Bamboo Railway, Battambang, Cambodia.

It’s Not Where To Travel in 2015 It’s How To Travel in 2015

Cuba, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Jakarta are some of the destinations travellers are being told they’ll be heading to this year. But it’s not where to travel in 2015, it is how to travel in 2015 that’s important — and it’s more important than it’s ever been.

Why Where You Travel in 2015 Is Not Important

One thing I’ve learnt in all the years we’ve been travelling and writing about travel is that destinations come and go into fashion and like fashion itself there’s no sensible reason why, it may just be a matter of whimsy.

Most ‘where to go in X year’ travel lists aren’t based on research data and analysis that indicates where people are actually starting to travel. Many lists are actually devised by identifying destinations where people have not been going to attract a bit of attention and in some cases controversy.

Most travel trend lists are created by deskbound editors, who travel less frequently than, and not as widely as, travel writers. This means they interact less often with travellers, have far fewer opportunities to observe how people travel, and don’t get to engage with travellers as much as writers do.

Of course some editors reach out to writers for their opinions on what places are starting to look appealing in their area of specialty, how people are starting to travel in those places, whether tourists numbers have been increasing, and whether tourism department research shows patterns of travel behavior and so on.

Editors and writers might consider what’s new in a destination that might attract the interest of travellers, whether it’s a new train journey or a jaw-dropping resort that’s just opened, whether there’s an amazing new museum or an architectural wonder with breathtaking views that’s finally been completed. Think what the Guggenheim did for Bilbao or Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa for Dubai.

Sometimes what’s new is the means of getting there, such as a new flight route or a big new plane; that there is greater accessibility, such as reduced visa fees, the elimination of visas altogether, or the lifting of sanctions or travel restrictions (the reason Cuba is now a hot destination for Americans). It might be a change of political leadership or even the end of a war that now makes travel safer to that place.

Occasionally editors will contact travel industry leaders, such as CEOs of airlines, travel companies, tour operators, and hotel chains, to seek their opinions on which destinations they think travellers will be going to. You’d think these people would know, but you’d be wrong. Sure there are some visionaries and thought leaders in the travel, tourism, aviation and hospitality industries, but the Richard Bransons are few and far between.

Overall, these industries and the people who work in them are pretty conservative and slow to adapt and adopt. I could recount scores of conversations over the years with excitable CEOs who’d just discovered a travel trend or technology that had been around for years that they thought was new.

I remember putting together a travel trend story based on tips from industry leaders a couple of years ago and of the dozen people I approached for predictions on new destinations or trends, only one person responded with anything new or visionary — an online travel publisher.

Another problem I have with those lists (as fun as they are to compile), is that a destination that might be considered ‘new’ or off-the-beaten-track in one part of the world might be ‘old’ and well established in another. One person’s rising destination might be a declining holiday spot for someone else.

I’ll never forget pitching US magazine editors stories on Dubai many years ago and being told it was too off the beaten track and nobody would be going there for a while — we were living there at the time and it was already beginning to boom as a tourist destination, although mainly with Europeans, Brits and Aussies.

Similarly, I remember reading a story in an American magazine about how Croatia was undiscovered and now was the time to go. We’d been two summers earlier for six weeks and every city, town and island was crowded with European tourists. And I know the media in Australia, the UK and other countries must make the same pronouncements about American destinations.

Significant media attention can also be damaging for destinations. On the one hand, the local economy might boom from an increase in visitors. On the other, people might stay away because they perceive a place to be too popular and therefore no longer cool.

Of course, there’s still a place for encouraging people to go to destinations during a particular season (some shine in spring but are miserable in fall/autumn) or a holiday, festival or event (Sydney is fantastic during Vivid; we love Melbourne for the Food and Wine Festival).

Why How You Travel In 2015 Is Important

We firmly believe it’s more important — now more than ever — to talk about how to travel rather than where to travel.

Firstly, because there’s a lot of hate in the world right now, as evidenced from the increasingly violent planet we are living on. Most hate stems from a lack of knowledge, understanding and empathy. The more we know, understand and empathize with each other, the better we’ll all get along.

There couldn’t be a more stronger case for local travel and experiential travel — for connecting with locals and learning to live like locals when you travel, as well as learning and doing and experiencing more in the places you go to in order to develop a deeper and richer understanding of that place and its people.

