At the beginning of my first big trip just a decade ago, I bought a hideously overpriced phone card, made my way to one of those famous London phone booths, and called my parents back in Australia to let them know I’d arrived safely. I used the same phone to call around to hostels to see if they had space for me, and I used a traveller’s cheque to pay for my first bed. 10 years later, the situation described above might as well have been from the 1890s.
A lot has changed in the world of travel in the last decade. What’s more, the pace of change is accelerating exponentially. Each year, we see brand new technologies, brand new innovations, and brand new trends taking travel by storm, meaning the simple experience of getting on a plane and exploring a new place can vary wildly year to year.
Which leads me to wonder: what does 2021 hold for the average traveller? What tech, trends, and changes can we expect from the most sci-fi sounding year since 2000? Will there be robots? Will there be hover boards? Will a weird fit of nostalgia bring back phone cards and traveller’s cheques?
Let’s gaze into the Seeker crystal ball and look at a few of the likely trends and changes that the next 12 months could bring.
The Best Travel Trends for 2021:
While travel is good for the mind and the soul, it is frankly dreadful for the planet. Due to the transport it employs, travel has an enormous carbon footprint, and with climate change coming into ever-sharper focus, 2021 looks set to be the year that eco-travel becomes properly mainstream.
While climate activist Greta Thunberg showed exactly how difficult a zero-emission voyage can be when she travelled from Europe to New York on a solar and wind powered boat, there are far simpler things that the average traveller can do to reduce their footprint: buying carbon credits for every flight, choosing environmentally-friendly travel agencies and staying at self-sustainable accommodation, to name just a few.
True One-of-a-Kind Experiences
We’re not talking about anything on the tourist trail, nor even ‘off the beaten path’. We’re talking about true travel into the unknown – places where foreigners have rarely, if ever, stepped foot.
There are still plenty of places that are yet to be explored by outsiders. Whether a remote African village, the depths of the Amazon, an Antarctic glacier, or an unmapped corner of the big blue, one-of-a-kind experiences will get ever more prized as they become ever more difficult to find. To this day, my accidental stumble into a northern Mozambican town that wasn’t particularly familiar with white skin remains one of my most treasured travel memories, mainly because most of the people called me Jesus.
We like: Antarctic cruises as the best opportunity to put your feet where no foot has been before.
Heritage and Ancestry Travel
In an era when you can provide a bit of bodily fluid and get a comprehensive run down of your family history, there is a wonderful opportunity to combine both personal and planetary exploration. Heritage or ancestry travel sees inquisitive travellers retracing their roots, whether those of parents and grandparents, or of people eight generations back.
This type of travel has particular significance for African American and other formerly displaced communities, as they learn exactly where they came from and about the cultures they would’ve been a part of if not for interfering hands.
We like: Forgoing the bottles of spit for some old fashioned detective work on Ancestry.com.
Like it or not, we live in the age of data: where every click, swipe, and keystroke is recorded. One positive effect of this information gold mine is the ability for companies to offer up ultra-personalised experiences designed just for you.
Do you like cats, modern tech, and anime? Have we got the Japanese cat café/robot hotel/Howl’s Moving Castle-inspired tour for you! Are you an adrenaline junkie with a deep love of nature and a mild obsession with The Lord of the Rings? Check out our bespoke New Zealand package, where you can hit the slopes with Peter Jackson himself!*
*These are not, to our knowledge at least, tours that currently exist.
We like: Explorer Plan for customised, self-guided tour itineraries at rock bottom prices!
Digital Nomad Travel
As the gig economy gathers momentum, more and more professionals will choose to work and travel at the same time. And, as the number of digital nomads grows in 2021, so too will the infrastructure designed to support them.
Expect more long term accommodation options to be offered; you can already enjoy serious weekly or monthly discounts on Airbnb rentals. Expect to see an ever-increasing number of co-working spaces popping up, where out-of-towners can work, mingle, and hopefully enjoy a stable internet connection.
