Ah, traveling. How we miss you in year two of the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s nothing better than packing your best luggage full of travel accessories and hitching a ride to the airport in search of something new. Whether you’re a traveler who’s just in search of the best food, love a good audio tour of an ancient ruin or can’t wait to hit the local markets — all of it is off limits while travel bans persist and the pandemic continues to rage. We’re seeing some positive signs (cross your fingers!) but it’ll still be a while before you can book that transAtlantic flight. Until then, I want to wholeheartedly recommend Amazon Explore for all of your virtual tourism needs.
Let me say right off the bat — virtual tourism is not the same thing as actually being there. In fact, it’s not even close. But it’s not meant to be! It’s meant to be an experience you can soak in from the comfort of your own home, where we’re spending most of our time lately anyways.
I was invited by Amazon to try out their Explore program and was given a credit for any class of my choosing. They have hundreds of experiences taught by experienced experts and tour guides in countries across the globe. All of the experiences fall into three possible categories: “Learning and Creativity,” “Personal Shopping” or “Culture and Landmarks.” You can learn a skill from a certain culture, visit a landmark or support local markets all from your home.
Due to my endless love for dim sum and yearning to learn how to make my own delicious dumplings at home I chose “DIY Dumplings: A Cooking Lesson Live Streamed From Hong Kong.” All cooking classes are under the “Learning” category, and they’ve got a great variety of them. I was able to make dumplings with a tour guide from Hong Kong right in my own kitchen and enjoy a shake up of my regular routine, and it was a thoroughly pleasurable experience.
You schedule your cooking lesson ahead of time on Amazon and the page where you purchase has all of the information you need to prepare including optional materials and your tour guide’s bio. Victor, our tour guide, was lovely, very informative and led us through the cooking demonstration clearly.
I will say that I only received one email from Amazon about the experience beforehand, and it would’ve been helpful to get a reminder of where to sign in for the lesson, what I needed, etc.
Once the lesson got going, Victor gave a little visual tour of Hong Kong and the different types of dumplings we would be making. He led us through each step of the prep process and explained everything clearly — answering questions as they came up. Like on a cooking show, he had certain steps ready to go to progress without wasting time and everything flowed smoothly. During each lesson and experience your audio is on so your guide can hear you but your video is off — so not to worry if you’re awkward on camera, especially with a stranger. You can also mute yourself at any time.
Another excellent feature of the Amazon Explore interface is the ability to take pictures. You can click a button during the demonstration and it’ll take a screenshot of the tour which you can view after the tour is over. This is perfect for preserving memories or remembering steps in a complicated recipe. Victor tailored certain elements of his cooking demonstration to this — holding up chopped carrots so we could remember the ideal mincing size, for example.
One of the most impressive parts of the experience was how well the video connection held up, and how seamless it was. We successfully made 20+ dumplings with Victor’s instruction and they turned out wonderfully!
I wish the lesson had lasted a little longer and we would’ve been able to boil and cook our dumplings with Victor, since it ended before the cooking section, but the time we did have was excellent. The tour is designed to make the cooking portion optional if you’d rather just take notes and make the recipe later, but I’d rather it have been a full cooking class where you make your meal alongside the guide.
There are many other cooking classes available on Amazon Explore including Argentinian empanadas, Japanese sushi and Pasta alla Carbonara — as well as other experiences centered around landmarks, shopping and food. I encourage you to try any of or multiple of these classes while we’re all stuck at home — and appease your travel bug until you can break out your passport once again.