After the monumental, unpredictable shitshow that was 2020, you would have thought predicting travel trends in 2021 was a fool’s errand?
Despite corona cases hitting 2.33M in 2020, breezy emails from travel PRs assure me that ‘road trips’ and ‘wellness travel’ will be big in 2021.
And here’s me thinking it would be more about frenzied eBay bidding for Tesco delivery slots and less about booking the Maldives?
Travel trends we could do without
In the dying days of 2020, travel desks, websites, blogs and podcasts were falling over themselves to give their hot take on travel trends, in a mid-pandemic, post tump and newly Brexited world.
Talk of ‘private jets’ and ‘topical Island takeover’ might not be exactly reading the room right now?
Current data shows that Covid-19 continues to mutate and new varients are wreaking havoc in several countries . Surely ‘funeral travel’ will be top of the list at the rate we’re heading?
Can we travel in 2021?
Even as a travel writer, i’m finding it difficult to imagine the future of travel whilst going on holiday is still unbelievably complicated. Ever-changing travel corridors, PCR tests and hotels isolation make even the prospect of booking a cheeky sun break an absolute ball-ache.
The daily news cycle seems to be an endless loop of scientists, ministers and pundits bouncing between doomsday scenarios and hollow predictions. Frankly, the ‘talking heads’ of travel seem to be on the news 18 times a day and I’m still none the wiser as to when I can actually fly to Spain?
The rest of us are mostly just at home collectively shitting ourselves at the prospect of yet another lockdown.
2021 travel trends
As 2020 was a lost year of travel, we’re all keen to move past the year of ‘the rona’ and look ahead. With that in mind, I thought I would seize the opportunity to talk about travel trends we could do without.
Perhaps 2021 could be the year of the great travel reset? A chance to rid ourselves of hipster travel, problematic dark tourism, insufferable travel bros, slum tourism and travelling for the gram’. It could be the ‘new year, new me’ of travel?
Here’s my handy guide to travel trends we could really do without in 2021.
The travel wanker calling card is surely posing in front of a Favela to ‘raise awareness’ to your 127 Instagram followers?
Tourists wide-eyed marvelling at poverty is a travel trend that seriously needs to back the fuck up in 2021.
For those of us on the path less backpacked, it’s easy to listen to a U2 album and develop a Bono complex when on a slum tour.
Before you start picking up African children for your cringe Insta posts, maybe take a brief pause from being a white saviour, to question your motives?
Slum tourism has become a sort of performative wokeness these days. You signal your good intentions by posing for pictures in slums, villages in developing countries and favelas.
Bizarrely, there’s even a growing demand for slum tours to impoverished areas. Jesus wept.
He’s some free advice if you want to help these people, donate to a charity that works with these communities.
Largely so people who actually know what they are doing can make a difference. ‘Tik Tok Influencer’ is not actually a transferable skill.
Stick to what you are best at, which is losing every single wet t-shirt competition on the East Coast of Australia and crying yourself into a wine-induced coma of shame.
Travelling for the gram
One of the more problematic travel trends of recent years has been the rise of ‘Instagram travel’.
Travelling purely to get the best Insta shots is a travel trend we could really do without in 2021.
This is where a destination sadly takes a back seat in pursuit of the perfect photograph for the grid.
Queuing for 3 hours a gentrified part of town, to get an angel wing mural selfie doesn’t really do a destination justice.
Rather than connecting with the culture, history and inhabitants of a destination, they merely serve as a backdrop for your latest #blessed Insta shot. This is the best-case scenario.
At worst, you’re there because you need an exotic location to shill some shitty leggings brand you ‘have partnered with’.
Let’s take the popular Indonesian Island of Bali for example. Searching for “Bali’ on Instagram would have to believe it’s an island full of vapid westerners on jungle swings.
Or Fiat 500 girls coquettishly posing in petal-strewn baths, on an ‘Eat Pray Love’ express tour. You barely see any culture or true exploration amongst all the #gifted flowy dress posts.
Is Instagram ruining travel?
The debate over whether Instagram has ruined travel still rages on through social media and snooty op-eds.