Automation comes in many forms. The most obvious example is the aforementioned robot hotels, which started in Japan but have since been adopted and adapted by larger chains like Hilton. Here, piles of metal have been installed to act as the concierge, the receptionist, and even the bartender.
But the less eye-catching examples of automation are going to have a far greater effect on the way you travel in 2021. You’ll notice more automation when booking your flight or finding your hotel. Airport security will be increasingly automated in order to both streamline the process and reduce human error. And artificial intelligence will be used in tourist hubs to act as translator, navigator, and general advisor to anyone new.
Travel has always been about seeing new and exciting things. In the past, you were forced to share this excitement via tedious slideshow nights, but today travellers can instantly broadcast their fun to the masses via Instagram. And if a photo looks particularly good, things can change quickly for the subject.
Take Horseshoe Bend as an example. Once a little-known curve in the Grand Canyon, it now sees millions of tourists every year, all vying for that magic Instagram moment. The local government has struggled to provide suitable infrastructure to all the visitors, as parking, toilet, and waste management facilities continually need to be scaled up.
We like: Australia’s Lake MacDonnell (and other pink travel destinations) as the next Instagram hotspot.
Accommodation is set to become a little less conventional in 2021, as travellers seek to combine unique experiences with Insta-worthy moments. Treehouses, underground abodes, cliff-side retreats, repurposed buildings; if it doesn’t look like a hotel, it’s the best type of hotel.
We like: A stunning retreat in South Africa called Old Mac Daddy, where a series of themed Airstream caravans have been placed high on a hillside overlooking gorgeous, endless vineyards. Cool, creative and oh so Insta.
VR/AR to Sell Travel Experiences
While virtual reality and augmented reality technology has been around for a while, only now is it becoming mainstream, and in 2021 the tourist sector looks set to finally make the most of it.
In the very near future you can expect destinations and experiences to be sold to you through virtual reality tech. In the same way that real estate agents are beginning to use VR and AR for virtual walkthroughs of houses, hotels, transport, and tour companies will use the tech to give you a taste of the experiences that they offer.
We like: The VR tour of the ultra-luxury Atlantis Hotel Dubai.
Short Term Extravagance
The height of luxury has always seemed out of reach for the everyman. The world’s finest holiday experiences have always been sold to the select few: those that can afford to drop the GDP of a small country on a hotel room or a spa treatment.
But times are changing. Purveyors of luxury have realised that there’s more money to be made by increasing the size of the market. By cutting out the middleman, Airbnb Luxe sees incredibly luxurious homes being offered up at surprisingly reasonable prices. And while ‘pay by the hour’ accommodation has historically had a bad reputation, in 2021 more and more 5 star hotels will be offering ‘daycation’ or by the hour experiences, letting anyone enjoy a moment in the lap of luxury.
We like: dayuse.com for fancy hotels at hourly rates.
The Return of Train Travel
Before powered flight, people would travel by ship over water and by train over land. And while there’s no beating a plane for pure efficiency, train companies have finally realised that they offer something different. They make travel more about the journey than the destination.
Once the height of luxury, 2021 looks set to be the year that trains regain their position as the most sophisticated way to travel. No matter where in the world you hope to explore, there’ll likely be a luxury train journey for you.
We like: these seven journeys in particular!
Pop Culture Travel
Were you on the edge of your seat watching the Netflix series Chernobyl? Did you sit through the final episode of Game of Thrones with mouth agape? Were you one of the people that helped Avengers: Endgame become the highest-grossing film of all time?
In 2021 pop culture inspired travel looks set to be bigger than ever. Tours of Chernobyl have never been more popular. Dubrovnik, the Croatian city that acted as King’s Landing for Game of Thrones, has seen an incredible increase in tourism over the last 10 years. And even the tiny Scottish village of St Abbs, which was used as Thor’s home town in Endgame, has formed an entire tourism industry off its (less than) 15 minutes of fame.
We like: King’s Landing Dubrovnik for all things GoT.