8 Key Trends & Travel Destinations 2021
Updated on February 3rd, 2023
After 30 years & 6 continents, travel is my passion. However, after a year of being grounded, it has given me time to reflect & think deeply about the future of the industry I love. The world has changed & how we travel is changing too. Here is my complete guide to the key trends & travel destinations, 2021.”
Wherever it is safe & when it is safe to go there!
A lot has changed in the world over the course of this new decade, & we’re only a year in! We have realised that travelling is a privilege & not a right. Lessons were learned about the power of nature & the impact it has when we just leave it alone for a while. For once the world has been united against one common enemy. We remain in the grips of a global pandemic & although we now have a vaccine, it will be a long time before we can confidently say that we have won.
But as we begin 2021, we need to get moving again…when we can. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating anything that is not safe. Safety is paramount. Travel remains a risk. Our borders may be closed & our dream destinations could remain out of reach for some time yet. But the world is also opening up & the tourism industry is on its knees.
Three per cent of the world’s population relies on travel for their livelihoods, that’s at least 98 million people around the globe! There are vast swathes of the planet with limited other income streams. When safaris put their brakes on, the rangers lose their jobs & the poachers move in. What happens to our Caribbean paradise islands when the cruise ships are no longer docking?
However, we can do it safely & protect each other in the process. It is everyone’s individual responsibility to stay safe.
So, know the rules, be flexible, have insurance, get tests, take the vaccine & make safety your priority. And then start planning which of these will be top of your travel destinations for 2021…”
8 Key Trends & Travel Destinations 2021
1. Rise of the Staycation
Like many people, last year I realised that there are still so many beautiful places to discover close to home. For you, it may have been hiking in the National Parks or taking a road trip. Both were the perfect way to explore at our own place & remain socially distanced. 2020 gave us the chance to see parts of our local environment that may have been new or unappreciated before. For me, it was a trip around the spectacular Scottish Highlands & Islands. I left with a desire to see so much more!
This year the trend looks set to carry on as domestic travel continues to surge. Many popular tourist spots are suffering from the lack of international tourism, allowing us to have these gems to ourselves for once! I benefitted from visiting several of the Royal Palaces in London for the first time, without the crowds. My plans for travel in 2021 in the UK involve lots of hiking.
I would love to take a few days to walk the Thames Path, head to Wales & a return trip for the North Coast 500 in Scotland is on the cards. Fingers crossed at least!”
2. Power of the Outdoors
The past year has given us all a new appreciation of the great outdoors. Therefore, we need to seek out places to travel in 2021 which give us access to nature. There is no better place to experience this than Kenya. Since reopening its borders in August, their response has been impressive, making visitors feel safe to travel. If you have dreamed of taking a safari, then maybe 2021 is the time to do it. After all, you may get the wildlife all to yourself!
The essence of New Zealand is to enjoy the outdoors. I revisited after 20 years away & was blown away by the beauty of the South Island. They have managed COVID brilliantly, mainly by keeping everyone out. It is still unclear when the borders will open wider than a corridor with Australia. It will likely be longer if your home country has high COVID numbers. But maybe it is time to start dreaming & saving for a visit towards the end of the year. I can think of nowhere better to brush off those cobwebs.
Check out my post on the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound & the ultimate guide to Milford Sound to see more.
In addition, I hope to return to Ireland to explore the Wild Atlantic Way further. In 2019, I was blown away (both literally & figuratively!) by the beauty of this raw & rugged paradise.
3. Maintaining Social Distance
The term social distancing was alien to most of us at the start of this decade but now it is one of the most widely understood terms across the globe. So, if you are wanting to take this to the extreme then why not consider some of the world’s most remote places for your top travel destinations in 2021?
At the tip of South America, spanning both Argentina & Chile, lies Patagonia. If your idea of social distancing involves glaciers, mountains, waterfalls & unique flora & fauna, then you are heading in the right direction!”
