When we look at 2023, several factors will shape how we travel this year. Of course, there’s the economy and concerns about a possible recession. Add to that the rising cost of, well, just about everything due to inflation, and travelers are keeping closer tabs on their spending. But financial concerns aside, consumer surveys indicate that after nearly three years of being hampered by the pandemic, travelers aren’t holding back and are planning and booking trips with a vengeance this year.
As they plan their adventures, people are also looking to reconnect—with friends, family, and the world. And as they travel through that world, they are doing so with greater awareness of their impact on it. Health, wellness, and food are also top of mind as we think more intently about our mental health and overall well-being.
Given all of that, these are the six trends that will define how we travel in 2023.
In search of lesser-known locales
Travelers are ditching beaten paths for alternative, under-the-radar destinations. Whether it’s due to a heightened awareness of the worrying effect overtourism is having on some of the world’s most visited places, or to simply wanting to unearth a destination that feels fresh, new, and unique to the discoverer, either way, travelers in 2023 will be flocking to hidden gems. Think Lyon over Paris for food lovers and volcanic hikes in the Azores instead of Hawai‘i. According to Skift Research, 70 percent of millennials and Gen Zs report that they will be seeking travel experiences their family and friends haven’t heard of.
Airbnb’s “anywhere” searches—just add dates and the number of guests for far-flung suggestions—and filters for lodgings labeled off-the-grid, shepherd’s huts, and “OMG!” are tools that can help explorers find that next travel surprise. Another way to search for alternative destinations is through Booking.com’s new list of the world’s most welcoming cities (based on hotel and transit reviews), which includes an intriguing lineup of places such as Polignano a Mare, Italy; Hualien City, Taiwan; and Klaipeda, Lithuania.
Wellness that focuses on the healing benefits of nature
The pandemic sent travelers fleeing to the wilds—or at least local parks—for solace in naturally socially distanced settings, while also triggering a new appreciation for the physical and mental health benefits of switching off and smelling the roses. We’ve come to recognize that nature is not just a pretty view, but a soul-restoring, endorphin-eliciting, stress-relieving outlet. Consequently, biophilic—or nature-loving—design can be found everywhere from the future Pittsburgh International Airport expansion, where baggage claim connects to outdoor gardens, to Ambiente, a Landscape Hotel in Sedona, opening this month with accommodations in 40 glass-walled cubes for maximum immersion in Arizona’s high desert.
Forest bathing, a practice that derives from the Japanese shinrin-yoku, or meditative walks in nature, and actual bathing are being integrated into back-to-basic wellness treatments and experiences. Commune with nature at Forestis, a boutique wellness lodge in Italy’s Dolomites, which channels ancient forest reverence in its Druid-inspired Wdya movement techniques, and alternate between hot pools, cold dips, and sauna visits at the new World Spa in New York City, a true urban sanctuary.
The rise of the thrifty traveler
Whether it’s the pinch of an inflationary economy, a green rejection of consumerism, or the only way to slake wanderlust, travelers will venture boldly with smaller budgets. The virtues of thrift have already shown up in the stats on resale clothing—the secondhand apparel market is projected to grow three times faster than retail by 2026, according to the online reseller ThredUp. Travelers can now buy used Patagonia ski jackets at recent online startups like Out&Back Outdoor, rent camping equipment rather than buying it through outfitters like Arrive Outdoors, and see the world at bargain rates through growing hostel-meets-coworking brand Selina. In a survey, Hotels.com found nearly a quarter of global travelers plan to be more frugal in 2023.
Travelers will have more ecofriendly options
In 2023, the travel industry is finally starting to walk the talk on its climate goals. The vast majority of consumers (90 percent) are now looking for sustainable options when traveling, according to a survey of 11,000 global travelers conducted last year by Expedia Group Media Solutions. Half said they would pay more to take a sustainable trip. That’s a sizeable demand, and the industry is finally (really) working to meet it. Actors like England-based room2 hotels are modeling innovations like “whole life net zero” that accounts for emissions during construction and eventual demolition. Big-player Marriott International plans to implement a search filter for its hotels this year to identify those that are sustainable. G Adventures publishes a “ripple score” for each trip based on the amount of money that stays in a destination, which factors in things like local sourcing for food.
J. D. Power, which surveys consumers on rental car satisfaction, predicts that car rental agencies will offer more electric vehicles this year, in part responding to governmental financial incentives and in part to appeal to more environmentally focused renters. Decarbonizing aviation remains a more distant goal—the waste-oil-derived sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is key to making the industry net-zero carbon-producing by 2050, but greater investment in the technology is needed. Although airlines like Swiss are modeling hydrodynamic fuselage skin to reduce drag, and we will surely continue to see a parade of innovations in air travel. Actions like France’s ban on domestic flights that are 2.5 hours or less are pushing more people to train travel, a better environmental option.
Vacation homes with chef-worthy kitchens
According to the World Food Travel Association, more than half of leisure travelers are food travelers, keen to experience food tours, cooking classes, winetastings, craft breweries, and local markets. All that provisioning from markets and wineries has led to increased demand for vacation homes to feature deluxe kitchens.
In a recent report, vacation rental company Vrbo found more than half of travelers seeking rentals with friends or family say cooking amenities are the most important criteria—often as a way to trim costs and to bond as a group. Airbnb’s new filter for “chef’s kitchens” turns up results like a Wisconsin lake estate with Viking kitchen appliances and a Spanish villa-style home in downtown Avila Beach along California’s Central Coast with a massive and airy gourmet kitchen. Vrbo said its top in-demand cooking amenities include outdoor kitchens, pizza ovens, and on-site gardens with fresh produce.
Hotels are creating unique spaces for gatherings and celebrations
In its 2023 trends report, Hilton noted a rise of intimate group travel to celebrate milestones regardless of the date; think a 40th birthday–level celebration but on your 42nd birthday. Travelers still have a lot of making up to do in 2023, and while vacation rentals often ban parties, hotels are creating spaces within their properties carved out specifically for small groups of family or friends to gather and celebrate.
“COVID expanded multigenerational travel to include any kind of group, and hotels are finding ways to encourage those connections by creating floors that can be totally closed off,” says Jack Ezon, the founder of the luxury travel agency Embark Beyond in New York City. The Atticus Hotel in Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region reports booming business for its five-bedded Bunkhouse room. Bode hotels in Nashville and Chattanooga were designed with friends in mind with adjoining apartments. And groups of four can take a shared dorm room at The Pad in Silverthorne, Colorado.