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The growing allure of adventure travel

The newest vacations take their cue not only from the fitness movement – hiking and biking in distant locales, for instance – but from social media, too.

Vacationers today are increasingly interested in experiential travel that goes well beyond traditional sightseeing, according to the World Tourism Organization, a United Nations agency that promotes responsible, sustainable travel. What’s included here are sports and fitness activities in off-the-beaten-track forays, often in distant locations. All in all, what we’re talking about here is adventure travel, which is part and parcel of the current consumer shift away from material goods towards immersive experiences. 

Recent research by California sports retailer Decathlon backs growing evidence that the lazy beach vacation – with its megadoses of unhealthy UV exposure – is on the decline, with only 14% of those surveyed having planned a do-nothing vacation in 2018. Instead, one in three is arranging for a vacation that includes exercising twice or more per week. 

The desire to be fit and to lead an active lifestyle, with an accompanying sense of well-being, is a major driving force behind that desire to dig out those sneakers or rent a mountain bike while you’re on vacation. This is coupled with a shift in attitude – these days, who doesn’t want to be fit? 
“Sports travel has become much more mainstream and fashionable,” says Simon James, founder of Run the Wild, a dedicated trail running adventure vacation provider based in London.
“This is particularly true of running. Viewed as nerdy in recent years, it’s now exploding in popularity,” James says. “Now we are seeing more people move towards trail running, away from road running. After recognizing the health benefits and the incredible adventures on offer,” he added. “We are also seeing an increasing numbers taking up running as a new activity.”

Photo: Jonas Wurster/UnsplashAllison Macsas, co-founder of the Austin, Texas-based Rogue Expeditions, has also observed notable changes in adventure travel. For one thing, industry operators and hoteliers are now waking up to the rising demand for active vacations. And even more notaby, “these vacations aren’t just for the adventurous solo traveler anymore,” she says. She’s also witnessing “more hotels all over the world recognizing the specific needs of these travelers – including healthy meals, access to yoga venues, access to local running route guides and bike storage.” Macsas’ own career includes 2012, 2016 and 2020 Olympic Marathon trials. 

Cycling-focused vacations, to cite one example, are more popular and inclusive than ever before, no doubt due in part to the emergence of electric bikes. But experts say that’s not the only reason for the uptick in two-wheel travel.

According to Rob Penn, founder of Bikecations, a leading independent cycling travel business based in London, “Our growing environmental and health concerns, the pace of modern life, longer working hours and the need to get off-grid are all forces driving the demand for active travel.

“There has been a move towards exploration, personal challenges and having fun on your bike with others,” Penn continues. “In recent years, the industry has also become much more inclusive – with more women, as well as families, participating.”

Another new direction in adventure travel concerns vacation length. The most recent Global Trends Report, by London-based World Travel Market and Euromonitor International, claims that while many busy Europeans do not have time for traditional adventuring, in line with their search for healthier lifestyles, they’re turning to micro-adventures for short, high-energy breaks to get away from it all, either as stand-alone experiences or tagged onto a vacation. 

Travel experiences have been shown to exert a positive impact on our health, state of mind and overall well-being. But can pursuits such as mountain biking, running and hiking enhance these benefits even further? 

David Brudö, CEO and co-founder of mental well-being and self-development platform Remente believes they do. “When the mind and body work together to keep you healthy, you will find that your energy levels are up, you will feel more positive and your mind will work at a much faster pace.” 

As this Gothenburg, Sweden productivity specialist explains it, “getting out of the everyday routine helps us see things clearly – and an active holiday enhances that feeling even more, as we spend it moving around, surrounded by nature, and breathing fresh air.”  

Brudö suggests that given the extra­ordinary impact on mental health, concentration and even restorative sleep, an active vacation should be a priority. “Physical movement, such as running and mountain biking can reduce your overall stress levels and leave you feeling energetic, alert and happy,” he says.
“Matched with a holiday, being active offers you a chance to move to a different environment which can provide you with a clear and open mind much faster, so that you can come back feeling rejuvenated and fresh.” 

Photo: Shutterstock

Of course with constant demands on our time, we often sacrifice sleep to fit hectic schedules into our days. However, Brudö believes an active vacation can have a vital impact on our slumber, too. 
“Running and mountain biking help to normalize your sleep cycle and will also regulate your body temperature, which will leave you ready to snooze.”

Meanwhile, social media, Instagram especially, which reportedly reached one billion active users this past summer, is also having a profound impact on how we travel, creating what many consider a wave of social-media-fueled tourism.

The appetite for photographic images is influencing our travel decisions and desire for active adventures – with proof positive in the numbers. According to National Geographic Society findings, visitors to Trolltunga, one of Norway’s most spectacular scenic cliffs, increased from 500 to 40,000 between 2009 and 2014.

Hikers tackle the awe-inspiring cliffs that hover some 700m above Lake Ringedalsvatnet in search of an Instagram-­worthy shot – often waiting hours and hours for the perfect photo op.  

Paulo Palha, founder and CEO of Travideo and The Most Perfect View – two of the most successful visually-­focused travel platforms – believes the rise in digital inspiration is making travelers more aware of the possibilities lurking in overseas adventures. That in turn is influencing the numbers of people choosing to book active vacations.
“We have access to so many great online resources which help travelers discover new destinations and activities they may not have known even existed, and I think this better knowledge of what’s out there is encouraging people to get adventurous,” Palha explains.

In total, 8% of Australians, naming one demographic that’s been surveyed, say the chance to boast about their adventure on social media platforms would be their number one motivation for taking an active vacation – this according to the 2018 Intrepid Adventure Travel Index, produced by the Australia-based Intrepid Group.  

This trend is also apparent to Rogue Expeditions’ Allison Macsas, who says active travelers’ motivation should be seeking “experiences that they’ll remember forever. Travelers today are more interested in doing things rather than just seeing things, and that, I believe, goes hand in hand with the prevalence of social media. 
“No longer do people want a shot of the Grand Canyon from a drive-up viewpoint,” she continues. They want pictorial proof “of themselves running down into it! No matter the initial motivation – it should be about much more than a photo.”

The decision to step outside your travel comfort zone generates a unique sense of satisfaction; you come away from an adventure of deep exploration having learned something about your capabilities – not to mention the health benefits. And that’s why an active vacation will be your smartest travel move yet. 

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