How do you choose a travel destination?
For some of us, it’s a decision based on budget. How much do I want to spend? Maybe a big luxury vacation isn’t in my budget this year, but a few micro trips — short yet experience-dense mini vacations — are.
For others, it’s all about the experience. Perhaps you want to travel without a plan, take the long road and focus on the journey. Or spend your free time doing something transformative, like volunteering or learning a new skill. Or take a food tour and sample a country’s vegan cuisine offerings.
Other decision-making factors include time of year, weather or personal interests. You might want to go off the beaten path or stick to mainstream locations, travel solo or go with friends, seeking out current trends like wellness tourism or ecotourism.
Then there’s safety, health and other travel risks to consider.
When it came time to compile travel trends for 2020, we analyzed past trends and current obsessions. We compared 2019 Global Peace Index rankings with travel advisories, tracked health trends and outbreaks and polled our in-house experts.
We took every consideration into account, carefully curating our list from insightful assessments from personnel on our medical, security and intelligence teams.
Debate and discussion ensued and here’s the result: A list of our top travel trends — and destinations — for 2020.
The popular HBO show “Chernobyl” ended in June 2019, but travelers interested in visiting this site in Ukraine have not slowed down. Kiev’s tourism and promotion board expects to see 100,000 visitors to Chernobyl by the end of 2019, compared to 70,000 in 2018.
It’s part of the “location vacation” trend of making a pilgrimage to your favorite show or movie location. In fact, Klook, a travel services booking platform, found television and movie-inspired activities have increased almost 300% year over year among United State travelers.
Chernobyl is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. In April 1986, a routine test at one of the power plant’s reactors went terribly wrong, causing an explosion directly resulting in 31 deaths and exposing millions to dangerous radiation levels.
The nearby town of Pripyat was completely evacuated 36 hours after the accident and more than 350,000 people are believed to have been relocated.
Although the site opened to tourists in 2011, Chernobyl is still considered to be one of the most polluted places in the world. But higher than normal levels of radiation are not a deterrent for travelers who want to see ground zero of the accident, the 2016 containment structure installed over the failed reactor and the “ghost towns” surrounding the site.
What You'll See
Atlas Obscura offers a few different trip options to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a containment area of about 1,000 square miles around the nuclear power plant. All trips include a visit to the streets of Pripyat, a thriving city that had a population of almost 50,000 at the time of the Chernobyl disaster.
Today, the population is zero and people come to photograph the deserted streets, abandoned buildings, empty classrooms, lonely Ferris Wheel, rusting vehicles and other discarded remnants of everyday life. It’s a scene right out of a post-apocalyptic movie.
The town of Pripyat was built to house the workers and families of the Chernobyl plant. It is an example of intermodal Soviet modernist architecture: 13,000 apartments in 160 prefabricated apartment blocks, 100 schools, a hospital and administrative buildings. The abandoned concrete site has a few pops of color — grasses and trees, graffiti, stained glass windows — that indicate human life was once present.
What You Need To Know
Pripyat was declared too radioactively dangerous for human habitation for at least 24,000 years. So why would you want to spend time there? According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the radioactive isotopes lingering in the atmosphere are at tolerable exposure levels for limited periods of time.
Global Rescue personnel recognize the trend of visiting Chernobyl, and the potential for danger, too. If you’re going to go, we recommend only traveling with a licensed guide who knows the location of radiation spots across the zone and visiting for limited periods of time (most tours are limited to a maximum of two hours).
It’s also important to reduce the risk of contamination by strictly complying with the rules, such as wearing long sleeves and full-length pants inside the zone. The State Agency for Managing the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has strict safety instructions for visitors.
Radiation aside, Elite Medical Group Medical Director Dr. Claudia Zegans noted there are a wider range of health risks — a recent measles outbreak and a high risk of polio — that should be taken into consideration and anyone visiting Ukraine should consult a health professional before travel.
Chernobyl doesn’t sound like an idyllic location for a getaway. But the location is part of a trend called “set jetting” — the need to see the place of your favorite book, television show or movie. And Chernobyl is the perfect backdrop for selfies, (unauthorized) clothing designer photo shoots and attention-garnering social media posts.
