July 22nd, 2008

People around the globe are discovering a new kind of travel.  Travel far beyond and outside the old realms of languishing by a synthetic pool or being herded around to keep pace with an impossible itinerary.Today’s traveller is typically educated, eager, excited and enthusiastic.  They know where they want to go and what they want to do when they get there. But they are also experimental to boot.

Today’s traveller is no longer content to just see a place they want to be part of it.  They want to trek it, cycle it, ski it, water raft it, and climb it while being immersed in the very culture of the places they visit. 

To satisfy the growing thirst for, let’s call it participatory travel, the travel industry is devising diverse and wide ranging holiday packages as never before.

Even the ’emotional travellers’ are in on the act.  Wayfarers whose aim it is to visit poignant destinations like ancestral homelands or to re-unite with family and friends.  This group is also increasingly seeking sojourns incorporating an even deeper fundamental significance. 

Witness in western culture the resurrected popularity of ancient Pilgrimages as a holiday option.  Take for example this one – the Pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain, that culminates at the shrine of St James.  This is no easy stroll in the park it involves trundling 20 kilometres a day uphill and down dale for three weeks.  Despite the hardships devotees have swollen in numbers from 2,491 in 1986 to 100,377 in 2006.

If earthly destinations ultimately become finite or passé, fear not, for already we can vacate in outer space or under the sea.  For instance, fancy bedding down underwater?  The ‘5 Fathoms’ lub can spend some time at ‘Jules Undersea Lodge’, Key Largo, Florida.  It does look a little snug down there but you’ll get the best fishing spot.
It’s only a short orbit away before the really high-end travel set will be taking up the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of those galactic explorers Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong.

Virgin Airlines plans to follow Yuri’s path and can already sign up for sub-orbital travel around the globe with Sir Richard Branson.  For a leisurely $200,000 (including drinks?) you get to participate in the three day pre-flight preparation that includes an education in zero and macro gravity.  I believe this is a state of weightlessness that could rival the ‘lightlessness’ of your wallet but you will get to fly at 2,500 MPH at a height of 50,000 feet witnessing the earth as cobalt blue, then mauve, then indigo and finally (the new ?) – black.  To book, all you have to do is lay down your $20,000 refundable deposit, but I’d suggest you be quick seating may be limited.

But if you’d like to actually land somewhere then why not follow Neil to the moon.  An American company is promoting a (return I assume) ticket for circa $100 mill. – now that has to include a glass of bubbles on arrival! 

Even though eyes will be focussed on the big destinations in China involved in the lead up to the 2008 Olympics travellers are increasingly venturing away from Beijing and other big cities.  The cobbled streets and colourful market towns complete with centuries old monasteries of Yunnan Province are being trodden in this quest for getting away from the masses.

In India, out-of-the-way areas are being sought such as one that is with an abundance of greenery, the Indian state of Kerala.  This is a little slice of paradise and much less chaotic than the northern regions. This area boasts endless coastlines, harbours and lakes while being sandwiched between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats. Tourists are following footsteps of ancient rulers whilst viewing ancient churches and the old quarter’s once grand architecture.

Another area gaining popularity is designer ‘family bonding’ holidays.  For instance whole family tribes are now setting off together to camp out with African wildlife. 

Holidays incorporating ‘adventure’ and ‘physical pursuits’ are increasingly becoming the norm. Francophile Cycoes (French loving road cyclists) are following in the tyre tracks of the Tour de France.  If you caught the television broadcasts of this event last year you would have some inclination of why this ‘ride’ is becoming extremely popular.  Sweeping through the Alps and Pureness that offer up to 27kms of roller coasters sounds fabulous but I’m told the odd participate can be heard to mumble out ‘ball breakers’ on some of the assents. The dollars for this range at approximately $5,000 plus and that’s not including air fares of course.  

Before we get off our bikes there’s another ride in Vietnam from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City (known as Saigon until 1976) in the south. This ride is somewhat easier than the Tour de France and what an experience to see and taste the real Vietnam. By the way I am reliably told that deep-fried anteater tastes rather like ant infused chicken. This trip is a peddling $7,000 plus.

Tours with a sporting theme are a great social amalgam and most of the people involved in this type of event are likely to prove pleasant company.

‘Self guided’ tours are always a great way to see the world. Tour companies are offering fully supported itineraries of from 4 to 15 days to some of the best destinations in Europe. ‘Self guided’ means you can walk, cycle, barge or whatever at you own pace while the tour operator takes care of everything else.

Like fishing? Want to fish where few have fished before? Fishing trips to remote areas from New Guinea to Venezuela and anywhere in between can be sourced through fishing magazines and there are several tour companies that will help you catch the big one. Some of the villages visited on these sojourns are well and truly off the beaten waterways and the income derived from travellers helps to sustain them. But be warned ‘stay in your hut at night’- it’s not so easy to see the crocs then! For me I can buy an awful lot of fish for the $7,000 plus price tag for 10 days in New Guinea trips.

Opportunities today are endless the travel options go on and on. There’s wild adventures that include a 7 to 10 day float trip in the remote North-western corner of Mongolia, in its Russian border region, on rivers very few foreigners have ever glimpsed.

Equestrians are horse trekking in challenging terrains, such as found in Patagonia. Seven days on a mighty stead carrying you through crystal clear rivers, lush conifer forests, and over the Andean foothills.

What about a spot of white water rafting up (yes I know it’s down) the Zambezi’s pummelling rapids (a challenging level 5+). Here your travelling companion include hippo’s, crocs, elephants, baboons and with nightly visits from lions, leopards and hyenas around the perimeter of your river-side camp or lodge.

Even travelling within Australia people are on the hunt for trips outside the mundane. A fabulous way to experience the wild coast of northwest Arnhem Land and the Tiwi Islands is in a catamaran – a luxury one of course. This way you can access rarely visited locations like the ruined 1830’s British colony of Victoria Settlement and Port Essington on the Coborg Peninsular. Sailers are crossing the Timor Sea and experiencing Aboriginal culture on the Tiwi Islands and visiting places like the Pirlandimpi Community and the renowned Minupi Arts Centre.

Rafters on the Franklin River in Tasmania are experiencing one of the world’s last great untamed rivers as it forges a course through the rugged south west of Tasmania.

Others are yearning to bed down on a 5,000 head working cattle station in the Kimberley region of far North Western Australia.

Then there’s Voluntourism. This is one of the catchphrases describing a new format of holiday travel for the mature minded individual. These people are determined to give something back to the world’s most remote communities. Community travel programs offer the opportunity to give hands on help in a variety of ways. Holidaymakers are spending their time building schools, footbridges, collecting tons of ghost nets to save wildlife and helping to provide clean drinking water all over the world.

The businesses that are willing and able to accommodate today’s creative traveller will surely profit.

The next big thing, place, adventure, who knows, but one thing’s for sure it’s going to be a hell of a journey.

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