10 Years of Travel: Where It’s Been, and Where It's Going

A Retrospective of the Last Decade in the Air and on the Road

2010 collage
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With a combined 400,000 miles traveled between our team of four editors in 2019, it’s safe to see we see a lot of things in the travelsphere. As we enter a new decade, our team used a mix of travel trends and research, anecdotal evidence, and our own coverage to take a look at how travel has changed in the past decade—including Instagram, low-cost carriers, and the sharing economy—and where it’s going into the 2020s and beyond. (Hint: We see a trip to Africa in your future and maybe a self-driving car or two.)—Laura Ratliff, Jamie Hergenrader, Elizabeth Preske, and Sherri Gardner

2010: Checklist Travel, 2020: Immersive Experiences

We all remember the days of writing down a bucket list for a vacation. A trip to Paris wasn’t complete without seeing “Mona Lisa” and the Arc de Triomphe. And have you really seen London if you didn’t take a picture of Big Ben?

Airbnb’s international expansion in 2011 started to shift the tide towards local, experiential travel slowly and with the launch of Airbnb Experiences in 2016, and subsequently, Airbnb Adventures in 2019, the emphasis on immersive experiences has only grown. Since the 2016 launch, there are now more than 40,000 Experiences across 1,000 destinations. Why reserve an entrance time to the Louvre and wait in line for just a brief glimpse of artistic masterpieces when you can explore artsy Montmartre with a Parisian?

2010: Convenience, 2020: Conscientiousness

Budget airlines have been around since far before 2010—Southwest will celebrate its 53rd birthday in 2020—but the 2010s saw their peak, with WowAir’s 2011 take-off and Norwegian launching transatlantic flights in 2013. Forcing industry-wide price competition even among the long-established carriers (welcome, basic economy!) meant more destinations, and more routes were available to travelers than ever before for jaw-droppingly low prices. One-way flights as low as $30 were no longer considered a steal, but the norm, ushering in the decade of convenient travel. After all, why bother spending a few hours on a train from Paris to London when it’s a one-hour flight?

Well, several years later, we have an answer to that question: the environment. In 2017, the flight shaming movement began (primarily in Sweden, called “flygskam”) to encourage travelers to stop flying due to its impact on climate change. Since then, Swedish air travel has declined rapidly. That movement has spread worldwide (remember when Greta Thunberg completed her entire European tour by train?), and “train bragging” has risen with it. Plus, with the sharp rise in air travel (meaning longer lines, more crowded airports, etc.), train travel is becoming seen as more convenient—no security lines, more space, and the bonus of scenic rides.

And the urge to consider the environment is also an undertaking in the hotel industry. Those tiny shampoo bottles you’d usually stash in your suitcase are being phased out. Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton have all pledged to eliminate them in the coming years for larger bottles that stay put in the rooms to reduce plastic waste. And while you’ve probably seen the cards in rooms allowing you to opt out of a towel or sheet change to save water, some hotels are offering stronger incentives to do so. Declining any form of housekeeping can now earn you points with hotel brands or a food and beverage voucher for your stay. Again, maybe these initiatives aren’t sacrificing convenience as much as they are reframing it—no housekeeping, no tidying up for the cleaning staff, and no interruptions all day long.

2010: The Rise of the Sharing Economy, 2020: The Fall of the Sharing Economy?

Hear us out on this one: While we’re not saying Airbnb and Uber are going anywhere, a recent spate of bad press for both companies—Airbnb’s massive fraud ring, and Uber’s long-standing labor and safety issues—have led savvy travelers to look toward alternatives.

Low-touch apartment-hotels (think an Airbnb in a building with a check-in desk and some other hotel-like amenities) have been popping up throughout the country. Bode, one such start-up, opened in Nashville and Chattanooga in 2019, with three additional locations planned for 2020. Domio, a competitor, launched its first upscale apartment-hotel in New Orleans earlier this year.

And there’s a good chance that, in a few years, your Uber driver won’t even exist–Google’s Waymo self-driving car incubator expects to add 20,000 vehicles to its fleet in the next few years, enough for more than 500,000 trips each day.

2010: Instagram Influencers, 2020: Instagram Community

Yes, Instagram has been around for (almost) an entire decade now. (Feel old? We do.) And while it began as a place to follow your friends, fam, and maybe a few strangers to engage through comments and likes, it quickly transformed into a marketing tool.

Before we knew it, “influencer” became a real job title, causing our feeds to be filled with promotions of products and places and experiences. Throughout its existence, however, influencers have become a hot topic for several reasons: transparency (or lack thereof) of sponsored content, heavily edited photos to make places look more appealing or whimsical, and the unintentional (but still subliminal) encouragement of “doing it for the ‘gram” that lands many travelers in physical or legal harm just to capture the Insta-perfect shot.

Of course, many influencers have contributed positively to the platform, but many users still crave a more tailored use of the app to cut through the noise. As a result, virtual communities were born, and users were able to follow accounts or hashtags (the latter made possible in 2017) to connect with similar and like-minded travelers. A few examples: @wearetravelgirls (women travelers), @travelnoire (Black millennial travelers), #solotravel (a self-explanatory hashtag with more than 5 million posts), @gaytravelinsta (LGBT travelers), and more. There’s no doubt that Instagram has changed the way we travel, but instead of solely being an outlet for wanderlust, it’s now also an accessible way to connect with travelers worldwide.