If you are worried about the threat of shelling and skirmishes, BBC News reported in October 2019 that Ukrainian government troops and Russian-backed separatists have begun withdrawing from a key front-line area in eastern Ukraine. The Council on Foreign Relations offers a Global Conflict Tracker if travelers want updates on the conflict in Ukraine or any other country.
Levels of violent crime in Ukraine are low. The most common crimes against foreigners are petty theft, robbery and credit card or ATM fraud.
Many travel to Rio de Janeiro, South America’s most iconic city, for a vacation. But the new travel trend is choosing second cities — lesser known destinations — as a way to reduce over tourism. If Brazil is a location you’d like to explore, we suggest trying Paraty, a peaceful coastal town four hours from Rio.
Paraty is a colonial town on the southern coast, overlooking the stunning bay of Ilha Grande. It was named a National Historical Site in 1966 and a new World Heritage Site — for both culture and biodiversity — in 2019.
This means visitors looking for what Booking.com calls an “all amusive” escape will find everything they need in Paraty. The town offers a variety of activities and sights: Jeep tours of the rainforest at Serra da Bocaina National Park, 18th century colonial architecture, artisanal shops with art and jewelry, snorkeling the waters on one of the 300 beaches, culinary delights at restaurants and street-side vendors, or boat tours to watch dolphins and turtles. You can pack everything you want into one trip.
In 2019, Brazil made it easier for visitors to travel to the largest country in South America by lifting visa restrictions for American and Canadian tourists and relaxing visa requirements for China, Quatar and Saudi Arabian visitors. According to Ker & Downey, a flight from Miami to Brazil is actually shorter than a flight from Miami to Los Angeles.
What You'll See
Step on to the cobblestone streets of the Historic Center of Paraty and you’ll be stepping back in time. There’s no traffic here — as cars are not allowed on the streets — but there could be a horse-drawn cart. This part of the city dates back to the 1820s and you’ll see colonial buildings constructed of white plaster adorned with colorfully painted trim and wrought-iron balconies.
There’s more history to be found on the Mini Estrada Real, a gold trail developed by the Portuguese when pirates got too pesky in Rio. Paraty quickly became the second biggest port in Brazil but slipped into disuse when the gold ran out. Today the towns and villages along the Real look much like they did 200 years ago.
With temperatures that rarely dip below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the climate varies from hot and dry on the beaches to humid and sticky in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon jungle.
If it is relaxation you are looking for, Brazil has plenty of white, sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean for sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling. The backdrop: The Atlantic Forest. Even older than the Amazon, it boasts a large number of species found nowhere else on earth.
What You Need To Know
Mosquitoes thrive in regions with warm temperatures, humid conditions and high rainfall — making Brazil the perfect place for mosquito-based outbreaks, such as Chikungunya, dengue and Zika. In 2018, the CDC suggested a yellow fever vaccination due to an upsurge in activity. Zegans, while researching Paraty, found that the town is located in a malaria outbreak pocket.
Medical Facilities and Services
Brazil offers some of the most advanced medical care found anywhere in the world, according to a study by United Healthcare. But in smaller cities, like Paraty, medical care may be limited. Santa Casa de Paraty, the only hospital in the city, is recommended for emergency and stabilization only.
Tourists want to see the favelas (Portuguese for “shanty town”) in Brazil, but it is not recommended, even if on a tour, because the situation in these informal housing developments can change quickly.
Most Brazilian urban centers have a high violent crime rate. Brazil, overall, has a high homicide rate at 24.7 per 100,000 people in 2018. Paraty has also seen a surge in crime rates in recent years. According to the Public Security Institute, 31 people were killed in 2017 as the result of violent crime in Paraty.
“The most dangerous thing you can do overseas is get in a car,” said Harding Bush, associate manager of operations at Global Rescue. “That includes Brazil.”
Car crashes are the number one cause of death among travelers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and there is a high motor vehicle accident rate in Brazil. Pedestrians and bicyclists should be vigilant on the roads.
Banff, Alberta, Canada
It’s time for a family vacation. How do you find a destination to please the grandparents, the parents and the grandchildren? Try Banff in Alberta, Canada.
