As travellers become ever-more worldly, the desire for adventure increases. In the new decade, we will see people seeking long-term immersion, wild weekenders, intrepid excursions with kids, extreme wellness, trips into space and submersible dives into the depths of the ocean. Jenny Southan reports on six emerging adventure travel trends for 2020
1. NOMADIC SABBATICALS
A growing number of people are deciding to put their careers on hold to go off in search of adventure. These “Nomadic Sabbaticals”, as we like to call them, last anything from three months to a year, and often involve multi-stop tours than see them hopping all over the world.
Companies such as Original Travel are already responding to this adventure travel trend by presenting itineraries on their website for themed sabbaticals that encompass things like learning new skills, getting back to nature, cultural immersion and philanthropy.
With ever-greater numbers of people suffering from “burnout”, taking an extended period of time away overseas can help them get back in touch with who they are, reassess their priorities in life and enrich them in ways they couldn’t have imagined.
In the UK, a survey by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that three quarters of adults say they have felt so stressed they are unable to cope. Taking a sabbatical is one way they can make a positive change in the way they are living.
For those that want to escape but can’t step away from their jobs entirely, there is the option of taking their laptop with them. One company called Remote Year organises programmes for groups of digital nomads to travel the world together for between four to 12 months.
In January they will be taking people on a tour of Santiago, Lima and Mexico City, where they will also be able to have surf lessons, hike Machu Picchu and learn Spanish.
Depending on the circumstance, sabbaticals can be done on the cheap, especially if people take advantage of credit card offers that cater more towards travel via rewards points, miles and bonuses.
However, those with money are seeking to spend it on extended journeys that give them the chance to go deep into a destination or experience. Some are choosing to spend months helping conservationists track and monitor gorillas, for example, while others are opting to go back to basics and live with indigenous tribes.
2. INTREPID FAMILIES
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Not only is multi-generational travel on the rise – with parents taking children and grandparents on holiday together – but families are becoming more adventurous too.
This autumn, a new operator called Two Point Four launched a series of experiential adventure travel trips for parents and children, including those under five, to destinations such as Costa Rica, South Africa and Bali. (You can read more about it here.)
Activities will involve things like jungle zip-lining, whale watching and snorkelling over shipwrecks.
It’s founder Richard Liddle told Globetrender: “We believe that ‘fly and flop’ is a thing of the past and, as cliché as it sounds, travel does not have to stop when you have young kids, nor does it have to become beach, resort or kids’ club focused.”
Another company called Yonder has unveiled a series of hyper-local experiences for children visiting India. Up in Jodhpur, kids can spend a day painting trucks with a local artist, while in Delhi they can help work on a newspaper run by homeless children.
Meanwhile, Responsible Travel is taking families to the Galapagos and Burma, and Niquesa Travel is flying parents and kids to New Zealand, where they can take a helicopter over the White Island volcano.
Overall, what this trend indicates in that, unlike the parents of millennials – Generation X – millennial parents are far less risk-averse, more worldly and open to educating their offspring in the school of life.
Whereas Generation X was about stability and sacrifice, millennials are less rooted and more interested in maintaining a challenging, interesting and exciting lifestyle. Even if they have children. If you follow the @bucketlistfamily on Instagram you will see they are a good example.
Finally, the great thing about this trend is that it means families are willing to go off-the-beaten track, which is putting less strain on over crowded, popular destinations such as Santorini, Venice and Amsterdam that are suffering from over tourism.
3. UNDERWATER EXPLORATION
The world’s oceans cover more than 70 per cent of our planet and are far less explored than the land. We have always known this, but when David Attenborough’s incredible Blue Planet II documentary aired at the end of 2017, the public suddenly took an interest.
Now, efforts are being made to address the problem of pollution in our seas. The show has also inspired people to start venturing beneath the waves themselves, proving that adventure travel doesn’t have to take place on terra firma.
In 2020, scuba diving will be an Olympic Sport for the first time, something that will motivate increasing numbers of travellers to become PADI-qualified on their next holiday.
With the trend for “citizen scientists” taking off, we can also expect a sub-set of curious underwater explorers to be booking marine conservation trips, where they help expert researchers working on long-term projects with things like shark tagging and coral reef observation.
This also ties in with rising demand for “upskilling escapes”, whereby people want to go beyond “experiential travel” to actually acquiring new skills and knowledge when they go abroad.
What’s more, as Generation Z comes of age (these young people will be aged 15-25 next year), marine voluntourism will likely become the new gap year go-to. Next year, GVI, for example, is offering scholarships for expeditions lasting up to six months to places such as the Seychelles, Fiji and Mexico.
Underwater exploration is equally appealing to the wealthy. In 2021, Ocean Gate will be leading six missions to the Titanic wreck costing more than $100,000 per person. Departing from Newfoundland, participants will be able to sink almost 4km beneath the waves in a Cyclops submersible, to conduct a survey of the shipwreck.
Interestingly, personal submarines, which can cost $30 million apiece, are not just being chartered. For the super-rich, they are becoming the new must-have toy, a trend that was triggered directly by Blue Planet. According to manufacturer Triton, the show led to a “huge spike” in demand from wealthy buyers wanting to explore the deep.
4. SPACE TOURISM
For decades we have been imagining life in a sci-fi world where there are flying cars, intelligent machines and extra-terrestrial travel.