The consensus is that if people are taking the same pictures in the same locations, then travel becomes unbearably homogenised.
This is supurbly demonstrated by the Insta repeat account, which exposes how everyone’s photos are starting to look the same.
Filter apps, heavy editing and luxurious travel sponsored by a tourism board can create an unrealistic picture of travel.
If you keep seeing floating breakfasts on the gram, you’re going to be disappointed with your lukewarm buffet breakfast at Ibis.
Heaven’s Gate Bali Instagram ruse
Fortune magazine editor Polina Marinova highlighted the Instagram vs reality problem in Bali on social recently.
She tweeted that her expectations for Bali’s most popular Instagram spot, ‘Heaven’s Gate’, were shattered on her trip.
She revealed that the reflective pool of water in front of the gates was actually created by a sheet of glass. It’s cleverly used along with a smartphone camera, to take dramatic photos for queuing tourists.
Industrious Balinese men charge tourists to get the perfect Insta shot. They balance a mirror under the lens of a phone camera, to get the deceptive, pristine water image.
Maybe in 2021, we should show travel from behind the Insta-veil, including the less than perfect elements? Missed trains, cancelled flights, bouts of explosive diarrhoea, stolen wallets and rat-infested hostels. That’s what I want to see more of, the freaking realities of being a ‘world citizen’.
Begpacking is a bizarre travel trend adopted by a certain type of grifting hipster. They predominantly and shamelessly beg bemused locals to fund their travels.
It should be obvious, but please don’t create a Kickstarter to fund your ‘spiritual journey’ through Indonesia. It’s not a great look.
Many wannabe begpackers have even faced the wrath of the internet by asking their social media followers to finance their travels.
If you don’t wish to be doxxed, I’d avoid asking friends and family to finance your spiritual [read acid] trips and yoga retreats.
If you run out of money travelling, don’t resort to panhandling to fund your “travel dream”.
The epitome of ‘entitled millennial’, is western backpackers asking people poorer than them to fund their comfortable, bourgeois lifestyle.
There is nothing romantic about travelling the world utterly broke with nothing but a pan flute and misplaced faith in ‘the kindness of strangers’.
Recently #vanlife has become a travel trend for faux-bohemian types. Through Instagram, they romanticise living in 40 sq. ft with another human who hasn’t changed their underwear in 4 days.
It seems appropriate that 2020 was the year of living “off the grid”. Faced with closing borders and lockdowns, Influencers desperately tried to convince us that living in an Asda car park was #TheDream.
It should also be said that you must also live your new transient lifestyle in the most Instagrammable van possible.
Spending no less than £8000 on the minimalist overhaul is imperative. The more reclaimed wood, conch shells and vintage throws, the better.
Living in a van
Whilst eschewing the ‘capitalist system’ by living in a van makes for saccharine Instagram posts, the realities of trying to survive modern society without a mailing address can be problematic.
That’s before we even get onto repairs, gas prices, breakdowns, flat tyres and the high cost of ‘living simply’.
It turns out driving aimlessly around the country costs way more than you might imagine? Gallons of Gas doesn’t come cheap y’all.
What you see on van life social media is the carefully cultivated sunrise photoshoots.
What you don’t see is the blazing row on the kerb because you neither of you have showered for 9 days, or know how to fix a fanbelt.
Perhaps 2021 is the year of quietly abandoning the ‘four-wheel freedom’ and booking a Premier Inn for the weekend. Like the rest of us conventional plebs.
Maybe it’s time to retire the phrase ‘under the radar’ in 2021, on account of the fact that hipsters haven’t ‘discovered Seaol’. It’s been there since around 18 BC.
Hipster travel is a booming business, with lazy listicles of ‘the hottest hipster destinations’ frequently published by unimaginative travel desks.
As a travel writer, it’s starting to feel like more and more destinations I visit are slowly becoming appropriated by hipsters on a quest for more ‘authentic travel’.
I urge anyone looking for ‘authentic travel’ to come to my hometown of Cardiff and hang with the locals in Chippy Lane at 3 am. You will have a whole new perspective on ‘living like a local’.
Many years ago, I saw a woman have a wee in the street, whilst eating a tray of curried chips at 4 am here. It was both haunting and impressive.