There are plenty of spectacular hiking options such as El Chatén in Argentina or Torres del Paine in Chile. Alternatively, follow my footsteps & hike on the awe-inspiring Perito Moreno glacier.
If you prefer somewhere a bit warmer with your isolation, then why not head for Namibia? It contains the Namib desert, the largest & oldest desert in the world. However, it is home to only 2.6 million people so there are plenty of opportunities to find yourself alone. Namibia has lots to offer travellers such as the amazing wildlife in Etosha National Park & otherworldly landscapes of Sossusvlei.
For somewhere a little more relaxing & luxurious, why not consider the Maldives or Seychelles? The islands by their nature offer secluded, socially distanced accommodation. In addition, there is now a strict set of COVID regulations going above & beyond to make you feel safe. One Maldives resort even has complementary PCR tests included in the package! Both are on my list…maybe 2021 is the year?
4. Take it Slow
I am an advocate of taking your time to get to know a location rather than rushing to tick it off & move on. I love a road trip, would always rather take a ferry than a plane & will often spend a month in a country to get under its skin. 2020 has been the year that we all slowed down a bit & realised the pleasure in just catching our breath. For 2021, that is reflected in the way people are planning holidays.
Gone are the times of staying in a hotel for one night, before gathering your stuff & moving on. We are currently searching out more apartment-style accommodation & staying put for days, if not weeks. As well as hitting the road, another slow travel option is to try your hand at sailing. I have so far had a love/hate relationship with learning to sail. Yacht Ibis offers holidays for singles wanting to discover the Caribbean or Mediterranean slowly. Maybe 2021 is the year I dive back in the deep end.
Last year the world also realised the benefits of working from home. And who says home actually means the specific place you live? More & more people are opting for “home” being life as a digital nomad, or a “workation” at least for a few months.”
A number of countries are now offering longer-term remote working visas. Have you ever considered Iceland, Estonia or Croatia for example? Or how about the Caribbean? Fancy relocating for a while to the Cayman Islands, Barbados, or my favourite Antigua & Barbuda?
Why not consider your trip as the perfect time to learn a new skill? For all the inspiration you need on Adult Learning Vacations, check out my blog post.
5. Focus on Wellness
It feels like we have stumbled into a new decade which has left many people stressed & anxious. You may have used the time to focus on your fitness or just let it slide. Either way, when planning where to travel in 2021, why not recharge some healthy habits at a wellness retreat? Lonely Planet has compiled an excellent list of recommended destinations which allow you to get fit & be pampered while also satisfying your wanderlust.
I have always found wellness retreats a great way to recharge & have my fingers crossed that I will attend one in Iceland (postponed from last year). Wherever you decide to indulge, there will be no better way to reinvigorate yourself & your travels in 2021.
As an alternative why not combine fitness, nature & being remote by taking on a physical challenge? In 2019, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to celebrate turning 50. It was, without doubt, the most mentally & physically challenging thing I have ever put my body through but worth every moment for the view from the “Roof of Africa”. Don’t fancy anything quite as big but equally as epic? Why not try the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?
6. Travelling more Sustainably
The impact we are having on our environment has never been brought into greater focus. So why not add one of these to your list of places to travel in 2021?
Costa Rica has one of the lowest fatalities from the pandemic in Central America & is considered a world leader in sustainability. There are plenty of opportunities to get away from it all while taking on adrenaline activities, hiking volcanoes, relaxing on beaches & having close encounters with the fascinating wildlife in this nature lover’s paradise.
Back in 1992 I fell in love with Africa while on a 3-month overland trip. Back then Rwanda was home to precious memories from my encounter with the Mountain Gorillas but also some terrifying human ones as tensions there were building. Not long after, the horrific genocide put it on the map for all the wrong reasons. Nowadays however, Rwanda is a very different place with exceptional sustainability credentials.
