COVID-19 has wrought industry-shaking changes and challenges that have transformed travel and consequently, the gear travelers need. After a year of mandates, restrictions and lockdowns, certain travel trends have emerged, with some bringing new terms to tourism’s lexicon: slow movement, vaxication and, perhaps the most graphic: revenge travel. Here are some of the top trends experts predict for 2021, and the gear travel goods manufacturers have innovated to go along with them.
No Place Like Home
This is the year Dorothy reminds travelers to look for their heart’s desire in their own backyard. Close-to-home or doorstep travel has come into its own, including everything from rediscovering travelers’ home states to exploring America’s national parks – now numbering 63 with West Virginia’s New River Gorge National Park and Preserve – to RVing across the country, a record-breaking pandemic pursuit.
The versatile High Road® Southwest Car Seat Organizer from Talus sorts and organizes driving essentials in the front seat or kid’s supplies in the back. MSRP: $20.99
“The RV industry is on track to break half a million RV shipments in 2021 for only the second time in our history,” said RV Industry Association President Craig Kirby.
“With COVID, consumers refocused on local and domestic travel,” noted Talus founder David McClees, developer of the High Road brand. “High Road car organizers, like the Southwest Car Seat Organizer, have long helped provide innovative storage for cross-town errands or cross-country road trips. Now consumers are using it for PPE gear, too.”
Even when travel restrictions relax, U.S. travelers are keen to stay close to home. KOALA, an online marketplace that connects travelers to timeshare owners, recently analyzed Google searches. The most in-demand destination? Puerto Rico. It’s got the allure of the Caribbean but is a U.S. territory with no passport required that can be reached by many in just a few hours.
Keep Your Distance
Multigenerational families and groups of friends or couples who are following similar COVID social distancing lifestyles – the so-called “bubble” – will find venues that have adapted to this concept.
At Wild Dunes Resort in Isle of Palms, SC, bubbles enjoy a home-away-from-home experience at one of 200-plus social distance-friendly vacation rental homes, villas and cottages arranged as (contactless) travel pods. Those not yet ready for in-restaurant dining can have multi-course feasts for up to 10 brought right to their door through the resort’s Dinner Delivered program.
HI USA, the largest hostel company in the U.S., has temporarily converted four of its California Bay-area hostels (HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse, HI Montara Lighthouse, HI Point Reyes and HI Marin Headlands) into vacation rentals. Representing the ultimate in social distancing and outdoor escapes in remote, pristine locations, they can be rented by individual building or full hostel buyout. Three are located in former lighthouses and all are on or near the Pacific Ocean and offer plentiful hiking, biking and outdoor lawn area for games or just relaxing and reading.
Further enhancing the appeal of bubble travel is KeySmart’s CleanLight Air Pro, a portable ionic UV air purifier that kills 99.99% of airborne germs and bacteria in a 160-square-foot area. Because it has an Air Quality Monitor with indicator lights, you’ll know when your air is clean or contaminated.
When travelers do venture outdoors, they can rely on Travelpro® Essentials’™ On-the-Go PPE Convenience Pack with zip pocket for keys, money or other necessities and worn over the shoulder, crossbody or as a waist bag. Another option is the Airpocket, a plucky carry-on that holds antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizers, spare masks and more.
It’s All About Sustainability
When the pandemic flipped the conversation about overtourism to undertourism nearly overnight, the topic that ultimately emerged in its wake was sustainable travel. As travelers and travel-related businesses grapple with rebuilding the industry in a more responsible and environmentally-friendly way, sustainability is on everyone’s mind.
But even before “sustainability” became a buzzword, Hidesign had been handcrafting bags using vegetable tanned leathers, solid brass fittings, cotton or leather linings and designs that stand the test of time. The zip-top Charles Cabin Sized Leather Duffle is no exception, embodying the spirit of the sustainable traveler with its full grain vegetable tanned classic leather and signature 100% cotton green striped lining.
“Before COVID-19, sustainability wasn’t just an issue facing our company, it was the issue,” said Chris Skilling, vice president of travel at VBT Bicycling Vacations and Country Walkers, which focuses on active adventures that immerse travelers into the heart of a destination. “Our company is all about making connections with the local communities, and that only works if the things that matter to them – like overtourism, protecting local economies and rehabilitating natural resources – matter to us.”
