Summer vacations 2023: Why everyone wants to go far, far away
Grab your neck pillow and jet lag pills. Here comes the summer of the far-cation.
A new survey by TripIt says half of U.S. travelers have plans to travel abroad by August. Where are they headed? A recent study by World Nomads ranks Europe as the top international destination (52% have plans to visit), followed by Asia and South America (both 19%) and Africa (15%).
“The pandemic has shown us that nothing is guaranteed and that time is precious — so now is the time to get out there and explore,” says Terra Baykal, a senior marketing manager for World Nomads.
The summer of 2023 will be the busiest for international travel since 2019, and maybe ever. Simply put, people want to get as far away from home as possible, to places they’ve only dreamed of visiting.
But what awaits them? I’ve visited several remote places recently, and I have a preview. Also, why should you consider a far-cation this summer, and where are the most popular distant destinations?
What’s halfway around the world? Melbourne
One example of a far-cation was my adventure in Melbourne, Australia, last month.
It’s far, far away. Flying from the East Coast, you’ll make at least one stop, and the journey will take a full day. You can get a nonstop flight to Melbourne from Los Angeles or Honolulu, but it’s still one of the most remote major cities on the planet, at least if you’re coming from the States.
“Melbourne offers a wide variety of activities,” says Shelby Albo, a travel consultant with EMBARK Beyond. “One day, you could be in a downtown coffee shop surrounded by beautiful graffiti walls. The next day you could be exploring the Great Ocean Road. And the next, you can be seeing penguins on Phillip Island or enjoying the amazing culinary and wine scene in the Yarra Valley.”
What’s in Melbourne?
- I rented an apartment in St. Kilda, an eclectic part of the city near the beach. My visit coincided with the Australian Grand Prix, which brought a lot of energy to this historic neighborhood. One of the highlights was a tour of Melbourne’s famous street art, which is some of the best I’ve ever seen.
- Melbourne has terrific mass transit — on the same level as any major European city. I caught a train into the Central Business District and visited some of the city’s famous museums. At the National Gallery of Victoria, I saw an exhibit of Alexander McQueen’s fashion designs, drawn from his collections in Melbourne and Los Angeles.
- And, of course, there was the Great Ocean Drive. I took a day to make this iconic road trip, stopping along the way to see the Twelve Apostles in Port Campbell National Park and to tour the charming coastal township of Apollo Bay. Melbourne is one of Australia’s best city experiences, but you have to get out of town at least one day.
“Anyone who loves the buzz and excitement of city life but doesn’t want to compromise on beautiful landscapes should visit Melbourne,” says Darryl Newby, co-founder of Welcome to Travel. “It offers a unique blend of culture, sports and natural beauty that can’t be found in many other parts of the world.”
Why do people want to get away from it all?
One main reason: Because they finally can.
“With many areas now open to international travel, long-distance trips are once again in the cards,” says Pallavi Sadekar, head of operations at VisitorGuard.com.
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Also, because they haven’t traveled anywhere in a while.
“I think all that pent-up demand has people yearning for something a little more emotionally and educationally nutritious than the traditional week at the beach or a mountain cabin,” says Lauralee Dobbins, a travel advisor from Pennsauken, NJ. “Not that there’s a darned thing wrong with a week at the beach.”
The farther, the better, says OvationNetwork advisor Andrew Williams.
“We’re seeing increased interest in the Maldives, South Africa, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand,” he says. “Many travelers are looking to check their dream destinations off their bucket lists now, rather than putting it off for a future date.”
I felt the urge to travel in early 2021, when COVID was still ravaging most of the planet. I had been sitting on my hands in a rental in Sedona, Ariz., — not a bad place to quarantine, actually — but I needed to leave. Back then, travel was difficult — particularly international travel. But in late 2021, I managed to leave the country, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve traveled to all seven continents and am currently in New Zealand.
I understand why urgently want to travel now. Take away our ability to travel for two years, and this is what you get.
Travel companies are adding more far-cation offerings
There’s another reason why more people are venturing into the unknown. Travel companies are offering more opportunities to do so.
Take Lindblad Expeditions, for example, which typically takes travelers to some of the most remote corners of the globe. This year, it turned up the volume on the remote.
“For the first time since 2015, we are taking the NG Orion back to the Kimberleys in Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore this summer,” Femke Galle, Lindblad’s vice president of analysis, research, and insights, told me. “And, for the first time ever, we are taking a ship to Japan. National Geographic Resolution will be sailing two voyages on our Coastal Japan itinerary: One is sold out and there are only a few cabins left on the other.”
Hotel companies are also opening new properties in remote locations. InterContinental Hotels Group, for example, plans to open the Indigo Jabal Al-Akhdar in Nizwa, Oman, later this year. That’s a two-hour drive from Muscat and a six-hour drive from Dubai. The surrounding area is known for its stunning mountain scenery and the hotel will make use of the surrounding mountains, with panoramic views of the area, according to the company. Visitors will be able to go mountain biking, hiking, and cave exploring, and also visit Nizwa Fort and Souq.
Where to take a far-cation in the summer of 2023
So where are U.S. travelers visiting this summer?
“They’re shifting away from the domestic travel trend we saw emerge over the last few years,” says Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel’s president for the Americas.
Intrepid’s U.S. domestic bookings are down 66% in 2023 compared to 2022, although overall bookings are up by 29% this year. That suggests Americans are more eager to go abroad this year.
Europe and the Middle East are the most popular destinations for summer travel this year. Intrepid says countries like Morocco, Italy, Iceland, Croatia and Egypt are at the top of their most-booked lists.
“We’re also seeing interest spike in Asia — specifically Japan and Vietnam — as the continent continues to open up post-pandemic,” says Berna.
According to Expedia’s Summer Travel Forecast, there is an increase in interest among American travelers to visit long-haul destinations such as New Zealand, Japan, and Vietnam this summer. Flight searches are up 25% overall for June through August compared to the same time last year, and interest is up by triple digits for international destinations across Europe and Asia.
The biggest year-over-year increases, in terms of search volume, are for longer-haul destinations such as Auckland, Hong Kong, Osaka, Da Nang and Hanoi.
“This summer, travelers are clearly ready to dust off their passports and embrace jet lag as they set off overseas,” says Expedia spokesman Anderson Cheney.
They’ll also spend more. Stan Sandberg, the co-founder of travel insurance site TravelInsurance.com, says three-quarters of his customers are venturing abroad this summer. The average spend on a trip to Africa this summer is $18,100, about 20% higher than last summer. For Australia and New Zealand, travelers will spend just under $11,000 per trip, and for Japan, it’s just over $8,000 per trip.
“Far-cations,” he adds, “are not for the budget traveler.”
So if you have been saving up over the last few years, this might be the summer to take that far-cation you’ve been dreaming about.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.