Banff spans 2,564-square-miles with three ski areas, a national park (the first national park in Canada and the third in the world) and a handful of small towns. Travel + Leisure highlighted Banff in 2019 and U.S. News & World Report named it one of the world’s 30 best places to visit in 2019-20.
Canada offers plenty of snow for the family that likes to spend time on the slopes. Winter activities abound from ice skating and snowshoeing to dog sledding. Even if you’re not a skier, there are a variety of activities for a family on a multigenerational travel experience.
The Town of Banff offers summer activities (camping, canoeing, cycling, fly fishing, hiking) as well as winter activities (curling, snowmobile tours, tubing, horse-drawn sleigh rides). Indoor types can try Canadian five-pin bowling, enjoy an indoor waterpark, visit one of three museums, or check out an escape room.
Gramping — traveling with the grandkids — and need time apart? Boomers can relax in the steaming hot waters of Banff Hot Springs, while Generation Z heli-skis and posts their awesome photos on Instagram. Everyone can meet later for cheese fondue in front of a roaring fireplace.
What You'll See
Mountains. Glorious, jagged, snow-topped peaks from all angles. As you drive into Banff, you’ll be treated to a panorama, including Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain, Mount Norquay and Cascade Mountain. Banff is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List for its striking mountain landscape.
Banff National Park offers a gondola ride up the 7,500-foot summit of Sulphur Mountain if you’d like to get up close and personal with the mountain views. You’ll be able to see miles of the Canadian Rockies.
Tucked between the soaring mountains are lakes and canyons. Lake Louise, a hamlet with turquoise lakes, is a considered to be a true gem in Canada. On its shores you’ll find the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, originally built in 1890 as a railway hotel for wealthy visitors. With a picturesque lakeside setting and views of the Victoria Glacier, it is one of the most frequently photographed hotels in the world.
Johnston Canyon, carved out of limestone bedrock, offers another view of Banff’s natural beauty. Families and individuals of all fitness levels and ages can take an easy hike along the trails and catwalks. Waterfalls with crystal clear water and unique rock formations make it a top photo opportunity.
Among all the wilderness, chances are you’ll see some wildlife: bears, mountain goats, deer, elk, Bighorn sheep, coyotes, wolves and birds abound. Banff National Park is home to 53 species of mammals.
What You Need To Know
Travelers should be aware that Banff has an elevation of 4,537 feet and a drive between Banff and Jasper can reach up to 8,000 feet. Those who are not used to mountain climates may find themselves experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness, the most common being dizziness, headache, nausea and mild fatigue.
Even if you are in top physical shape, Zegans suggests giving your body time to adjust.
“Don’t overexert yourself physically on the first day. Instead of a long hike, plan on a leisurely walk,” she said. Anyone with concerns about traveling at high elevations should contact their personal physician for a travel health consultation before their trip.
Some destinations have a high rate of car accidents. In Banff, it is more likely to be a train incident. Train trips are popular with Canadian visitors. In fact, most Canadians do not use the train for commuting, so the country’s two main rail providers are driven by tourism. Riding the rails is a great way to see the sights — mountains, rivers and canyons — and leave a smaller carbon footprint on the environment.
Canada is a popular destination not only for the spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife and outdoor sports options — and because of the low homicide rate. Banff’s violent crimes have decreased 37% in the last five years, with only 146 violent crimes committed in 2017.
Do you need a passport to travel to Canada? If you are a United States citizen, a U.S. passport book is required for international travel. A U.S. passport card can be used to enter the U.S. at land border crossings and seaports from Canada.
British citizens don’t need a visa for short visits to the Great White North, but they do need an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA).
Mali Lošinj, Croatia
What’s the point of a vacation if you come home more tired and stressed than before you left? An increasing number of travelers are looking to focus on personal wellness as part of their travel experiences. According to the Global Wellness Institute, wellness tourism will reach $919 billion by 2022.
The wellness tourism trend includes healthy eating, self-improvement, digital detoxes, stress reduction, weight loss retreats, nature experiences, spa stays and yoga retreats. What better place to visit than Mali Lošinj, a town on the island of Lošinj in Western Croatia.
