The way we travel is constantly changing and 2015 is likely to be no exception. Here, Naomi Tolley looks at the best positive travel trips to take this year, as well as revealing the latest trends and must-do ethical destinations
This is the year of the social traveller and the eco-minded wanderer.
People are taking the power of travel into their own hands: they know what they want, how they want to travel, and desire to do more than simply tick a box on their bucket list.
Technological advances are driving this independence forward, with increasing amounts of apps allowing travellers to search for experiences, book accommodation, network with locals and manage their entire trips from their mobile phones. According to the World Travel Market Global Trends Report, 35 percent of online travel bookings will be made with mobile devices by 2018.
This year we can also expect the rise of wearable devices like Google Glass and Smartwatches, which can also act as room keys.
But, despite these advances, there is still a desire to get back to basics, to get in touch with the ‘real’ and the local. Our round-up reflects exactly that.
THE FAROE ISLANDS have been getting a lot of attention recently. An almost forgotten, mysterious land of green-grass moorlands and black basalt mountains, this kingdom of Denmark is just a short, direct flight from the UK (atlantic.fo). Lost in the remote wilds of the North Atlantic, these 18 islands provide a unique, off-radar travel experience, and on 20 March this year visitors can also witness a full solar eclipse island-wide. Stay in a sod-roofed guesthouse in the tiny village of Gjógv, sup Faroese fare in Tórshavn, and island hop by bus and ferry. Whether you’re a fell walker with a hankering for Viking history or a seasoned traveller keen to be humbled by nature and friendliness, the Faroes are our top recommendation this year.
SAMOA has been repeatedly ranked as one of the best countries to visit in 2015. Made up of ten islands, of which Upolu is the most populated, it is a destination still rich in cultural and environmental heritage, from its rainforest canopies to the fringes of its enveloping coral reef. This slow-paced island nation in the midst of the Pacific Ocean remains remarkably untouched by modern-day development and tourism. Stay off the beaten track in the tropical hills of Tapatapao at Dave Parker Eco Lodge, which has received a collection of ‘excellent’ ratings on various social media sites (daveparkerecolodge.ws). There are also a number of hostels and retreats on the islands, providing a good value base to explore the unique terrain and white sand beaches.
SARK is one of Europe’s final travel frontiers: there are no street lights or ATMs here: the roads are unpaved and cars are banned. Yet this old fashioned, tiny chunk of the Channel Islands lies just a short skip and a hop from London Gatwick, flying via Guernsey and a ferry to Sark (sarkshippingcompany.com). At just three miles long and 1.5 miles wide, people here travel by foot, bike or horse-drawn cart to the island’s small towns and beaches. This is a laid-back holiday affair, reminiscent of childhood summers spent close to home. It is also the first island to be awarded International Dark Sky Association status.
Visit visitguernsey.com/ sark.co.uk
CUBA has long been locked in a time warp. Rich in culture, poor in economy, blanketed in a decay which belies its architectural beauty, it is an alluring paradox. It seems you either love it or you hate it. This year, however, it enters a time of transition as the United States take steps to open diplomatic relations with the island and lift restrictions for general tourism. It means getting around is going to be easier, with more liberalised travel, the ban on US credit cards lifted, and improved internet connections. In April, Ethical Traveler is hosting a 10-day trip, led by local journalist and Ethical Traveler executive director, Jeff Greenwald. The Interactive Art Delegation will have a heavy focus on music and the arts with visits to galleries and community projects.
BURMA has gone through significant change in recent years but its decades of isolation have preserved its unique way of life. Areas that were previously off-limits to tourists are now opening up at a rate slow enough to make way for unique travel experiences. You’ll still find people in simple clothes driving a horse and cart and thousands of traditional tea houses. It is a land of simple pleasures and some of the world’s oldest virgin rain forests. EcoBurma (ecoburma.com) is a non-profit project, which seeks to promote responsible travel to Burma. Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.com) also runs a range of trips to Burma, from cycling the Irrawaddy River Plain to family holidays for teenagers.
Lifehouse Spa and Hotel, Thorpe-le-soken, UK (01255 860050/ lifehouse.co.uk)
Designed for anyone recovering from stress, illness, cancer treatment or bereavement, this award-winning retreat, which specialises in mindfulness and wellbeing, offers Recovery Breaks tailored to individuals’ needs. Guests receive a pre-arrival consultation with a resident naturopath to prepare them for their stay. Expect treatments, gentle yoga and meditation classes, nutritional talks, rejuvenating juices and smoothies. Lifehouse was recently voted the Best Wellness Destination in the UK at the Spafinder Wellness 365 Wellness Travel Awards, which honour wellbeing destinations around the world dedicated to offering experiences and environments that leave visitors feeling healthier.