It seems amazing that Blade Runner, which was made in 1982, was set in 2019 – we are now living in the future. And although we aren’t quite yet sending people to off-world colonies (although Elon Musk is trying to), space tourism is about to take off.
This autumn, Virgin Galactic ticket holders began astronaut training in Baltimore, at the headquarters of Under Armour, a sport clothing company that is also designing their space suits.
The hope is that the first 90-minute sub-orbital flights out of the Earth’s atmosphere will take place next year. With a few minutes of weightlessness, the chance to look down on our planet and into the blackness of space, it will be the ultimate thrill for those who can afford the $250,000 price tag.
According to Virgin Galactic, 600 members of the public are so far signed up, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber. The company says “these people will be part of the most exclusive group of adventurers in the world”.
At the moment, Virgin Galactic’s departure spaceport is in New Mexico, but it was recently announced that the UK is also bidding to have a European space tourism base in Cornwall. Imagine that.
In response to the idea, British astronaut Tim Peake, has been reported as saying: “It’s a very exciting time right now. Space tourism can come under some criticism as a sport for the rich, but that’s how a lot of things in life start, that’s how aviation started.”
Virgin Galactic isn’t the only enterprise looking to send normal people into space – the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, has a company called Blue Origin that also wants to take everyday cosmonauts into space within the next few years.
Even NASA will be opening the International Space Station to tourists next year, with stays costing $35,000 a day.
In the meantime, we can expect excitement around putting tourists in space to be similar to the Moon landing of 1969. It will be the start of a new era and many people will want to be part of it in some way.
With this is mind there are plenty of opportunities for Earth-bound companies to tap into space fever – one company called Astroland, for example, has already started selling three-day “Life on Mars” simulations in Spanish caves on Tripadvisor.
In November, Emirates airline paid tribute to the UAE’s first space mission with a new design painted on its flagship A380 of an astronaut in front of Earth and the International Space Station.
5. MICRO ADVENTURES
This is a far more democratic trend, one that is available to almost anyone, no matter their budget.
When it comes to Micro Adventures, the idea is for people to head into nature and do a little exploring somewhere relatively close to home. They’ll need some camping gear, a good pair of boots and a rucksack but not much else.
By 2030, it’s expected that more than 90 per cent of the UK population will be living in urban areas, that’s up from 83 per cent today.
However, this disconnection with nature and the pressures of city life are contributing to depression and other mental health issues among people who are over-worked and over-technologised.
Not everyone has the time, funds, fitness or courage to arrange hikes through the Dolomites or climbs up Kilimanjaro. But walking the South Downs or doing a bit of wild camping in Dartmoor, for example, is totally doable. They are trips that can be done over a weekend and cost very little.
One of the most vocal advocates of micro adventures is British adventurer Alastair Humphreys. Despite having spent four years cycling around the world, he has also discovered the joy of building campfires on English beaches, climbing trees and even walking around the M25.
On a trip to Hong Kong, he stayed one night in a five-star hotel, and another on a hill under the stars. He says: “Adventure is about making the most of life because life is short and we don’t want to get old and look back and regret all the things that we didn’t do. Adventure is a state of mind as much as anything.”
One company that is doing a great job of commercialising bite-sized expeditions is Airbnb Adventures, which launched in summer 2019.
Here, travellers can buy adventure travel packages with meals and accommodation included, lasting as little as two days. For example, you can explore abandoned and underground spaces in Berlin; or track wild bumble bees in the Sequoia forests outside San Francisco.
Much Better Adventures and Exodus Edits are also tapping into the trend for “wild weekenders” with the likes of two-night camping and kayaking trips in the Norwegian fjords, and climbing Mount Toubkal in Morocco.
6. EXTREME WELLNESS
How far would you go to overhaul your body and mind, and return home a new-and-improved version of yourself?
Would you stop speaking for a week on a silent retreat in Thailand? Or pay €23,000 for a weightloss bootcamp in Portugal? How about heading to Poland to try the Wim Hof Method, which demands you take ice baths and hike mountains in winter half naked?
Apparently, there are quite a lot of masochists out there that want to do exactly this.
By 2022, the Global Wellness Institute predicts that wellness tourism will become a US$900 billion industry. This is up from US$640 billion in 2017.
Although not new, the way wellness tourism is evolving, particularly in relation to the adventure travel, is interesting. It is becoming more niche, more specialist and more extreme.
At Deplar Farm on the Troll Peninsula in Iceland, guests are encouraged to take on mental and physical challenges that get them out of their comfort zone. These include “sensory deprivation walks” and Viking saunas.
The spas of tomorrow aren’t about relaxation and pampering – they’re about discomfort and endurance.
This autumn, the world’s first ultra-sports members club made its debut. Somerton, as it’s called, gives fitness-obsessed adventurers that chance to train with hundreds of elite athletes from across the globe.
For example, you can go climbing in Yosemite with Alex Honnold, who is famous for being the only person to have ever scaled El Capitan without ropes.
Somerton also creates personalised regimes to optimise members’ health and well-being through diagnostic testing and vitamin infusion.
Next year, Cookson Adventures is planning a series of “Breathe” themed trips in which participants get to go deep-sea free-diving or learn martial arts in Japan.
So whether it’s taking part in an ultra-marathon across the Sahara or purging on Ayahuasca in the Peruvian jungle, the new decade will be about transforming the human into the super-human.