The company’s guided and self-guided biking and walking tours allow travelers to take a deep dive into local life – from staying in family-owned boutique accommodations to learning how to make pasta with an Italian grandmother – without being bogged down by luggage. In fact, a lightweight, water-repellent and anti-microbial bag like J World’s Tanka Duke Laptop Backpack, with its slim silhouette equipped with multiple utility pockets and organizers and ergonomic design, is perfect for stowing gear for each day’s adventure.
There’s a Hole in the Bucket
The pandemic has given travelers a chance to reflect, reassess and reprioritize what is most important – and it’s not adding their footprint to overtourism. Bucket list adventures are being reframed as slow travel experiences – mindful, tailor-made experiences to a single location that allow for a more meaningful engagement in and understanding of the culture, history and people of a place.
“There are positives from this pandemic and some of the principal ones are a growing sensitivity towards and compassion for others, and a desire for connection after spending so long in isolation,” said Christopher Hill, owner of Hands Up Holidays and Impact Destinations. “Travel is a vehicle for this when it is done right, and slow travel aligns with our ethos of responsible, sustainable, immersive, generous travel so it is something we embrace wholeheartedly.”
Both are customized, luxury travel experiences, with the former providing hands-on service opportunities around the world and the latter offering transformational encounters that are accessed through philanthropic donations. Two bags ideally suited for such immersive, epic trips are Matador’s SEG30, a segmented backpack that brings maximum organization in a minimalist design, and McKlein’s 21” Wellington, a 2-tone dual-compartment laptop and tablet carry-all in pebble grain calfskin leather from the company’s U Series.
Revenge Travel. Yeah: Take That 2020!
Ah, the sweet taste of revenge . . . After a year of being locked down, analysts predict that travel will come roaring back, with people hitting the road with a vengeance.
“There is an increased demand for higher-end splurges,” said Hope S. Philbrick, owner/editor of Getaways for Grownups and editor of Foodie Travel USA as well as a freelance writer. “As an example, rather than stay at their favorite brand hotel, people may book a stay at a 5-star Historic Hotel of America or another special place or high-end option, seeing it as a ‘reward’ after an unplanned travel hiatus and a way to treat themselves after staying home so long.”
According to Philbrick, the pandemic has also unleashed a desire to book that once-in-a-lifetime trip many have only ever dreamed about, such as hiking Kilimanjaro, birdwatching in Costa Rica, skiing in Norway, orienteering in Australia or other off-grid destinations where Outdoor Retailer Innovation’s Product of the Year, the ZOLEO Satellite Communicator, would come in handy for reliable connection even beyond cell coverage.
Closer to home that dream trip may take the shape of a voyage down the Mississippi River with companies like Viking River Cruises. In fact, many of the Viking Mississippi sailings sold out almost immediately after details were first announced last spring – and the first sailing doesn’t even depart until August of 2022.
Revenge travelers will want travel gear as deliciously wicked-cool as their adventures, like the heroic ChargeCard™ by AquaVault, an ultra-thin credit card-sized charger for phones and smart devices that fits in a wallet, or Talus’ Smooth Trip® Ultralight Foldable Day Pack that weighs less than three ounces when packed into its integrated drawstring carry pouch.
These Travel Goods Align with the Latest Travel Trends
The COVID vaccine has given rise to a new term and trend: vaxication. Coined by Travel marketing firm MMGY Global, the desire to “celebrate having been vaccinated will lead to a trend of ‘vaxications’” once travel restrictions are lifted.
“Traveler confidence is growing stronger, and that’s good news for the travel industry,” said Global Rescue CEO Dan Richards, referring to an international survey of more than 2,100 of Global Rescue’s current and former members.
“Travelers will feel safe enough to plan trips and vacations when they are vaccinated, when borders are open and managed in a predictable way, and when they know they’ll be able to get home if the worst happens,” Richards said.
And they’ll need travel goods and gear for those trips and vacations, whether they take the shape of close-to-home or socially distanced travels, sustainable getaways or even revenge trips planned as an antidote to protracted lockdowns. Here are some products savvy travel goods manufacturers are bringing to the table – and the suitcase.
