During the pandemic lockdowns, there’s been a trend toward “travel experiences” – activities with a purpose that let you explore a place more deeply and often at a slower pace. Just visiting a location isn’t sufficient anymore; many people now seek to understand and undergo mental transformations during their journeys.
If planning a summer escape with high expectations seems challenging, the luxury travel company Virtuoso sought input from 20,000 travel advisors. They’ve compiled a list of the top seven “must-have” experiences for 2024.
1. Dark Sky Tourism
Traditional tourism typically revolves around daytime activities, but dark-sky tourism shifts the focus to nighttime experiences. It’s all about appreciating the beauty of the night sky, whether it’s stargazing or witnessing the Northern Lights. Some trips may also include tours to observe nocturnal animals.
Virtuoso suggests visiting Norway, Iceland, and Canada. For those who prefer warmer climates, there’s an opportunity to witness the total solar eclipse on April 8 in Northern Mexico.
Additionally, from Blanco, Texas to Albanya, Spain, travelers can explore one of the 200 places in 22 countries recognized as a “Dark Sky Place” by the non-profit organization DarkSky International.
2. ‘Slow’ Safaris
Many travelers dream of going on safaris, often aiming to spot the famous “Big Five” – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and African buffalo. However, “slow safaris” offer a different approach, emphasizing the diverse animal life and landscapes of Africa. Virtuoso suggests that these provide a perfect balance to the more thrilling experiences of wildebeest migration and lion hunts.
Misty Belles, the vice president of global public relations for the company, stated, “Slow safaris let you appreciate Africa’s less elusive wildlife at a more leisurely pace. Whether it’s birdwatching or spotting something unique, like our guide’s ultimate find – an aardvark – a rewarding safari experience can go beyond just encountering the Big Five.”
3. Wellness as a Way of Life
While wellness destinations abound, Virtuoso suggests finding solace in either “the happiest cities in the world” or the “Land of Smiles” – Bhutan or Thailand, respectively.
Bhutan is renowned for its Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, a measure of the overall happiness and well-being of its people. Enacted in 2008, this index significantly influences the country’s tourism and economic strategies.
Visiting Bhutan has become more affordable due to the country’s temporary reduction of its daily $200 Sustainable Development Fee.
When it comes to Thailand, Virtuoso advisors suggest exploring popular places like Chiang Mai and Koh Samui, as well as discovering more secluded spots. An example is the InterContinental Khao Yai Resort, situated 2.5 hours from Bangkok. Its spa and rooms are uniquely designed inside luxurious upcycled railroad carriages near the UNESCO-designated Khao Yai National Park.
4. The Seasons of Japan
Japan Rail Pass, the rapidly expanding travel site in the United States, won’t assist travelers in navigating North America, but it’s an excellent tool for exploring Japan by train.
Data from the analytics company Similarweb reveals that the website experienced the most significant surge in average monthly traffic (+239%) from 2022 to 2023 among American users. This underscores the growing interest among international visitors to explore Japan.
Virtuoso highlights the appeal of traveling to Japan during spring, when the Sakura, or cherry blossoms, bloom in locations such as Kyoto and Kanazawa. However, the company’s advisors also suggest considering a winter trip, especially when the ski season is in full swing, and Mount Fuji’s summit is covered in snow.
5. Expedition Cruises
Expedition cruises are being hailed as the “standout travel trend of the decade.” Combining the convenience of a cruise ship, they operate on smaller vessels with fewer passengers.
Favored in destinations ranging from Antarctica to the Galapagos Islands, expedition cruises frequently feature onboard experts like historians and geologists. They appeal to individuals seeking an extra dose of adventure.
According to James Cole, the founder of the U.K.-based cruise agency Panache Cruises, “An increasing number of people no longer want run-of-the-mill holidays. People crave adventure… there is a certain amount of romanticism here which harks back to the time of great explorers like Hillary, Cousteau, and Shackleton.”
6. Paris to Istanbul, via Train
Numerous options exist for traveling between the French capital of Paris and Istanbul in Turkey, a city positioned at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. However, none may be as luxurious – albeit costly – as the journey aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, a train operated by Belmond.
The train typically runs shorter trips in Europe, often lasting just one to two nights. However, only one journey per year transports passengers from Paris to Istanbul. Virtuoso suggests that, departing in August, travelers might consider enjoying the Olympic Games first before embarking on a stylish departure from the city.
7. Passion Travels
While hobbies are typically linked to home, Virtuoso suggests bringing your passions on your travels. Their advisors recommend that gardening enthusiasts consider attending London’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May, while bookworms can explore the library at Prague’s Strahov Monastery.
A recently established company named Dinosaur Trips offers enthusiasts the opportunity to travel with paleontologist Brian Curtice, engaging in bone excavation and exploring fossil sites throughout the United States.
Curtice describes these trips as the embodiment of a paleontology fan’s dreams, featuring astounding displays of dinosaurs, mammals, marine reptiles, pterosaurs, fish, and an impressive collection of paleontological marvels.
The way people travel is changing. People are seeking more immersive and meaningful experiences, from enjoying the beauty of the night sky to taking leisurely safaris. Travel now involves exploring not just places, but personal interests, like gardening or reading. It’s about discovering new cultures and embracing unique adventures, making each journey special and memorable.