Secondly, we’re really messing up our planet here and if something radical isn’t done soon, it’s going to be too late. Countless scientists have warned in recent months that global warming is causing “severe, widespread and irreversible damage to the environment”. Animal species are vanishing at an alarming rate due to climate change and habitat destruction.

Okay, so big corporations and irresponsible governments are mostly to blame, but if we all start to act more responsibly when we travel and try to reduce our ecologically footprint, we can make a difference. That’s an argument for slow travel, for travelling more slowly, more sustainably and more responsibly.

Lastly, for now, the disparity between rich and poor is the greatest it has ever been, or more correctly, the widest ever recorded (and that’s due to greedy people and government policies as well). More of us need to start to do more good and give back when we travel.

I’m not suggesting everyone sign up for a volunteer experience and go build houses in poor countries this year — we need to contribute responsibly and ethically. We’ve covered ways you can do that in the past, but we’re going to highlight a lot more in the future.

So that’s my case for not suggesting where you should be travelling in 2015. Ignore all the lists, don’t feel like you need to be going to the next hot destination, just go wherever you want to go. The important thing is not where to travel in 2015 but how to travel in 2015 and I’m going to tackle that in the next post.

There are 18 comments

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  1. Andrea Anastasiou

    Wonderful post, Lara. I like the point on how there’s a lot of hate in the world right now, which stems from a lack of knowledge. It’s more important than ever for travellers, especially we long-term ones, to be responsible while we’re abroad and make an effort to get to know the locals of the country that we’re visiting. It may be a small step, but if more of us do this, I think it’s definitely a valuable contribution.

    We also like to travel slow and really get to know a place – that’s far more important to us than racking up stamps in our passports.

  2. Brooke Vlasich

    Hi Lara-
    I absolutely loved everything you had to say in the post! I completely agree with you on politics, the environment, and engaging with locals wherever you travel to end the ignorance and common misconceptions. Unfortunately, Americans are commonly known for being disrespectful and inconsiderate travelers who expect everyone to be like them. It’s very disappointing that more Americans don’t travel and understand the concept a friend of mine follows, which is, “Americans are world citizens first and American citizens second. We have a responsibility to the world first and foremost.” Although I am timid when first experiencing a new place, I find more satisfaction learning a new language, tasting local cuisine, interacting with local events, and abandoning the idea that everyone should be like me. We are all different and even though it can complicate things, it’s what makes us so great.

  3. Lara Dunston

    Hi Andrea – lovely to connect and so pleased you agree. Yes, it’s small steps, but imagine if all those who were able to travel took those steps? There is so much intolerance and narrow-mindedness in the world simply because the ignorant know little beyond their hometown. The world would be a very different place if more people took time to know it through travel. Thanks for dropping by!

  4. Lara Dunston

    Hey Brooke – thank you for your thoughtful response. I think there are stereotypes of tourists for every nation. Aussies have a reputation for being loud, thong (flip-flop)-wearing, heavy-drinkers, who only want to party. And sure there is probably some element of truth there 😉 I do recall seeing the Americans you describe when we first started travelling in Europe in the late 90s (and they were also loud). However, I have to say that I’ve seen those stereotypes break down over the years – for Americans and Australians. The more people travel, the better they become at it. I’ve met many of your compatriots in Siem Reap, especially on my Vayable tours, and they have all been very gracious, well-mannered, warm, open-minded, and eager to experience and embrace everything, so you can be very proud. Of course, my American Vayable clients are often older too – from 30s to 60s – so are mature, well-travelled and more worldly. Hopefully we’ll see you in Siem Reap some day!

  5. Brooke Vlasich

    I’m glad you have met clients American clients who are accepting and gracious! I do my best to make sure I’m respectful and open-minded, but I’m sure I’ve made mistakes. No one is perfect, but I do think we can all do our best to be more aware, no matter we come from. I think age does help (no matter your background) because you’ve not only traveled more but had more life experience. At any rate, I’m glad you’ve had some good clients and I hope everyone can have a more open mind as they travel this year. I’d love to visit Siem Reap someday soon!

  6. David

    I always read those travel articles to help me decide where NOT to go. I used to be all about exotic locations, street markets, motor cycling through rice paddies….well, I still am, but now I want to ride through the corn fields of Nebraska, go to church pancake dinners, shop at the 24-hour Walmart–that’s become exotic now! Or I want a week of exploring the 24hour night life of Berlin, sleeping all day, and clubbing all night, not giving a damn I’m missing “culture”. I guess it all means there are so many ways to travel that don’t make these lists.

