This was the decade when more of us traveled than ever before.
Low-cost airlines and Airbnb made it affordable; Instagram made it look good. We aspired to live like a local, whatever that means, even as locals seethed at the influx of tourists.
This was also the decade when we started to ask hard questions about travel: Is flying hurting the planet? Should we do less of it? Is Airbnb hurting communities? Will my bucket list create a burden? Should wild animals in captivity be part of tourist attractions?
Read on for the trends that revolutionized travel over the past 10 years — and promise to carry over into the next.
It became more popular to fly less.
As the world traveled more, concerns about the environmental effects of all those trips grew — and so did calls to cut back on flying. While air transport accounts for about 2 percent of man-made carbon emissions, according to an airline trade group, flying can make up an outsize amount of an individual’s own carbon footprint.
That has led some climate scientists and other academics to swear off flying altogether or significantly reduce their air travel in recent years. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg captured public attention when she crossed the Atlantic in a sailing yacht to plead for action at a United Nations climate summit. Even Coldplay, the band, announced that it would not tour for its latest album due to environmental concerns. Aviation-industry leaders have worried publicly about the future of their business due to the phenomenon that has become known as “flight-shaming.” A survey of 6,000 travelers in the United States, U.K., Germany and France by investment bank UBS suggested there could be a reason: 21 percent had cut back on flying because of worries about the climate. But perhaps most surprising was a campaign by an actual airline, KLM, which urged its customers to fly responsibly by, in some cases, not flying at all. “Do you always have to meet face-to-face?” the airline asked in an ad. “Could you take the train instead?”
In the next decade, it’s a question that travelers are likely to keep asking.
Airline fees sparked battles over the overhead bin.
What started with a single checked-bag fee, on American Airlines in 2008, has escalated into a free-for-all for overhead-bin space on planes — not to mention a continued cash grab. “They created a monster,” says Henry Harteveldt, a travel-industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.
Don’t feel like paying $30 or more to check your small bag? Fine, carry it on. Want to make sure there will be space for it in the bin? There are all kinds of fees for that. Carriers have placed a premium on boarding order, selling early access to your seat with the promise, or at least the suggestion, of better luck finding a home for that carry-on. Delta even introduced an annual subscription for $59 that includes eight drink vouchers but, more important, the chance to “board sooner and find the perfect overhead bin space.” (No guarantees, of course.) Because, in an era of heated competition from ultra-low-cost rivals like Spirit and Frontier, they can’t get away with just adding fees, airlines have started offering stripped-down fares called “basic economy.” Those cheaper flights don’t let passengers on the plane until the very end of the boarding process — which means, of course, surrendering that bin space to everyone willing to pay more.
Emotional-support animals became a blessing and a curse.
Once upon a time, support animals looked like a certain kind of dog with a certain kind of harness. The 2010s ushered in the age of the emotional-support animal, which not only includes dogs, but also horses, pigs and ferrets, among other creatures. According to Google Trends, online searches for emotional-support animals was next to nothing before 2009. But in 2013, the curiosity took off.
With that rise in popularity came a rise in pet-related conflict, as more of the flying public started to abuse the service originally intended to support travelers with emotional disabilities. Unlike service animals or animal-assisted therapy creatures, emotional-support animals (which is a technical term) are there for comfort exclusively and require no training at all, giving travelers an easy opportunity to take advantage of the system. John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, has heard of travelers going online and finding professionals willing to write up certifications for about $75. Airlines say fraudulent ESAs cause issues on planes, and now states are enacting laws to tackle the issue.
Travelers will probably be asked to show more proof of authenticity in the next decade if they want to bring their emotional-support [insert just about any animal of your choosing, really] onboard.
Overtourism became a scourge.
By 2018, the number of international-visitor arrivals to new countries reached a record high: an estimated 1.4 billion. Unfortunately, some days, it seemed like every one of those tourists was standing in line at the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa.
For destinations all over the world — from world-famous cities to once-unknown poppy fields — a surge of visitors became too much of a good thing. Many travelers behaved terribly: trampling wildflowers in California, driving off the road in Iceland, becoming ill in Amsterdam’s picturesque flower boxes. Locals in Venice, Barcelona and other Spanish cities took their gripes public, protesting the negative effects of cruise ships or other forms of tourism. Cities enacted new taxes or laws to address the issue, which is why tourists can now get fined for sitting on the famed Spanish Steps in Rome. Many destinations started campaigns urging visitors to come at less-popular times of year, or visit more than just the obvious attractions. And some have started asking visitors to pledge that they will be on their best behavior.
Will fewer people visit the world’s hot spots in the 2020s? Probably not. But will tourists, cities and locals work out a better balance? It could happen.
Public shaming became a tool to vent complaints.
If something bothered you during your travels before the 2010s, your options for seeking redemption, compensation or revenge were limited. You could call your airline to complain about a canceled flight or tell your friends about unfortunate things you saw on your cruise. In the past decade, though, social media enabled us to publicly shame everyone for everything. With a camera and a public platform lying in wait in your smartphone at all times, there’s never been a more effective way to air your grievances. Travelers can now hold airlines accountable for their bad behavior, demand action from cruise lines when trip schedules go haywire and embarrass fellow travelers for indiscretions.