Xasmin Travels (07834 327611/ xasmintravels.com)
At Xasmin, they recognise the traveller who wants to feel positively ‘changed’ by a journey, with a Transformative Travel section dedicated to doing just that. Here, they actively encourage time to connect and engage with locals, regardless of language barriers: to gain a personal insight into local life, including traditions and cultural activities and to reflect. “Our bespoke experiences are different: something unfamiliar, something challenging, something that you will remember for the rest of your life,” they say. From diving in at the deep end of Nepali cuisine and culture in the Himalayas to ‘sky riding’ at 600-feet in Mussoorie, India, Xasmin is for every forward-thinking traveller who has more than a box to tick in 2015.
Silent Retreats, Devon, UK (01626 333613/ gaiahouse.co.uk) and Bangalore, India (0203 3978891/ healthandfitnesstravel.com)
The benefits of silent meditation and retreat can often provide invaluable time to heal, reflect and create more balance in our lives. At Gaia House in Devon you can forget the luxury, it is “one of the most affordable, simple retreats,” says a former guest, and one which has provided “some of the most life-transforming experiences”. Expect beautiful grounds, lots of space, clean, simple white-washed accommodation, vegetarian meals and Vipassana, or ‘insight’, meditation. At Shreyas Silent Retreat on the edge of Bangalore it is a more sumptuous story, but with roots still firmly in rejuvenation and self-discovery. Expect private Pranayama sessions, candlelit meditation, yoga nidra and massages, as well as access to group classes.
Wild Women Expeditions, Worldwide ([email protected]/ wildwomenexpeditions.com)
The testimonials from those who have travelled with Wild Women Expeditions speak volumes. “One of the most amazing holidays I have ever had,” reads one. “You know those few, rare moments that you experience nothing but years of pure joy,” reads another. Then there are frequent mentions of positively ‘life-changing experiences’ too. This ethically-minded Newfoundland-based company leads women-specific tours around the globe, from riding horses along the Connemara Trail in Ireland to “Wild Yoga” in Hawaii. Their aim is to help women build their confidence in the wilderness, while nurturing a “profound care and respect for the environment”.
The Greener Surfer, Durban, South Africa ([email protected]/ thegreenersurfer.com)
Africa has been billed as becoming the surfing capital of the world this year as its countries begin to benefit from intra-regional and domestic travel. Youngsters from a South African gang-ridden township have also recently been riding waves in a unique project aimed at reducing gun crime by getting youngsters to swap guns for surfboards. The Greener Surfer launched a new Transkei Eco Surf Adventure in 2014, with promises to bring it back again this year. It is an adventure to ‘surf the wild side’, with hikes and surfs from Lwandile to Hole in the Wall over three days. Accommodation is in backpackers’ lodges and eco-lodges. They also supply eco-friendly surf boards made from agave or hemp, among others. “This is a nature lovers’ treat,” says founder, John McCarthy, “We will also interact with the (Xhosa) people who have made this place their home and see how they have found ways to be innovative in their approach towards living close to nature.”
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PEER-TO-PEER travel is a new approach to seeing the world and it seems to be revolutionising the way we do it. P2P, as it’s called by those in the know, is an ideal way to access affordable, non-commercial travel, as well as getting to stay in locals’ homes, sample home-cooked cuisine and even use locals’ cars. This is having a huge effect on local cuisine and is great news for roving foodies.
Visit bookalokal.com / eatwith.com
POSHTELS are rising in popularity as budget travellers increasingly opt for their comforts. This craze is the result of the YHA spending more than £10m in overhauling much of their accommodation, with en-suite bathrooms, bridal suites with roll-top baths, four-poster beds and on-site art galleries. YHA York now boasts a six-foot art installation charting the history of the Rowntree family and there is also a brand new hostel on the South Downs, offering a contemporary take on country life. Hoax is the new luxury hostel brand which launched in 2013 to rave reviews, and then there’s the Safestay Hostel in London’s Elephant & Castle.
Visit yha.org.uk / hoaxliverpool.com / safestay.co.uk
ICEBERG is the new kid on the global block when it comes to social travel networking, aiming to unite those on the move who are seeking to meet likeminded people, find ‘quality’ accommodation in hostels while gaining solid cultural experiences and tips from locals. It’s all achievable at the touch of mobile phone screen.