The Pandemic Has Changed Travel Forever — and That Could Be a Good Thing

After months of lockdown, travelers have embraced a more thoughtful way of exploring the world.

The pandemic has done more than disrupt the logistics of travel: it may have fundamentally altered the meaning of leaving home. As we head back out into the world, there’s a renewed thoughtfulness and intentionality about vacations, says Barkley Hickox, co-owner of luxury travel consultancy the Local Foreigner and a member of T+L’s A-List. “People are going through two phases,” she says. “In the first, they connect with loved ones and seek wide-open spaces with room to roam.”

The second stage, she says, is about “more immersive stays with larger groups, but perhaps fewer times per year. People are starting to see flying as a privilege, not a right.” Hickox adds that remote areas have rocketed to the top of her clients’ lists, naming Indonesia’s Raja Ampat and Antarctica as two frequently requested spots. The brand-new ship Le Commandant-Charcot from Ponant is headed for the latter in 2021, with stops at rarely visited Peter I and Siple islands.

A Better way to Travel
Illustration by Michelle Burbano

Other travel experts see a similar trend. “My clients keep saying, ‘Why didn’t I take that trip before, when I had the chance?’” says Shelby Donley, owner of Camelback Odyssey Travel, in Phoenix, and another A-List advisor. “Now that ‘can’t’ has been put in front of us, it feels more urgent to do the things we’ve dreamed of doing.” Once-in-a-lifetime trips, she says, like a stay at the totally over-the-top Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, are coming up more and more.

Travelers are also hungry to return to nature. “Studies show it’s incredibly healing to be outside,” says Dawn Altman, a psychotherapist in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. “I always prescribe an hour a day outside for my clients — at least. More importantly, I tell them to leave their headphones at home and enjoy the sounds of nature.” While the summer camping season may be winding down, boutique operators like Autocamp offer year-round glamping in Airstream trailers and luxury tents in California’s Russian River Valley, Cape Cod, and Yosemite National Park.

Wherever they go, travelers may finally embrace switching off while on vacation, says Bill Walshe, CEO of Viceroy Hotel Group. “We’ve already seen a shift from guests caring about selfies to guests asking about self-care,” he says. At Viceroy’s Hotel Zetta, in San Francisco, they’ve made Muse headbands, wearables that help with meditation, available to guests. “I think what we’ve learned through all of this is that travel is about moments that last a lifetime,” Walshe adds.

A version of this story first appeared in the September 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline A Better Way to Vacation.

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