Ever since the storied explorers of yesteryear set off in search of civilisations new, travel has widened our view of the world and our place within it. But how have past odysseys influenced our present-day wanderings and what will globetrotting look like in the future? Words: Lauren Romano
The heat that hits your face when you step off the plane. The rush of blood to the head as you slalom down an alpine slope. The silent concentration of etching a fiery sunset to memory. The intrigue of eavesdropping on a language that’s not your own. The way travel makes us feel deep down – the curiosity it sparks, the imagination it stirs, the connections it forms – might not have changed, but the way we explore, and the reasons for doing so, have.
Call it the rose-tinted effect, but there’s a languid, unhurried tempo attached to travel in times gone by. Back then it took longer to get from A to B; flights were fewer and prices higher – all of which added to the glamour. Air travel was an artform; a status symbol. Hams were carved seat-side on silver trollies and champagne corks popped at 30,000 feet. Suitcases were monogrammed and tailoring was the passenger’s uniform of choice.
Before budget airlines took to the skies and dulled the sheen of air travel’s golden age, the journey itself was something to savour. Personal service and attention to detail reigned supreme – and arguably still do in the airport lounges, luxury cabins and concierge services that continue to have a place in the present-day travel landscape.
Ever since business class was created in the late 1970s to bridge the gap between first and economy, airlines have been evolving their offering to meet the needs of discerning travellers. Take the Qsuite from Qatar Airways, the only business class suites on any airline to have doors for privacy (up to four suites can be combined to form semi-private, thoughtfully designed spaces for working or socialising) as well as ambient mood lighting and seats that fold down into a fully flat bed. This means you can disembark refreshed and ready to hit the ground running, whether you’re itching to get exploring or getting ready to deliver a keynote speech.
You might be able to secure these seats at the click of a button today, but trawling through the internet will only get you so far. That’s because the intricacies and wonders of the world don’t unfold on a screen; they play out in word-of-mouth recommendations and on-the-ground contacts. Human connections defined luxury travel in the past, as they do now. Often the true value of travel isn’t decided by the place but the people you meet along the way.
Travel doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And if the pandemic has underscored anything it’s the importance of not only our own wellbeing but the collective wellbeing of the planet. Realigning our sense of self, slowing down, tuning into our surroundings, being present and mindful of our actions and showing empathy to others: all of these motivations are seeping into the types of adventures we’re embarking on.
Meaningful experiences that enhance local livelihoods and champion ecological initiatives offer a sense of personal fulfilment, accountability and enlightenment that will last long after returning home, helping to improve lives for future generations. These experiences could involve helping to replenish endangered coral reefs in the Maldives or taking time away from tracking black and white rhino on foot to join an antipoaching patrol in Kenya. They could also mean personalised wellness programmes designed to dive deeper into what your body needs so you can recentre and reconnect with yourself and the world around you.
Other expeditions amp up the sense of adventure and revel in the magnificence of the great outdoors. Weave through Wyoming’s Upper Antelope Canyon with a Navajo expert, witness polar bears on the prowl for seals in the polar region’s frozen realm or experience the revered hush of the mountain-clamped monasteries of Bhutan. Authenticity, thoughtfulness and the wellness of mind, body and planet underpin all these diverse encounters.
So, what does the future of travel look like? Will we all be allocated a personal carbon allowance, making us think twice about our air miles? Perhaps we’ll be paying for our sojourns with bitcoin? It’s hard to say with absolute certainty, but one thing is clear: words of wisdom from seasoned travel experts will still fall on attentive ears. Cookie cutter experiences don’t land now and they won’t land in the future either. To obtain the level of personalisation tomorrow’s nomads are craving requires a personal touch, often bolstered by the latest technology.
At the Andronis Concept Wellness Resort on the spellbinding island of Santorini for example, a unique wellness screening programme uses hair profiling to create a personalised programme of suggested therapies and dietary patterns designed to reset a sense of inner balance. Alongside daily guidance from a wellness practitioner, you can soothe the mind and soul further with a spot of sunset gazing out along the rim of the caldera, or a lap of the 56-metre infinity pool that overlooks the endless blue Aegean Sea.
If that sounds too sedate, how about hitting the slopes in Courchevel in a pair of custom-made skis? The ski room at the charming Hôtel Barrière Les Neiges, set at the foot of the legendary Bellecôte run, is the largest in the surrounding enclave and can turn out made-to-order skis in five days according to your skiing and fitness levels and preferred type of snow – so you can chase that adrenalin rush in high-performance, high-style fashion.
If personalisation is one trend set to sway the future travel agenda; contribution is another. Giving back can take many guises. In Grenada, where the smell of nutmeg lingers in the air, Calabash hotel owner Leo Garbutt is one of the driving forces behind the Room to Read organisation that aims to improve literacy on the island by setting up school libraries. During a stay there, you can learn how the initiative has helped the island's pupils and even actively get involved.
Education also underscores the work of the Song Saa Foundation set up in association with the palm-fringed Song Saa Private Island resort, where science, innovation and collaboration are helping to provide training for Cambodian villagers on sustainable ways to support themselves and protect the marine environment.
Meanwhile over at the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in South Africa you can see first-hand how its foundation benefits nearly 11,000 local people each year. You can plant trees as part of a reforestation programme, head out into the field with entomologists to study native insects and take a ‘Living the Future Tour’ to witness the conservation and community mission in action.
At the heart of the most memorable and lasting experiences are people - the characters in compelling stories ready to be told. Connecting with communities in this way is not only rewarding, it will help you view destinations in a new light: through the eyes of those who call it home.
After all, the future of travel - much like its past and present - is human.