They banned the use of plastic bags way back in 2008 & have long exercised controlled tourism (limiting access for the gorillas). In addition, Rwanda is now regarded as one of the safest countries for travel in Africa.”
For me? In 2017, National Geographic named Slovenia as the “World’s Most Sustainable Country” & Ljubljana is recognised as the Greenest Capital of Europe. Nestled between Italy, Austria & Croatia, it boasts castles, alpine villages, spectacular Lake Bled & one of the most beautiful forests in the world. If you haven’t been to this fairy tale setting yet, then maybe add it to your travel destinations for 2021. Join the queue…I’ve never been either!
7. Supporting Local Communities
Again, this year has brought into focus the importance of supporting local businesses & doing this when we travel is even more vital.
Think farmers markets vs supermarkets, individual coffee shops vs Starbucks. Buying handicrafts, clothing, accessories, artwork or toiletries are the perfect way to bring home memories of each trip you take.”
For accommodation, consider family run boutique hotels, apartments or Airbnb style homes instead of the big chain hotels. If you are worried about whether they are safe, check the most recent reviews, especially the cleanliness ratings. For more on travelling safely right now, then check out my blog post HERE.
You can often save money & benefit the community by opting to use local tour guides & organisations. Alternatively, travel with a company who has strong philanthropy credentials. I have taken a number of tours with G Adventures & each one includes a visit to a community project which is supported by Planeterra, their charitable foundation. I have so far used them for Peru, Costa Rica & the Galapagos Islands.
8. Action Your Bucket List
Finally, now is the time to start planning those real Bucket List trips (or Life List as I like to call it). We cannot take our freedom for granted & those dream travel destinations in 2021 will be limiting numbers. Now is the perfect time to go! For example, The Galapagos Islands offer close encounters with overfriendly wildlife & landscapes that will blow your mind. For sustainable, socially distanced & remote travel, it’s hard to beat.
Also in South America, what about Peru with the legendary Machu Picchu, vast Amazon Rainforest & breathtaking Lake Titicaca? Or the Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats) in Bolivia? There is nowhere better to feel like you are the only person for miles! Or for nature at its most powerful, how about a trip to Iguazu Falls?
I am still desperate to see Antarctica. Where better to immerse yourself in the remoteness of nature than the end of the planet? Wherever is on your Bucket List, there has never been a better time to make it happen.
To conclude, the world has changed. How we view the world has changed. That means how we see travel needs to change too. 2020 has allowed us to develop a newfound respect for nature, a desire to protect it & an understanding of its impact on our mental health. We long for meaningful travel experiences & interactions instead of a tick the box, Instagram focussed mentality. If we want the future to include travel & choice, then now is the time to start planning. The world will change & 2020 will be the turning point. I wish you safe travels.
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Nice article Sue! I see we have similar interests. I love visiting highlights without the crowds and the Wild Atlantic Way is so beautiful! Also loved hiking the Perito Moreno. I am curious how the world of travel will look like post COVID. Best regards, Elisa
Thank you, Elisa & it definitely sounds like we like to do similar stuff! I very much hope we will discover a travel world post COVID soon…but I think it may be longer than we expect. Stay safe until then, Sue x
Your themes all resonated with me. We certainly did far more staycations in 2020 and are already planning for that to be a key component of our 2021 travels. And that always includes lots of option to enjoy the outdoors. A great benefit has certainly been the support for local communities. And hopefully that will mean more local travel even after international travel returns.
Thank you, Linda, & I have enjoyed reading about your more local adventures over the last few months. I very much hope we will get a chance to support local businesses, further from home soon…but who knows when?! Sue x
While this terrible pandemic is testing me big time, I was aware of all the issues you are mentioning. I was hoping that this pandemic and all those consequences would lead to more consciousness and less ‘let’s hop on the next plane, it’s dirt-cheap’. Sadly, I don’t see that. On the contrary, I read so many posts from people that are totally mindless and just eager to go out there again – just like before. Sometimes, I also feel this urge – but it’s not good and we had a chance to think our behavior over – I don’t have the impression that we did so sufficiently.