2010: Cost-Effective Trips, 2020: Time-Efficient Trips 

In 2010, the economy was still coming out of the previous years’ recession, which also meant people were cutting back on leisure expenses, including travel. The “staycation” became popular as people compromised their desire to travel with the need to save money, and instead, put those dollars toward restaurants and attractions in their hometowns to maintain that feeling of discovery and exploration.

Now, as the economy improves, most of us are scant on another valuable resource: time. The challenge of work-life balance, the ability to work remotely from anywhere, and the lifestyle of constant hustle have led travelers to find ways to be more efficient with their trip planning, seeking alternatives to traditional week-long getaways.

One example: "bleisure" trips (business trips extended for leisure purposes) are on the rise—SAP Concur travel and expense data showed that bleisure trips increased by 20 percent from 2016 to 2017, and another study showed that while millennials lead the trend, bleisure is appealing to all generations in the workforce. Long weekend getaways are becoming more popular for the same reasons; you can travel more frequently to spread out and savor your precious time off. In a 2015 survey, close to half of the respondents were more likely to take multiple weekend trips in the year instead of one long vacation, as compared to data from 2010.

With a shorter trip time, though, people are also trying to pack as much into a getaway as possible, leading to new meaning of an “all-inclusive trip.” Some travelers have turned to “country coupling”—visiting more than one country on a trip—and choosing destinations for their diversity of attractions (where can you go that has city life, outdoor adventure, and beaches), and combining destinations to well-known places with nearby off-the-radar places for a mix of bucket list and discovery.

2010: Planning More, 2020: Planning Less

It’s a fact that vacationers are often happier planning a trip than actually taking it, but that blissful planning stage might be fleeting as more travelers look to spur-of-the-moment deals and apps that offer deep discounts for procrastinators. More than 60 percent of travelers have said they would be willing to book an impulse trip if they can get a good deal.

Scott’s Cheap Flights, a popular newsletter that alerts potential travelers to screaming deals on airfare, grew to more than 1.6 million subscribers since its launch in 2013, while apps like HotelTonight make it simple to reserve a deeply-discounted hotel room the day you arrive. Finding things to do and place to eat is as simple as opening Google Maps and seeing what's in the area—the company says searches including "near me" grew 150 percent in 2018 and that trend is set to continue.

No-planning trips are even an option now. Services like Pack Up + Go and Whisked Away take care of everything—down to the destination. All you have to do is give your available dates and your budget. In 2020 and beyond, expect to see more and more spontaneous trips for birthdays, long weekends, or just because.

2010: Zone-Out Travel, 2020: Transformational Travel

When the film adaptation of “Eat Pray Love” came out in 2010, it changed the way we travel. At the time, travel was all about sitting on a beach—just daiquiri in-hand, no introspection necessary. But now, thanks to the film and other factors, we’re all looking for personal fulfillment as we travel.

Women especially are traveling solo more than ever. In the last four years alone, Hostelworld reported an increase in the number of female solo travelers by 88 percent. As we move into the 2020s, we predict we’ll see even more solo travelers looking for that transformational experience.

As for Bali, the romantic centerpiece of “Eat Pray Love,” the Badung Regency Tourism Office revealed that Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport saw a 10.1 percent increase in tourists year-over-year—a number that’s only risen since the film’s release a decade ago. Thanks, Julia Roberts.

2010: The Rise of Asia, 2020: Africa and the Middle East Have a Moment

Asia was the lion—literally—of the 2010s' tourism boom. Japan expects 40 million tourists in 2020 (six times the number it saw in 2003), while Bangkok boasts about being a consistent contender for the world’s most visited city. But will unrest in Hong Kong and pollution and environmental concerns quell the region’s growth in 2020 and beyond, making way for a new part of the world to steal the spotlight?

The Middle East and Africa showed strong performances in the latter half of the 2010s, with Dubai leading the charge. The shining Emirate, along with Abu Dhabi, sees more foreign arrivals than any other city in the region, but new opportunities for leisure travelers to visit Saudi Arabia make it one to watch too. (Saudi Arabia and the UAE also plan to introduce a joint visa for both countries.)

Africa is poised for a 2020 tourism boom too: continued post-Arab Spring recovery has seen travelers flowing back into Egypt, while new flights—like Kenya Airways’ historic non-stop between Nairobi and New York in 2018, and RwandAir’s upcoming flight from New York to Kigali, Rwanda—have made the continent easier to reach than ever. Twenty African nations now offer visa-free travel or visas on arrival for Americans, while South Africa just launched an e-Visa pilot for travelers who need them. If you’ve been considering a Kenyan safari or a Nile River cruise, there’s no better time than now.