Self-branded hipster neighbourhoods are increasingly popping up in destinations across the world.
Expect pop-up vegan falafel restaurants, overpriced vintage clothing stores and shabby chic coffee shops, staffed exclusively by beards at these ‘off-beat’ haunts.
My problem with hipster destinations is that despite attempts to be counter-culture, it all somehow ends up looking the same?
When I visit a newly gentrified, ‘hipster neighbourhood’, ironically I know exactly what to expect.
There will be single-origin, drip coffee, quirky street art, a vegan bakery and a pop-up vintage clothing outlet in a former warehouse.
In an attempt to jump on a new travel trend and cater to a certain type of resident and/or tourist, these neighbourhoods end up having an almost universal feel to them.
Don’t believe me? Next time you visit hipster hood, walk into one of the identikit, repurposed wood coffee shops and see how many beards, sleeve tattoos and checked shirts you can count? If it’s less than 3, I’ll eat your vegan shoes.
One of the more ethically dubious travel trends has been the rise of ‘Dark tourism.’ It’s a macabre brand of tourism that involves travelling to places largely associated with death and suffering.
Travel is meant to open us up to the history, politics and people of varying destinations.
What’s it’s not meant to do, is be a morbid, disaster backdrop for a voyeuristic Instagram post. Just because you want to add ‘war zone’ to your bucket list.
Why dark tourism can be problematic
Like most types of travel, the intention is everything with dark tourism. Are you there to gawp or to understand?
It’s not inherently bad to want to learn more about the darker side of a destination, especially to understand it in full historical context. In theory, it can also stop us making the same mistakes in the future.
In some cases, tourism can even help devastated communities recover, earn income and get back on their feet.
It becomes problematic when you are posting smiling selfies at Cambodia’s killing fields, like a basic bitch.
When visiting a destination or area with a tragic history, respect is ultimately key.
Don’t climb over gravesites, refrain from TikTok dances at Auschwitz and avoid duck face selfies at the 9/11 Memorial. In short, don’t be a dick yeah?
Budget travel bros
Indulge me for a moment while I explain how ‘budget travel bros’ are indeed a travel trend. In every fleabag, $2 a night hostel around the world, lurks a travel bro.
You can spot a budget travel bro in any hostel common room. They’ll be in the drum circle, doing a to-camera piece for their YouTube channel about how travelling on 3 cents a day is ‘living authentically’.
Or, they’ll be strumming a hand-painted ukulele, reciting obscure poetry, or smugly informing their fellow travellers how “they really should have been here 12 years ago”.
Is budget travel all it’s cracked up to be?
Budget travel is not exactly a new travel trend. Historically, many people have travelled on little more than a wing and a prayer. It’s not unique to millennials.
What is new, is the insistence that this type of travel is more authentic and superior to other types of travel.
Thanks to an explosion of YouTube channels, blogs and social media, the travel bro has multiple platforms in which to preach the “quit your job and travel on 5 dollars a day” mantra.
Often neglecting to mention the massive generational wealth they are from. Oopsie.
Forget your boutique hotels, cruises and Santorini villas darlings. If you aren’t travelling in western-style poverty, you have failed at travelling.
What they seem to forget is that no matter how many beaded bracelets you wear, you cannot escape the fact that travel, is a luxury, consumable item, largely enjoyed by people with wealth and privilege.
Don’t ever feel bad for realising that sleeping in a $1 a night, derelict shithole and eating packet noodles for 200 days straight isn’t for everyone. There’s no nobility in suffering through travel.
Travel trends to avoid
It’s hard to say what the future of travel is, or what travel trends will become popular over the next few years?
I suspect that post-pandemic travel will largely centre around the pent-up travel needs of generation me?
We’ll all pay lip service to ‘responsible travel’ and ‘ethical tourism’ on social media of course.
Secretly though, we’re itching to book that £35 flight to Barcelona, or that cruise deal to Venice. Gotta get those gondola selfies right?
If a deadly global pandemic doesn’t make us stop and think about our travel choices, maybe nothing will?
What do you think of my article on travel trends we need to bin off? Let me know in the comments below!