Looking back on the 2010s – Part III: 12 Ways that Travel Changed Forever
I recently wrote two blog posts in this series, casting my mind’s eye back over my most memorable travel moments of the 2010s and my blogging highlights of the 2010s, and they led me to spot the drastic differences between how we travelled at the start and end of the decade. And not just at a personal level in terms of my own lifestyle transforming from a backpacking student in 2010 to a a working woman in operating within the limits of annual leave in 2019. More in the sense of how the travel industry and people’s behaviours and preferences evolved over 10 years, in line with industry shifts, emerging technologies and changing consumer tastes.
So this blog post, Part III of my ‘Looking back on the 2010s’ series, covers the biggest shifts and trends in the travel industry over the past 10 years.
How did the way we travel change in the 2010s?
- The mainstream arrival of smartphones made guidebooks virtually redundant, by enabling us to research and book on-the-go from anywhere in the world. Global smartphone sales rocketed from just 297 million in 2010 to 1.5 billion in 2019 (an five-fold increase). The introduction of free roaming within the EU in 2017 certainly supported this, and the ease of buying short-term data SIMs when travelling further afield further enabled us to stay permanently connected and informed.
- While ubiquitous connectivity through smartphones has made it harder for us to disconnect from our home lives while travelling and living abroad, there are positives. On the plus side, it has simultaneously made travel much safer for female and solo travellers, as we can safely navigate cities using Google Maps to avoid dangerous neighbourhoods, with access to call emergency services always to hand. It has also made it easier to keep in touch with friends and family all over the world, improving the social relationships of people who choose to live abroad or sustain long-distance relationships. Back in the eternally slow internet world of 2010, when I moved abroad for my Erasmus year abroad, Skype did exist but could be painfully poor quality, and it simply wasn’t possible to stream our favourite shows abroad or keep in touch with home in the same way. For example, neither of my Erasmus flats even had wifi and I had to buy those dreadfully frustrating 3G dongles!
- This connectivity has given rise to the digital nomad who can work remotely from any time zone, beach, island our mountaintop in the world, allowing entire professions to find a better quality of life while still earning a living. Remote working has also boosted a whole generation of freelancers and entrepreneurs needing nothing more than a laptop and internet connection to convert their skills and knowledge into money anywhere in the world, and that is an amazing gift the 2010s gave to us. I haven’t made that shift yet myself, but I can see a future career change in 10-15 years to become a freelance translator based out on an idyllic Italian island, for example…
- More employers are offering sabbaticals and unpaid leave as perks to retain their fleet-footed staff, and people are increasingly jumping onto the concept of travelling between jobs and career changes, following the suit of other colleagues they’ve seen do likewise. In my case, after I took a sabbatical from my job at O2 in 2015-16, no fewer than 5 other colleagues subsequently requested and took extended periods of unpaid leave on sabbatical. The grown-up gap year definitively caught on in the 2010s, making it no longer the sole preserve of 18-year-olds and uni students.
- With increasing globalisation came the democratisation of travel and the explosion of international passenger numbers, through the expansion of budget airlines and the growing Chinese middle-class in particular wanting to explore the world in growing numbers. As the world recovered from the 2008 global recession, more of the world’s population can now afford to (and do) travel than ever before, prompting questions about the limits to the global tourism industry’s capacity to withstand this endless growth. While budget airlines certainly existed 10 years ago, the sheer number of routes and flights available has increased dramatically, with a 66% increase in global airline passengers, from 2.7 billion in 2010 to 4.5 billion in 2019!
- People’s search for authenticity in their travels supported the growth of the sharing economy (Airbnb, Uber, etc.) and directed our tourist money away from vast chain hotels into the hands of the local community. The flipside was that this simultaneously forced many local residents to move out of central districts in cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dubrovnik and Venice, in order to profit from the tourist boom, by letting out their properties as short-term accommodation – in the process wiping out some of the authentic community atmosphere the tourists sought in the first place.
- The phenomenon of Instagram hotspots and selfie-sticks has driven many people to choose their trips based around a particular shot they’ve seen an influencer or blogger pose for in front of a famous landmark. This trend of everyone wanting to “live their best life” on social media and emulate the lifestyles of their favourite Influencers has normalised a state of almost constant travel, with practically everyone travelling more times per year now than they did 5 or 10 years ago. Influencing our choice of destinations in this “mass” way, has led to massive overcrowding and overtourism at the most popular spots, and (in my opinion) has led to less originality. I’m definitely guilty of this trend also, both in taking inspiration from Instagram and propagating the issue myself through highlighting my travels on this blog and my social media.
- As overtourism grew, it has become harder to travel spontaneously and simply turn up in a destination. Whereas I used to be able to find accommodation or a table for dinner the same day simply by walking into a hostel or tourist office, this is often nigh-on impossible now. We now need to book most things in advance, where in the past many hotels in developing countries didn’t even have online booking.
4 ways our consciences and preferences have changed for the better:
- While airline passengers increased, the focus on the climate emergency towards the end of the decade improved everyone’s awareness of our carbon footprints through travel (and particularly due to aviation emissions). This green revolution led by Greta Thunberg has led more and more people to reject air travel and commit to lower-impact staycations or using overland transport only. Admittedly it’s still early days, but natural disasters like the Amazon forest fires, Australian bushfires, cyclones and floods have really changed attitudes towards climate change and the damaging impact of parts of the travel industry.
- With greater consciousness of the real living conditions of local residents in many developing countries, often very close to some of the world’s most beautiful destinations, many tourists are choosing to travel more ethically. For example, more and more high-end travel companies now run social responsibility programmes or funds to support the people in their destinations, and this trend has also prompted a rise in ‘volontourism’ and travellers’ ethical desire to leave a positive impact on a local communities we visit.
- While the 2010s started out with alcohol-fuelled parties still a staple of most twenty-somethings’ ideal holidays, the boom of health and wellbeing in our day-to-day lives has led to more and more people seeking healthy escapism in their downtime too, with holidays to vegan yoga retreats, natural spring spas and tee-total wellness centres. The traditional party spots like Ibiza and Las Vegas of course still exist, but in Ibiza for example there’s ever more emphasis on finding peace and quiet in the rural north-east of the island, away from the beats and all-nighters of the super-clubs in the south and west.
- Growing support for the animal rights movement is encouraging people to swerve elephant rides, captive killer whale shows at SeaWorld, petting sedated tigers in Thailand or swimming with dolphins on their trips, where 10 years ago these activities were previously considered acceptable. All of this can only be good!
How did you notice the travel industry change throughout the 2010s? Are the changes for better or for worse in your opinion?
I think travel has changed significantly during this decade though it probably started way back in the 90s. To me it seems modern travel (or the way it’s carried out) has lost that certain allure and romance inherent in any adventure which might contain some fear of the unknown. Nowadays we see a box-ticking Instagram generation to whom the idea of ‘travel’ might be somewhat secondary to the need to monetize the whole experience in some form or another.
That’s a really interesting perspective and I’m not really aware of how it started in the 90s but I should probably investigate that more – perhaps it’s the gradual “materialisation” of travel if that makes sense, as I get the impression the 90s were very materialistic. The unknown of travel has certainly disappeared as we now have almost all the information to hand before we arrive so we very much know what to expect now when we travel, and in fact many travellers now dislike the unexpected, which takes away the surprise element that used to exist more strongly in travel and adventure.