
When you’re seeing a place by drone from the vantage point of your nearby hotel, you’re in the hands of a drone pilot.
Sure, you’ve got an aerial tour in real time, and that sounds cool. But what does it actually mean?
Simply that don’t have the freedom to veer off-script in physical space. If you want to pause for a homemade scoop of watermelon ice-cream outside the honey facades of Amber Fort, forget it. It’s not in the agenda.
Fancy popping by a nearby cenote after nosing around the Mayan pyramids of the Yucatán Peninsula? A drone won’t get you there.
The impromptu freedom and spontaneity that is the lifeblood of travel is gone: lost in a hovering whirr.
An adventure eroded
The sightseeing drones are a novelty, and I get their gimmick value. They may also work brilliantly as a taster of a place, rather than when you’re actually there.
But in an age where we’re so busy trying to drown out the essence of travel, they just add insult to injury.
The 21st Century is heralding in a movement of deeply lazy travellers.
We want all the experience at zero effort.
We want to snap away mindlessly at what we see in front of us to somehow preserve the memory (instead of capturing it in our minds).
We want wi-fi to stream movies from that deeply scenic beach that is, in fact, a movie in itself.
Read more: The brilliant benefits of wild swimming
We want the happy Instagram captions without the feelings behind them.
We want to see incredible sights, yes: but in hi-res definition and with zero queues.
It’s all the results, and zero substance. But here’s the crux: there are no shortcuts in travel.
Spirit of enterprise
If you want to capture that sheer elation that comes from adventure, you have to put down your tech armoury and get out in the world: blood, sweat, tears and all.
The challenges *are* the travel: they are the bum-numbing bus rides around hairpin bends, the heaving trains, even the bouts of food poisoning.
Photoshop all of these out with your little perfecting wand, and you’d be left with an empty shell.
The world can be messy and dangerous but that’s what makes it beautiful. It’s what brings the satisfying crump of comfort zones smashed, and limits stretched way beyond the measure of your own self-belief.
In the time-honoured vein of all explorers, you have to get involved and push yourself to know what it’s all about.
So dive right in and embrace the chaos – or stay put with your PlayStation VR.
Three escapes to challenge your inner explorer
White-water raft the rapids of the Petrohué River, hike through glaciers in Torres del Paine National Park and knock back sundowners in the lunar-like landscape of the Atacama desert.
Take a snowmobile safari across the Arctic wilderness and watch out for the Northern Lights, learn how to cross-country ski and sleigh ride with a pack of howling huskies.
Abseil down Table Mountain in Cape Town, paddle-board across the Cape Peninsula, learn how to surf and come swimming with seals.
Images: Shutterstock, James Hall