Whether working or playing at the beach or pool, golf course or lake, travelers need a place to safely stash their valuables. Enter FlexSafe by AquaVault, a personal anti-theft portable travel safe that locks onto fixed objects to secure valuables from thieves. Lock it to the lounge chair, stroller, golf cart, boat railing – even a closet rod and other places. The bag is slash resistant and water resistant and is equipped with RFID blocking. Lightweight and packable, it is also reprogrammable with a 3-digit combination lock. MSRP: $49.95
Gruv Gear’s slim and lightweight GigBlade Sliver continues with the side-carry convenience of the GigBlade guitar case, while introducing a patented invisible “yin-yang” neck brace that secures your instrument automatically when closing the bag. Made of rugged, water-repellent 1680D fabrics, it is half the thickness of the original GigBlade and offers the most carry options, including sling, cross-sling, traditional handle and backpack. Slim pockets hold tuners, in-ear monitors, picks, cables and more and a StrapFlat™ long pocket saves space and helps extend the life of your guitar strap. MSRP: $149.99
Guard yourself and your loved ones from germs, harmful UV rays, mosquitoes and more with HandiGuru™, the on-the-go silicone travel wristband kit. Hypo-allergenic and FDA-approved, the kit is for use with hand sanitizer gel, sunscreen, bug/mosquito repellent gel and other products. Reusable, refillable and recyclable, the one-size-fits-all wristbands (for kids and adults) can do it all and is always there in a squeeze. It comes in an assortment of colors, including transcendental blue, pretty in pink, glow in the dark and cotton candy. MSRP: $14.95
HEX® has just the compact, lightweight bag for streamlining DSLR essentials with its Ranger Camo DSLR Sling V2. Constructed of sturdy, water-resistant CORDURA®, the sling has a front-access organizer, side adjustable load straps and collapsible interior dividers for packability. Stow electronics in faux-fur lined front phone and tablet pockets and tuck essentials out of sight in hidden Velcro-brand stash pockets. Camera gear is organized safely in a padded and fleece-lined, multi-use main compartment with configurable and removable partitions. MSRP: $99.95
Sensible and stylish, the softly structured Leah Leather Backpack from Hidesign cleverly combines functionality and a fashionable design. Measuring 11” x 13.5” x 6”, the bag is constructed of full grain vegetable tanned Roma leather and features Hidesign’s signature 100% cotton lining and a drawstring closure with magnetic snaps on the flap. The interior features one main compartment with a zip pocket plus zip compartments on either side. It is fun for short trips across town but can multi-purpose as a serious work bag. MSRP: $158
Utilizing the same patented leakproof design of its original Carry-Dri® MAX Travel Soap Case, Portineer™ introduces the Carry-Dri EZ, which offers the same elevated vent holes design that exposes the bar to air while the case is closed. This new travel soap case has enhanced features, including an edge stand that conveniently stands the case on its side; a textured non-slip exterior; two lanyard connections to connect your own neck or hand lanyard; one silicon hand lanyard for carrying or hanging; and an interchangeable silicone strap closure that is easy and flexible to operate with wet hands. The blue case comes in four accent colors: gray, yellow, white and red. MSRP: $14.99
Replace “Are we there yet?” with “What do you want to play next?” with Roll-Up Travel Gamesfrom Sondergut. Designed in Germany, these high quality game boards are hand-sewn pliable leather and come with instructions and playing pieces, all tucked into a zippered pocket for easy and reliable storage and transport. Weighing less than half a pound, the games roll up to the size of pocket umbrella and stretch out to a board size of 10” x 12-2/3”, making them ideal for travel. Available games include Backgammon and Chess/Checkers. Playing pieces are 2 cm in diameter – about the size of a penny. MSRP: $39.95
The Travelpro® x Travel + Leisure® Collection blends style and substance in a modern aesthetic and is complete with practical features to accommodate every adventure and enhance every voyage – from packing and preparation through your return home. This coordinating collection of beautifully crafted ultra-resilient travel bags offers a variety of ample storage options and built-in organization, pairing the smoothest rolling hardside luggage with soft bags made from premium fabrics that endure intensive use with grace. Each unique bag is designed for independent use or to mix and match with its companion luggage, and all are backed by the promise of durability – no matter how far or often you roam. MSRPs range from $245 to $645.
Photographed at Exploration Cabin by Kerry Pittenger. Special thanks to owner, caretaker and host Rick Grigsby. Banner photograph courtesy of This Mountain Life. For more information, visit This Mountain Life.
A member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers) and Authors Guild, Kathy Witt also writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Southern Living magazines and the blog RealFoodTraveler.com, among other publications, and has written six books, including Cincinnati Scavenger: The Ultimate Search for Cincinnati’s Hidden Treasures.
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