  7. Our Bendigo Cottage

    You put a lot of thought into this post, Lara, I feel.
    Yeah, so much to think about. I mean I get put off when I bump into blundering tourists who are complaining about everything and I just think that really they would be better off back at the resort you know?
    Anyway, food for thought thanks.

  8. Lara Dunston

    Hi David – you’re exactly right. I think we all want different things from our travels at different times in our lives as travellers too. Sometimes after too much exoticism we crave the mundane, after too many big cities we appreciate small towns, after too many star sights we want to explore ordinary neighbourhoods. And that’s okay. Thanks for dropping by to share your thoughts!

  9. Lara Dunston

    Come visit us, Brooke! You’ll love it – the textiles, the art, the sculpture, the colonial house tiles, beautiful handmade jewellery, silk. You’d be in creative heaven here.

  10. The Brinkmanns

    Totally agree with you Lara! Whenever we try to explain why Spain is fantastic to people in the US or Canada we are often met with doubtful questions. They’d just rather go to Florida. Or the carribean again for their 10th time. But of course, go to Spain in August and it’s totally flooded with Europeans. Totally agree with volunteering where you can… everyone should try to be less like a parasite and help this planet they want to see so much!

  11. Lara Dunston

    Thanks, guys! But that’s bizarre that Spain is not on the radar for North Americans. I think it’s just after France as #1, so it’s either #2 or #3 destination in the world (just before/after the US) with 60+ million people visiting a year or something like that, and higher than Italy. It’s interesting that France and Italy are such big magnets for North Americans, but not Spain. But, as we said, it’s not where you go… thanks for dropping by!

  12. Peggy

    Great post – I think with travel a lot of the time people think of it as a list of places to tick off, sites to photograph and move on from. Rather, it’s the experiences you find while travelling – and this can range from things like discovering a new cafe/shop/flashmob event in your hometown or around the corner from where you live, to volunteering with sea turtles in Costa Rica or attending a debutante ball in Vienna.

  13. Lara Dunston

    Hi Peggy – thanks for the kind words on the post. We completely agree with you, of course. I have to say I do have great memories of the first time we visited the Eiffel Tower and seeing the Statue of Liberty and so on – there’s something about those iconic monuments that is special – but I’m no longer interested in ticking them off, and I really loathe the bucket list mentality for a variety of reasons. These days if I was to visit the Eiffel Tower again, I’d rather go with an architect or historian of architecture and see it in the context of a larger/wider architectural walk taking in the buildings of the same period. Or, simply enjoy a picnic with friends on the lawns in front of the tower.

  14. Karianne

    You’ve summed it up perfectly Lara. While we have done a lot to damage our planet and local communities, there is so much that we can do to make a positive impact when we travel.

    The main thing we have found is that making a difference doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming. Its about doing a bit of research and making the right decisions – eating in a social enterprise cafe that supports youths from disadvantaged communities, buying gifts and souvenirs from shop which trains disabled people, booking tours through companies that have ethical and sustainable policies.

    Not only will you usually have a much more authentic and local experience, but you are giving something back to the communities you are visiting.

    I really hope articles such as this make people think more about the choices they make when travelling and in daily life.

  15. Lara Dunston

    Thanks for the kind words, Karianne. Exactly. If everyone contributed in those small ways there could be big, positive changes to life on this planet. Thanks for taking the time to come visit and comment. Much appreciated.

  16. Charles McCool

    Great advice for any year, month, or week. I do tend to ignore any list mentioning “best” or “hottest” or “must.” Local travel is definitely worthwhile. So much to see and do, and you do NOT have to travel to the ends of the earth for fulfillment.

  17. Edith Rodriguez

    This was good to read. My husband and I are saving money for the next year or so, so we can leave on a one year travel trip. We’re obviously attracted to the popular places but we think places not visited as much will be just as fun. Reading this helps us know how we travel is more important than where we travel to. Thank you for the advice!

  18. Lara Dunston

    Thanks, Edith! One tip: we find second cities, i.e. the next biggest cities after the capital, can often be more interesting and more rewarding because they tend to be less touristy and more local. Thanks for dropping by!

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