Ride the waves. Watch a lion feeding on its prey. Get into a party mood on Times Square….all this in one day, from the comfort of your own home. Welcome to the world of virtual vacations, where you may roan unhindered by restrictions of cost, time, energy and ability. The world over, web cameras are being installed in places where travelers throng, to give a whole new meaning to the old term, armchair travel.
There are more than a million webcams, short for Web cameras, on the internet which are offering images in real-time across the world, ranging from one in the port of Paros in Greece and some in wedding chapels in Las Vegas, to some in the heart of the African jungle. While some are live streaming video 24-7, others refresh the image every few seconds or longer.
 Why Virtual?
Virtual tours are no substitute for actually visiting a place, but they have their own advantages.
- They are cheap – no airfares, no hotel bills and no car hires
- They are convenient – Just imagine, a holiday with no worries about whether you’ll get bookings. You don’t get jet lagged. You don’t get affected by the weather there, nor do you need passports or visas.
- They take you to places you might never get a chance to go to in real life – non-swimmers can go scuba diving, non-skiers can go skiing or you could go to Antarctica or Greece or on that cruise you never had the money for!
- They are eco friendly. Just imagine, you see and experience a place without impacting its ecology or leaving any carbon footprint. Anyway, in the long run, web cams may be the only way to explore environmentally sensitive regions – like rain forests, coral reefs and mountain peaks.
 Virtual Vacation Options
There is no end to where you can go for a virtual vacation, but here are some things available to you at the click of your mouse button.
- Party at the New York’s Times Square by going to http://www.earthcam.com/usa/newyork/timessquare. The next time you’re working till late and want a break, take a virtual walk down Broadway with the added advantage of being able to zoom in and out.
- Stake out a water hole at the Mashatu Game Reserve in Bostwana by going to http://nationalgeographic.com/ngm/wildcamafrica . Watch bears, deer and other animals feed at the water hole, and if you’re lucky, you might even catch a lion or two on camera.
- Dive into one of EarthCam's top 25 webcams, http://www.earthcam.com/oceantank.php, into the four-storey Giant Ocean Tank at the New England Aquarium in Boston. You can watch sharks, eels, turtles and 150 other sea animals while they are quite unaware of your presence! Take this vacation during daytime only, as the lights of the aquarium are switched off at night.
- Go scuba diving in Bonaire National Marine Park in the Netherlands Antilles without donning a wet suit, by clicking on http://www.breathebonaire.com. The camera is 49 feet below the water surface and offers panoramic views of the coral reef.
- Wind surf in Hawaii on http://www.mauiwindcam.com/streaming Two webcams catch the waves on two of Hawaii’s most famous surfing spots -- the Uppers Kanaha and Camp 1. Watch the action as pros train during the winter months right in front of the camera. (Note: The camera runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. HST but replays the previous 12 hours during dark hours).
- Ski down that precipitous slope you were too chicken to try earlier. Go to http://www.skisugar.com/sugarlive/smrbase.phtml and get a sense of what it feels to go hurtling down the slopes at Sugar Mountain Resort in North Carolina. If you a daredevil, you should check out http://www.skisugar.com/sugarlive/index-summit.phtml which shows the Tom Terrific expert-level slope.
- Get married in Las Vegas or Gretna Green, and invite friends and family across the world to your virtual wedding!
Try http://www.chapelsinlasvegas.com/chapel1.htm and www.gretna-bride.co.uk/webcam/ for starters.
 System Requirements
You may not need air tickets or visas, but the one thing you do need to embark on a virtual vacation is an up-to-date computer with some basic software. Here is a list --
- On a PC with Microsft Windows you will need one of the following web browsers
- Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.0 - Mozilla Firefox - Netscape 9 - Opera 9
- On a Macintosh:
- Mozilla Firefox - Safari
- Adobe Flash Player version 8
- If you want to see live streaming images, you may also need version 10 (or higher) of Microsoft's Windows Media Player.
 Some Necessary Software Updates
Get the latest version of the Windows Media Player here -- http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/download/AllDownloads.aspx?displang=en&qstechnology=)
To install the Adobe Flash Player, download it free from http://www.adobe.com/
For live webcam images of the San Juan Islands, Washington State http://www.islandcam.com/