2010: Overtourism, 2020: Sustainability

As travel has become more affordable, more accessible, and easier to plan than ever, it’s also becoming one of the largest-growing industries in the world. According to the World Tourism Organization, 2018 saw 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals, a record high that occurred two years ahead of schedule according to the organization’s 2010 predictions. Not surprisingly, the onslaught of travelers has been painful for many destinations to handle over the past decade, leading to an era of overtourism.

Iceland is a well-known example. In 2010, just under 500,000 people visited the country; in 2017, more than 2 million did. Some destinations have taken action to combat the suffocation—Venice has started charging day trip visitors a fee, the Louvre now operates on a reservations-only system to limit crowds flocking to get a pic of the Mona Lisa, and the Philippines temporarily closed the island of Boracay to tourism following damage to its landscape from the throngs of visitors. 

Destinations haven’t been the only ones taking steps to reduce the impact of overtourism; travelers are now considering that as a factor in their trip planning. Data from Booking.com showed that 51 percent of travelers would go to a lesser-known destination similar to their original intention if it would help reduce the effects of overtourism, a concept known as “second city” traveling. Plus, the idea of going somewhere “off the beaten path” is appealing to a lot of people—crowds and lines at attractions are considerably more tolerable (or non-existent), prices on flights and accommodations are typically lower, and you get to discover things you haven’t already seen all over social media. 

2010: Fido Stays Home, 2020: Fido Eats a Filet

Call it the scourge of the fake emotional support animal, but we think dogs on planes, trains, and automobiles are here to stay in 2020 and beyond.

With Americans spending more than $72 billion on their pets in 2018, hotels are wisening up to the traveler who can’t stand to leave their furry friends at home when they hit the road. A 2016 survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association found that around 75 percent of hotels allow pets—up from just 50 percent in 2006—with many going above and beyond to cater not only to travelers but to their German Shepherds, too.

At the Dream Hollywood in Los Angeles, pups are treated to Sprinkles pupcakes and mini-bath robes, while Nashville’s Bobby Hotel designed an on-brand hot chicken chew toy. Meanwhile, some hotels have opted to add their own canines to the crew, like Kitty, the resident Bernese Mountain Dog at St. Regis Aspen, or Max, a rambunctious yellow Labrador who rules the roost at Turks and Caicos’ COMO Parrot Cay.

2010: To Grandma’s House We Go, 2020: Grandma Hits the Road

Traveling to your grandparents’ house? That’s so 2010. Now, instead of going to grandma’s house, grandma’s taking the grandkids—and leaving the parents at home. According to an AARP survey, 61 percent of grandparents are interested in taking a skip-gen trip with their grandchildren, and more than 30 percent have done just that. Boomers are generally still healthy and plenty active, and as they enter retirement, they have more time than ever.

Travel Leaders Group found that, in 2017, 91 percent of its agents had booked a multigenerational trip and these families aren't just going to Disney World. A report by Virtuoso, a collection of travel advisors, found that Generation Z—persons born between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s—are influencing their family's travel decisions, leading families from stayed beach vacations toward safaris, adventure-focused cruises, and other excursions instead. In fact, the high seas remain a popular choice, thanks to the wide assortment of activities, dining, and excursions available on cruise lines. A report conducted by the Cruise Lines International Association last year says the industry saw a 45 percent increase in multi-generational adventure travel requests.

2010: The Rise of Culinary Travel, 2020: Food Travel Becomes an (Exclusive) Sport

The 2010s were arguably the decade where eating—and documenting it—became part and parcel for a trip. Now, it’s a competitive sport.

Social media’s rise has spurred travelers to plan every meal before putting fork to plate—or even taking off. A new generation waits in bated breath not only for Michelin guides to be released but also for reviews from sites like The Infatuation, who bought old-guard print guidebook Zagat in 2018. Meanwhile, restaurant reservations are made—and even paid for—in advance, not unlike concert tickets, thanks to services like Tock.

Of course, even if you can get your seat at Noma, you still might want to a truly one-of-a-kind experience like Marriott Bonvoy’s November Moment Masterclass, which involved a private villa stay in the Cayman Islands with renowned chef David Bouley. Or look to Mastercard’s Priceless pop-up: the card issuer has recreated notable restaurants from around the world, like Tokyo sushi cynosure Terazushi and London boîte Lyaness, in an empty SoHo warehouse. (You need a Mastercard to get in, natch.)

2010: Travel Is a Luxury, 2020: Everyone Is a VIP

When the recession hit in 2008, the cost of plane tickets soared, influenced by sky-high fuel prices and other factors. Basic Economy fares and low-cost carriers made travel accessible again. Still, unless you were keen on dropping $4,000 on a business-class ticket, you were likely crammed in the back of the bus, noshing on a $17 airport sandwich.

Now, some carriers and services have aimed to restore a bit of dignity to the everyman’s travel experience, with Delta introducing a revamped transatlantic meal service in late 2019, that includes a welcome cocktail and hot towel service, and services like TSA PreCheck and CLEAR whisking you through security in a flash. Let’s also not forget the LAX’s Private Suite offering—a service that lets well-heeled travelers hang out in a comfortable suite before being driven, via private chauffeur, directly to their aircraft on the tarmac.