Thank you, Renata, for your comment & it’s disappointing that you have seen a lot of the same behaviour as before. I very much hope we will come out of this with a much more mindful attitude to our impact, but I guess there will be plenty who will be unwilling, or unable to change. Sue x
Fantastic article. So much to think about. I have enjoyed exploring more of my local environment, and seeing the grounds of a local stately home in all the seasons in weekly visits. You get more or a sense of time passing and a connection with nature than in my more hectic normal life.
Supporting local businesses and visiting more remote locations are ways in which we can travel more mindfully.
Antarctica is totally on my bucket list too.
Thank you Hels & good to hear you are thinking in a similar way. I have enjoyed seeing the seasons change in my area too, & realised that all the usual tactics I use to get to know a place when I travel, I rarely do once back home! Here’s hoping we both make it to Antarctica soon. Safe travels when you do, Sue x
Yes, completely agree with you. The staycation is here to stay (at least for now) we discovered many beautiful Scottish National Parks and hiked and road tripped. Definitely following the trend of the outdoors. We have discussed where to go this year and we have decided not to leave Europe and as long as the weather is ok we will probably remain in the UK! We used to travel so far and you’re right. The world has changed!!
Thank you, Rachel, & I agree. I am planning to discover much more of the UK (when we finally make it back out of lockdown that is). I fell in love with Scotland on my trip last summer & can’t wait to get back. Sue x
This makes me want to travel *now*! I tend to not think about travelling too much these days. It’s better for my sanity, but you’ve listed so many good choices here Sue. I do think there will be a trip or two for me this year – just now sure where or when but you’ve given plenty of great suggestions.
Thank you, Alsion & I am the same. I don’t have anything booked & no plans to do so until things are clearer, so thinking about travel is all reflecting on the past. But I do believe that I need to lead the charge when I can. Fingers crossed for the day we can. Sue x
Staycations will indeed be 2021, just like being outdoors.
Thank you, Cosette! Agree! Sue x
This is an excellent summary of last year and suggestions of where to go by category of trend. What a fantastic idea. I am so glad you love Africa as much as I do! I didn’t know that Costa Rica has the lowest fatality rate in Latin America from the virus. Really interesting article. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you, Heather, glad it resonated & that I was able to give you some new info too! Sue x
This piece really speaks to me and gives me hope. thanks for that. When we were just in Maui we made a big effort towards more sustainable and more local and I know that will be constant for me as we go forward. Seeing the world and travel through a whole new lens now…but I sure can’t wait to get back out there too. BTW loved your 1992 photo – you look like a kid! Also I’ll see you in Antarctica…high on my list too.
Thanks, Laureen for your lovely comment & really pleased to hear that my post struck a chord with you too. In 1992 I was a child (only 22)! See you in Antarctica. Sue x
You have so many relevant and correct points. Staycations and outdoor activities are the norm at the moment. There is still too much uncertainty for the future. Even actioning that bucket list seems a little out of reach at the moment. But one thing is for certain, we do miss travel and especially international travel – whether it be visiting a new destination or visiting family residing overseas. It just isn’t viable at the moment, even if we can, because of extra costs and time spent isolating.
Thank you, Alma, & I’m with you all the way. It’s hard to stay positive right now when at least in the UK travel restrictions are finally looking like they are tightening rather than lifting. ~We have a long way to go yet, but dreaming, at least, is still allowed. Sue x
Great article, the world and travel have changed so much in the past year. Staycations seem to be the way I will be travelling this year, though I would love to get back to Barbuda again, my last foreign trip. Your post has given me some ideas of potential places to explore if we can travel again.
Thank you Larch & I agree, I’ll be taking a lot more staycations this year too. I would love to return to Barbuda too…who knows when but my fingers are well & truly crossed. Sue x