Unsettled’s Top 11 Travel Trends In 2020

By: The Unsettled Team

Think about this: Just a decade ago, you couldn’t hop on your phone at the last minute and book a stay in a stranger’s home virtually anywhere in the world. Airbnb was still in its infancy, the founders selling Obama-os (Cheerios with Obama on the box) to keep their idea and bank account afloat. 

Needed to get some work done? Good luck. There were only roughly 700 coworking spaces in the world, and WeWork had just one location. Today, there are over 14,000 coworking spaces around the world. 

The thought of hopping on an app like Foursquare and finding the perfect place to grab a bite or check out a cool museum? Impossible. There were only 300,000 apps in Apple’s App store (just two years old), and Foursquare was less than a year old. Today, there are more than 2 million apps available at your fingertips.

The world is a different place today, for sure. We’ve sped things up, created a digital universe of information available at our fingertips anytime, anywhere, and became more connected than some might prefer (remind me, where’s that “off” switch for work?).

When it comes to travel, while the speed of access and availability of options at the click of a button – at home or while on the road – has changed tremendously, the core reasons of why we travel – to escape our routine, to find new inspiration, to learn something about ourselves, and re-discover that true sense of awe as we explore the world around us –  in many ways, have not.

Yet with each passing year, we see some micro shifts in what drives us to go, what we seek when we’re there, and what impact broader social trends have on the way we travel.

As both a travel company and a global community, we see this first-hand every day at Unsettled. We see the effects of an always-on culture of work, the rise of burnout and the need to disconnect. We see the rise of isolation and loneliness, that has driven a need for community-driven travel. We see the rise in companies adapting to more flexible working policies, and enabling people to take their work on the road and live the digital nomad life.

When we take a deep look at 2020, we see the continuation of some existing trends, as well as some new ones on the radar that we should all watch out for. 

Ready to join us on a journey into what 2020 will hold? Here are our top 11 travel trends for 2020. We’ll see you out there….

1. The Tipping Point of Transformational Travel (When It Finally Has a Name)

Many modern travelers are seeking opportunities to leave the confines of home for trips that reinvigorate, shake us out of a current state, and send us home as improved versions of ourselves. According to an Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) 2017 study, transformative experiences were the main motivation for adventure travelers when booking their adventures. There is a palpable desire for “personal growth and challenge” and “expanded horizons” according to the ATTA. Furthermore, according to the Transformational Travel Council, it is the “why and how” of travel rather than the “what and where” that allows us to truly benefit from travel experiences. We couldn’t agree more. 

2. The Rise of Sabbatical Travel

We all already know that millennials change jobs (and often even industries) every 3 or so years. As a result, we are predicting that more people will be in transition next year and looking for extended travel opportunities, either due to economic conditions, like a recession, or due to burnout and a need to recalibrate and redefine what it is they are seeking through their work. Check out our Top 5 Reads to Change Your Routine in 2020 on the Unsettled blog for a reminder that if you are seeking a big change in the new year, you are not alone.

3. The Redefinition of Wellness Travel (Forget the Spas) 

If “transformation” is the buzzword of the travel world in 2020, there is no travel without “connection”. And isn’t connection exactly what wellness travel seeks to reveal? 

Connection with nature, with the world around us, with other people and their ways of life, and of course a deeper connection with ourselves. We often have to disconnect to reconnect and we have never been so disconnected with one another, while simultaneously being so “plugged in”, than ever before. Skift’s most recent report on wellness travel unequivocally states, “Sometimes, the only way to break the cycle is with a change of scenery, literally and figuratively. Perhaps that’s why, in a time of discord and distress, growth patterns in wellness tourism are off the charts.”

4. Companies Offer Travel As The Anti-Burnout 

This year, burnout become an official medical diagnosis, according to the World Health Organization’s Handbook. As a result, we have seen a steady rise in companies allowing their employees to travel for extended periods of time or work remotely for a period. A change of scenery and culture often limits the ability for 24/7 connectivity and that may be the burnout antidote we need now more than ever. 