In 1892, the Ministry of Health of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy proclaimed Lošinj a climatic health resort. Aristocracy flocked to the island, which was becoming known “for treating diseases of the respiratory tract and allergies.”
The Official Mali Lošinj Tourist Board website states, “high quality seas and supreme air quality with over 200 days of sunshine and 1,018 plant species, of which 939 belong to indigenous flora, make Lošinj the ideal aromatherapy center and a modern destination of vitality, health tourism and environmental awareness.”
Residents are committed to making the island a wellness tourist destination. There are 174 miles of footpaths and cycling trails as well as 69 miles of coastline for water sports. In 2019, Mali Lošinj was named to the Sustainable Destinations Top 100 after years of building its image as “the island of vitality.”
Many of the local hotels offer weekend and week-long wellness programs. Perhaps all visitors need to do is breathe in the open-air aromatherapy scented by pine forests, essential oils from the abundance of medicinal herbs and sea salt. It has been known to treat respiratory distress.
What You'll See
Mali Lošinj is the largest settlement on the Croatian islands. It was almost uninhabited until the middle of the 13th century and later developed into the second most important port in the Adriatic by the 19th century. Lošinj residents were known as the best seaman in the Mediterranean.
When sailboats turned into steamships, Mali Lošinj became a destination for eco-tourism. Tourism started on the island in 1885 and the first hotel was built in 1887. With clear skies and great visibility, astronomers across Europe and America visited the island and its new astronomical observatory built in 1893.
Croatia boasts more than a thousand islands, eight national parks, 11 nature parks and 10 World Heritage sites. Mali Lošinj visitors have a number of ecotourism options available on the island, including family owned hotels, farmers markets and local gastronomic cuisine.
Local fish and seafood are sourced from pure waters, organic produce is grown on eco-estates, hotels grow herbs for use in their kitchen, olive oil is made locally — and all these fresh ingredients make their way to tourists’ plates.
This part of Croatia isn’t saturated with tourists, like Dubrovnik, a Game of Thrones and Star Wars filming site. Mali Lošinj is a fishing village and most of the architecture remains unchanged since its time as a European shipping power.
The wealthy sea captains and Austrian visitors built opulent Venetian villas that are still on the island today. As you arrive into port, you’ll see old wooden vessels and extravagant yachts, colorful old town buildings, cafes and cobblestone pathways. You might also see a colony of 180 bottlenose dolphins, part of the Cres-Lošinj zoological reserve.
Don’t wear a watch when you visit. This visit is a time for peacefulness and relaxed living. Fjaka is the Croatians’ way of meditating to relax the body and the mind. It’s exactly what you should do on this trip — be in the moment. It’s one of the reasons why this location was chosen by one of our Global Rescue operations specialists as a top travel choice for 2020.
What You Need To Know
At least eight weeks before your trip, plan a travel health consult to review your vaccinations and medications. If you plan on hiking, camping or participating in recreational activities in forested areas, travelers should consider a tick-borne encephalitis vaccine, available in countries where the viral infection is prevalent.
Rabies can be found in dogs, bats and other mammals in Croatia, so avoid stray animals. Global Rescue has a helpful blog for travelers about avoiding stray animals.
The coasts are rocky, not sandy, so water shoes are a necessity when exploring the Mali Lošinj beaches. A first aid kit, for cuts and scrapes, should make its way into your beach bag as well.
Mali Lošinj does have its own airport, but most visitors travel to the island by ferry or private yacht. In the high season, the Mali Losinj Ferries runs twice per week. In the low season it does not run.
The island is connected to the town of Cres by a bridge and there are buses that arrive in Lošinj daily. The journey time for a ferry (three hours) versus a bus (six hours) is double, which should be factored into any emergency situation.
If you plan on renting a car, Bush suggests making sure the vehicle “has all the safety equipment, a first aid kit, a spare tire and the driver knows all the local driving rules.”
Although Croatia is part of the European Union, the country does not accept euros. Be sure to have Kuna.
Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation, travel risk and crisis management services. With 24/7/365 travel assistance, no matter where you go in 2020, Global Rescue is there.
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