Results from public shaming may vary. An airline might throw a few thousand miles your way in response to your angry tweet. A viral Facebook post about a travel tragedy could lead to substantial action. On the other end of the spectrum, a passenger who used their feet to control the in-flight entertainment system may never change if they didn’t see the post that made their behavior infamous. Whether public shaming is an ethical way to go about enacting change is another story. For now, shaming culture shows no sign of slowing down in the world of travel.
Airbnb ushered in a new way to stay.
Airbnb was founded before this decade, but the peer-to-peer lodging-rental service became a global powerhouse in the 2010s. In its early days, Airbnb grew with little regulation, “blurring the line between the housing market and the hotel industry.” It provided home- (and apartment-, and Airstream, and sheep-wagon) owners a way to earn some extra money while giving travelers an alternative to hostels and hotels. It was a particularly strong sell for people usually in the market for cheaper accommodations. The tech giant has since exploded, now hosting 7 million listings. The growth has been a blessing and a curse. It’s never been easier for travelers to find a place to stay on their trip, but the company has had trouble with trust and verifying listings, leading to fraud and tragedy.
Influencers set the stage for a new travel style.
Social-media influencers are such a new concept that the word “influencer” still shows up as a typo on most digital word processors (it was added into Merriam-Webster’s dictionary in 2019). The rise of the travel influencer was responsible for creating a new type of job, making and breaking destinations, establishing new widespread styles for photos, irritating the hospitality industry and making headlines for bad behavior. These folks gave the world a glimpse into theirs, which was often heavily Photoshopped or extremely luxurious, and sometimes ethically fraught. In a decade long past Woodstock, influencers transformed festivals into aspirational travel opportunities. Burning Man and Coachella entered the mainstream. Fyre exited the mainstream in flames.
Animal attractions got less attractive.
Captive animals just aren’t the draw they used to be. Riding an elephant, petting a tiger or swimming with a dolphin might have been bucket-list items at one point, but increasingly, travelers — and travel companies — are turning away from animal-based entertainment. In 2019, Canada even banned the practice of keeping whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity.
The backlash has roots in the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which was critical of SeaWorld’s treatments of its killer whales. The theme park company’s business flailed for years, even after leaders pledged to no longer breed captive orcas or use them in the type of shows that made the brand famous. In 2016, TripAdvisor said it would no longer book experiences that involved contact with captive wild animals or endangered species, including elephant rides or tiger interaction. This year, the company said it would stop selling tickets to attractions that breed, import or capture whales or dolphins. British Airways Holidays went further, even cutting off zoos. And other tour companies, including Richard Branson’s Virgin Holidays, have said they will no longer bring travelers to attractions that keep whales and dolphins confined. “Many no longer consider whale and dolphin shows and ‘swim withs’ to be appropriate,” Branson wrote in a blog post. “And most would rather enjoy these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.”
Cruising became all about the ship.
People had sailed on pretty big cruise ships before Oasis of the Seas debuted at the end of 2009. But never this big, with space for 5,400 passengers at two people to a room, or this packed with restaurants, bars, activities and entertainment. There was even an entire park with trees and plants and flowers and dirt. On a cruise ship!
“That ship was a groundbreaking ship, and I think it shifted the industry a lot, in that Oasis of the Seas made the ship a destination unto itself,” says Colleen McDaniel, executive editor of the news and review site Cruise Critic. “I think since its debut, that really has permeated at least the mainstream cruise market.” The company that built the vessel, Royal Caribbean International, has introduced three more like it, as well as four others that are smaller but also stuffed with activities like skydiving at sea, bumper cars and robot bartenders. And competitors, especially lines that appeal to mass markets, have taken a cue, adding a roller coaster, go-kart racetrack, Imax movie theater and towering water parks.
The cruise industry dealt with some major blows over the past 10 years — the fatal shipwreck of the Costa Concordia in Italy; Carnival’s infamous “poop cruise” in the Gulf of Mexico. But the damage didn’t stick: By 2019, a record 30 million people were expected to take a cruise, up from 19.1 million in 2010.
Photography and social media turned travel into social currency.
If you went on a trip and didn’t post about it, did it even happen? With better smartphone cameras, more accessible Internet, and the advent of Instagram came new social expectations. Before the 2010s, travelers visiting Paris would snap photos of the Eiffel Tower, of course. But the way we share those same photos is different.
Instead of waiting to get your film roll developed, then showing your friends and family a printed photo album from your vacation, you share your travel experiences in real time on social media. When the Notre Dame caught on fire, everyone felt the need to share their photo in front of it. The smartphone changed how we documented our adventures, too. While the self-portrait dates to 1433, the term “selfie” really took off in 2012. Travel selfies are now the norm at world wonders, which some argue detracts from the magic of many destinations.
Our thirst for “authenticity” inspired us to travel “like a local.”
In the 2010s, travelers sought out experiences that looked more “authentic” than the well-worn vacation cliches of the past. At the top of the decade, the movie adaptation of “Eat Pray Love” debuted with one Julia Roberts traveling solo around the world trying to find herself, post-divorce. She lived like a local in Italy, underwent silent meditation in India and had a spiritual journey in Bali.
The film was a signpost for the years to come. We stopped wanting to be tourists and instead wanted to be travelers, ditching obvious maps for more subtle smartphone navigation, and sought out off-the-beaten-path destinations, restaurants and experiences. We wanted the Bourdain experience, not the TripAdvisor one. The hunt for authenticity became an obsession, and then we reexamined what the word “authentic” even meant.
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Illustrations and type by Ross Murray for The Washington Post. Art direction and design by Christine Ashack.