5. The New “Un-Group” Group Travel: Co-Creation Over The Guided Tour

The definition of group travel is shifting, especially for millennials, but also for older generations. With the rise in so many options for solo travel, group travel experiences are being forced to re-define their offerings. There is a rising class of travelers who are seeking to be active creators of their immersive travel experiences, not just passive consumers following the flag. They don’t want to “leave their brain at home” and follow a rigid itinerary. They want to use a different side of their brain. They want room for exploration, experimentation, and a chance to discover on their own – while still having the ability to share it with others. This approach – of shared, co-created, and community-driven experiences has defined our work at Unsettled, and it’s a trend we only see becoming increasingly common in the travel space.

6. The Rise in “Solo But Not Alone” Travel 

Shared experiences for solo travelers are on the rise, whether it’s Airbnb experiences, local cooking, crafts or art classes, or dedicated communities like Unsettled. There is an intrinsic desire for less “seeing and touristing” and more “creating and learning”, whether it’s taking a Thai cooking class in Bangkok or working for a month on a Spanish vineyard. We are seeking authentic experiences today in a world that feels increasingly digital, packaged, and polished. 

7. A Continued Rise In Women Who Travel Solo

Women are on the move! According to the Travel Industry Association, about 32 million American women travel solo every year. We think that 2020 will see an even greater rise in women in their 30s and 40s embracing the unknown and expanding their horizons. Even travel hotspots themselves are marketing their destinations to the solo woman traveler. So let’s let women truly take over the world in 2020, shall we?

8. The “Experiential/Travel MBA”

As reported in the Economist, more than half of US Business Schools report fewer domestic applications. At the average cost of $200,000 (including living costs), we can understand why.

We see more people opting out of choosing formal education programs in between jobs and careers, and opting to travel, experience new cultures, and learn new skills along the way via virtual programs and online learning (like Unsettled’s Lifestyle Incubator… it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a second degree). 

Additionally, employers are being more flexible with resume gaps and recognizing that traveling and living abroad are professional and personal development experiences as well. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “a cultural shift also is under way toward greater acceptance of nontraditional career paths. Some 76% of U.S. workers ages 24 to 38 expect to take career breaks of longer than a month.” The new normal is being created as we speak. 

9. The Rise of the Boomer Nomad

We are living longer, and we’re living healthier. The baby boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964) doesn’t only want cruises or pre-packed tours. They are far more active much later in life than previous generations of travelers. They want adventure, community-driven travel experiences, and growth and learning opportunities to connect with locals and meet new people – of all ages. Many in fact are becoming digital nomads and freelancers themselves, working jobs from the road. Boomers want bucket list experiences but don’t want to do them alone, or just with their partner, and we have witnessed intergenerational travel rising. When asked why she joined Unsettled, Stephanie Stevenson, Peru and Sailing: Baja alum, who is also planning her retirement, told us, “I wanted to meet some amazing people who were also in transition in their lives – that for me has been the absolute high point of Unsettled.” Why retire to one place when you can retire to everyplace?

10. Getting Off The Instagrammed Path

Travelers are understandably getting weary of over-toured places that are just good for the insta shot. As evidenced by our #TravelUnfiltered campaign and deep dive into Overtourism, there is many a reward for adventuring off the beaten path. We are looking to find new places, smaller cities, and lesser known destinations. What can we discover in 2020?

11. Sustainability And Impact Become Even More Important

Were you protesting for climate change reform this past September? Us too. Finding more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to travel will not only continue to become a travel trend but will ultimately become a necessity. One of our founding principles at Unsettled is to leave no trace, only a positive impact, and this also speaks to how we treat the environments that welcome us. We are so thrilled that in January 2020, our Sailing: The Exumas, Bahamas adventure will be 100% carbon offsetted for each participant and 20% of the profits will go toward hurricane relief efforts on the islands. “How can we travel more sustainably” is something we all should and will be asking ourselves in the new year (and years) ahead. 

Ready to make these trends a reality? Where do you want to live Unsettled in 2020?

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