Photograph by Julian Bound, Nat Geo Image Collection
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Travelers increasingly seek off-the-beaten-path destinations, like Bhutan.

Photograph by Julian Bound, Nat Geo Image Collection

Travel will change for the better this year—here’s how.

Experts share the top trends to watch in 2019.

Travel trends come and go, but when we polled more than a dozen leading industry professionals to ask them what travel will look like in 2019, all reports pointed to a single commonality: intention. “More than ever people want to travel with a greater sense of purpose,” says Deborah Calmeyer, CEO and founder of Africa travel specialist Roar Africa. “There’s a need to address a key social deficit—and keen sense of urgency—we’re feeling right now.”

Thus, the trends we’ve identified here all reflect how journeying in the new year will be informed by travelers seeking connection with something bigger than themselves. And make no mistake, 2019 won’t be about seeing places before they go away—it will be about visiting them now so they’re around for generations to come.

Sustainability will become more community-oriented

Sustainability has long been a travel focus, but vacationers are no longer content merely sustaining—they want to enrich the places they visit. “Volunteer travel continues to resonate,” says Cynthia Dunbar, general manager of REI Adventures, whose Volunteer Vacations program has surged in popularity by more than one hundred percent the last two years.

Epic Private Journeys’ Brad Horn sees conservation around community empowerment growing in Africa. “Our view at Epic,” Horn says, “is that there is no future for wildlife in Africa unless local people are deriving a direct benefit from it—in our case in the form of tourism. Communities need to have a reason to protect flora and fauna.”

But the most profound impact of community-oriented sustainability is what happens after the trip is over, notes Roar Africa’s Deborah Calmeyer. “We used to hope that visiting wild places would reconnect people with the value of nature,” she says. “Today visitors take away much more than that. They will also realize that in their homes, daily lives, and cities all around the world, they can make a difference for the planet as a whole.”

Politics continue to define travel borders

The news shapes where we travel. In Egypt, tourism dropped sharply after the 2010 season due to political strife and violence. “Much of this is now stabilized,” says Geographic Expeditions managing director Kate Doty. “Travelers who want to see Egypt before it is overrun again with tourists are going now, which is building back a solid base.” Doty adds the same thing is happening in Turkey, which saw tourism numbers decline after the 2016 terrorist attacks and the 2017 failed coup. United States citizens are also having an easier time with Turkish visas, which were restricted during part of 2017. [See how tourism is changing in Turkey.]

Zimbabwe has similarly piqued travelers’ interest in the wake of former president Robert Mugabe’s resignation in late 2017. Roar Africa’s Deborah Calmeyer notes that “while Victoria Falls has always been the corner of hope and a tourist destination during the political unrest, areas like Hwange National Park, Mana Pools National Park, and Lake Kariba are all prime safari locations that will undoubtedly see tourism activity due to the improving political climate.”

Overtourism draws new maps

“We’re hearing more and more from guests that some parts of the world are getting too crowded, like Venice, Santorini, and Rome,” says John Spence, president of tour operator Scott Dunn. Brad Horn, managing director of travel outfitter Epic Private Journeys, agrees. “We are seeing increasing interest in less traveled destinations like Ethiopia, Madagascar, Northern Kenya, Bhutan, and far-flung Indonesia,” he says. [Read why overtourism matters.]

Therefore, expect vacationers in 2019 to take travel congestion seriously, either skipping well-trod spots altogether or being more strategic about when they venture out. To escape Iceland’s crowds, for example, Spence recommends exploring similar regions like Norway, Sweden, and Slovenia. Roar Africa’s Deborah Calmeyer says an alternative to the Caribbean is the Indian Ocean Islands, particularly North Island in the Seychelles or Miavana in Madagascar. And Geographic Expeditions Kate Doty points to journeying off-season: the crowds are thinner and winter activities are available (think heli-skiing in New Zealand and Chile). “Cold is the new hot,” she says.

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Tourists forgo the bucket list for authentic experiences. Here, a woman enjoys the sunrise over the cliffs of Simien Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Ethiopia.

Travelers will embrace the explorer’s mindset

Gone are the days of flying and flopping. “There is a very, very strong trend of people wanting to explore destinations,” says Navin Sawhney, CEO of Ponant luxury cruise line. From remote locations in the Polynesian Triangle to the Polar regions, he’s seeing a marked increase in travelers wanting to chart their own course.

So strong is the exploration vibe that Conrad Combrink, vice president of strategic development for expeditions and experiences at Silversea cruises, says 2019 will see the company’s first-ever Northeast Passage trip. “The famous route will retrace the itineraries of some of history’s greatest explorers, enabling guests to become pioneers of modern expedition cruising,” he says.

Kate Doty also points to travelers’ desire to recreate explorers’ historic treks: In 2019, Geographic Expeditions will enlist famed mountaineer Peter Hillary to retrace his famous Himalayan Traverse for clients—but will do so, Doty says, “in a more comfortable manner.”

Space will be the final frontier once again

From the solar eclipse craze of 2017 to the media coverage of the most recent Mars landing to our collective fascination with companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, we are increasingly looking beyond our atmosphere to find future destinations. But while galactic space flight might be a stretch in 2019, that isn’t holding intrepid travelers back from looking to the stars for their next trip. [New Mars lander safely touches down. What happens now?]

To celebrate how far we’ve come, many will head to Houston this July for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the opening of the Apollo Mission Center, a National Historic Landmark that will feature programs and exhibitions throughout the month celebrating the monumental effort that took us to the moon.

Countless others will literally look to the stars with tours to excellent stargazing locations. Scott Dunn notes that bookings for “astro-experiences” have recently tripled. In 2019, expect star-seekers to venture everywhere from Portugal’s Dark Sky Alqueva Reserve to Chile for a total solar eclipse, set to take place on July 2. [Here are the world's best destinations for stargazing.]

Immersion will be a top priority

“Our clients are increasingly active and no longer are content with sedentary touring,” says Epic Private Journeys’ Brad Horn. “They want to be immersed in the destination and doing that by trekking, cycling, horse-riding, and experiencing authentic culture.”

Indeed, genuine immersion is here to stay. Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, says, “We anticipate that the increased demand for travelers seeking to interact with locals will continue to grow in 2019.” Gary Franklin, Belmond’s vice president of trains and cruises agrees. “We continually see our guests looking for an educational and fully immersive local experience when on board,” he says. He points to the company’s Irish train, the Belmond Grand Hibernian, which provides guests a glimpse into undiscovered Ireland through local food, pubs, and music.

Bucket lists will disappear

Bucket list destinations—like Egypt’s pyramids or India’s Taj Mahal—are now places that travelers go back to time and time again. “We see multiple repeat clients to Africa,” Roar Africa's Deborah Calmeyer says. “It often starts off with ‘this is a once-in-a lifetime-trip,’ and then within months—or sometimes even days of returning—we are booking the next one. It’s almost as if the distance no longer matters.”

Ponant’s Navin Sawhney agrees. His example is the company’s cruise around the Greek Islands, which centers around travelers learning about history, archeology, and the gods. “If you’ve been to Greece before, this is a way you can see it completely differently,” he says. “Even in Europe, there are many different ways in which you can rediscover places you’ve already been.”

Jessica Flint is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. Follow her adventures on Twitter.