The Future of Travel: Longer, More Meaningful Trips That Uplift Local Communities

Modern travelers hunger for cultural connection and emotional resonance on their trips.

An illustration depicting a family gathered around a person playing an instrument.

How can we travel more meaningfully and mindfully?

Illustration by Tim Peacock

Counting is so 2019. Today, travel is not about ticking off 1,000 places to see before you die. It’s about delving deeply into a destination rather than skipping over it like a stone, about engaging with local communities, being mindful of your environmental impact, and spending time with loved ones. These trends hold true for individuals, tour companies, and private itineraries created by travel advisors.

“The future of trips will be very personal,” says Erika Richter, spokesperson for the American Society of Travel Advisors—professionals who have seen their currency rise in the pandemic as champions of refunds and advocates for safe travel. “The emotional component of future trips will be just as unique as the person taking the trip,” Richter adds.

Here’s what to look for in your next journey.

Planting a seed

Travel’s great reset has forged a new dedication to its positive power. In a spring 2022 survey by the travel advisor consortium Virtuoso, 82 percent of travelers said the pandemic made them want to travel more responsibly. The industry has already responded.

“It used to be [that] the best travel anyone could contemplate was ‘leave only footprints,’” says Edward Piegza, the founder of Classic Journeys, a tour company that employs local guides and partners with small businesses that keep money in the communities visited. “Now, that goal has been replaced and elevated to ‘plant a seed.’” To that end, regenerative tours help travelers leave a place better than they found it, by letting them participate in environmental action or support local residents.

In Canada, Tundra North Tours bases travelers in Inuvik near the new Okpik Arctic Village in the Northwest Territories. The settlement, which is used by members of the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in groups, features sod houses, a sawmill, farm, and fishery. It leans on traditional knowledge to preserve culture and provide employment, inviting visitors to learn about Inuit culture and the Mackenzie Delta.

There is a palpable demand for deeper engagement, cultural experiences, and real-world connectivity.
Keith Sproule

Tour operator Responsible Travel sends scuba divers—and first-timers seeking certification—to the Belize Barrier Reef to help eradicate invasive lionfish. (A single lionfish can reduce a reef’s fish population by 80 percent in five weeks.) Last year, the project removed more than 9,000 predators.

New trekking tours in Nepal from Montana-based operator Adventure Life pay their guides above-average wages. “It costs a little more, but it’s the right thing to do,” says Monika Sundem, Adventure Life’s chief executive officer. The company’s local partner also prioritizes hiring women and LGBTQ staff.

Longer vacations with loved ones

The pandemic heightened the urge to connect with family and friends on longer trips, often taken in multigenerational groups. Advisors and tour operators are catering to this cohort of travelers.

“We’ve seen a rise in demand for epic once-in-a-lifetime trips,” says Justin Francis, the cofounder and CEO of Responsible Travel. He calls it a return to the origins of vacations: longer holidays supplemented with shorter breaks closer to home.

Families are booking private departures with Tourissimo, a cycling company in Italy, or organizing their own trips with public bike rentals. Beyond group travel, Kensington Tours offers ancestry-focused trips, including an 11-day genealogy trip to Ghana, a center of the colonial slave trade.

Travelers also have an appetite for remote destinations dictating longer stays, on trips such as South America expedition company Explora’s new treks across Chile’s Atacama Desert and Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, or Hurtigruten Expeditions’ 18-day Alaska sailings that stop at islands in the Aleutian chain and the Bering Sea.

Improved cross-cultural dialogue

After years of social starvation, travelers are more eager than ever to indulge their cultural curiosity. That has inspired operators to build education into their trips, “not just to learn about the place, but to learn more about ourselves,” says Annie Lucas, vice president and a co-owner of Mir, a tour operator that specializes in destinations from the Balkans eastward, including Russia, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

In the South Caucasus, a native Georgian guide takes Mir travelers into village homes to learn to make khinkali dumplings and see the crafting of qvevri clay pots where wine is aged, an 8,000-year-old tradition. This summer, a private group on a custom tour in Poland met with Ukrainian refugees to better understand the war on a personal level.

Black Tomato untethers education from the classroom in its family-focused Field Trip series, including tours that introduce travelers to the cowboy culture of the Llanos region in tropical Colombia. Guests can help with herding on horseback and learn to sing traditional songs.

Abercrombie & Kent arranges such people-to-people experiences as bike tours of Nakatindi, a village near Zambia’s southern border. Operated through the women-run Chipego Bike Shop, tour stops include a school, community garden, or clinic. “There is a palpable demand for deeper engagement, cultural experiences, and real-world connectivity,” says Keith Sproule, executive director of the travel company’s nonprofit arm A&K Philanthropy.

Elaine Glusac is a freelance writer, the Frugal Traveler columnist for the New York Times, and on Instagram @eglusac.
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