10 Travel Trends: Visually Representing Travel in 2021

What will travel images look like in the not-so-distant future? Our crystal ball is predicting these ten trends for 2021.

Remember travel? Like everything else, the coronavirus has ground travel to a halt. But with vaccines here, we may be returning to vacations sooner than we think. 

That’s not to say travel will be the same as before. Pretty much everything has changed with COVID-19, and as we adjust to a new set of norms, we’re challenged with how to visually represent the future of travel. 

So, what will travel look like?

1. Live-Ish Abroad

Person in Yellow Jacket on a Cliff Overlooking Green HillsFind that breathtaking scenery, and stay a while. Image via oneinchpunch.

Who hasn’t dreamt of living abroad? Thanks to COVID, live-ish abroad situations are now more grounded in reality than aspiration. 

This is driven, in part, by quarantine measures. If you have to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in a new destination, you’re not going to turn around and leave right away. And, while not every destination requires a two-week quarantine policy, after months of lockdown, fourteen days just doesn’t feel long enough for a holiday anymore. Extending vacations for a month, six weeks, eight weeks, or longer, will be standard, especially as we continue to adopt a less frenetic pace in favor of a more intentional and longer-term approach to travel. 

Another benefit to live-ish abroad? Immersing yourself in the local language, customs, and culture of a place. Instead of multi-destination trips where twenty-four hours in a city suffices as ticking that country off “the bucket list,” we’ll see more and more travelers in single-residence accommodations that allow people to adapt to the daily rhythm of the place they’re visiting, while also providing all the comforts of home and the ability to physically distance and quarantine, as well.

2. Return Abroad

Family Hiking Home Through a ForestReuniting with family after a year’s absence is the equivalent of a vacation. Image via Red Sneakers Photography.

At the start of the pandemic, many permanent residents and new citizens chose to initially stay in their adopted cities and countries. But, as we near the one year anniversary of the coronavirus, we’re seeing those expats return to their home countries to weather the remaining months of the virus. For some, this is driven by health concerns, access to medical care, and the desire to be reunited with family members after a long time apart. 

3. The Rise of the Workcation

Woman at the Mouth of a Tent Viewing a Map Need the great outdoors? Take your work with you. Image via Rawpixel.com.

First, there was WFH (work from home). Now, there’s work from vacation home (WFVH). With the pandemic normalizing remote work culture, the rise of the workcation is here. So, how is this different from photographing what we previously thought of corporate travel? Expect the locations to be more exotic than a hotel conference room (think warm weather locales, eco-tourism resorts, unique vacation homes, and Van Life vibes) and a visual emphasis on privacy, cleanliness, digital connectivity (hello our old friend, Zoom)—and dare we say happiness?—to represent the new future of work travel. 

4. Gen Z Is the Next Wave of Travelers

Hiker in Sequoia National ParkGen Z’ers may have the jump on those heading back into the travel world. Image via My Good Images.

When it comes to travel, Gen Z’ers are among those most impacted. For the oldest members of that group, instead of embarking on that coveted year abroad, they’ve been stuck at home like the rest of us. This generation is itching to experience the world (who can blame them), and post-COVID, they’ll likely be our first set of travelers. When it comes to visualizing travel in a post-COVID world, it’s images of Gen Z’ers we’ll see first. 

5. Tourism Photography

Woman at Campsite LaughingPersonal photography will be on the rise in destination marketing. Image via Rawpixel.com.

Half of the benefit of working as a travel photographer is getting to travel to new places. But, international travel isn’t returning anytime soon, and with tourism brands emphasizing travel closer to home, we’ll see a lot more localized, personal photography in destination marketing. Also on the horizon are panoramic images that can be used in virtual tours.

6. Reunion Travel

Small Family Gathering at Coastal Campsite at DuskThe face of family reunions will look smaller, with an emphasis on quality time together. Image via Blackout Footage.

For most of us, we’ve probably never spent this much time apart from our family and loved ones. While reunion travel pre-COVID may have conjured up images of a family cookout featuring fifty or so odd family members, post-COVID reunion travel will be a lot more intimate. Think imagery that shows immediate family members, both inside the home and out, a lack of digital devices and screen time, and engaging in quality time and activities together. 

7. Wide Open Spaces

Northern Lights as Seen from Norwegian RoadAfter being quarantined inside for months, spending a little time in the wilderness is much-anticipated. Image via solarseven.

We’ll be seeking out wide-open spaces, and I’m not just talking about the song immortalized by The Chicks. Natural landscapes that offer us undulating horizons and a sense of expansiveness are the kinds of places we’ll be looking for once travel opens up freely again. Parks, mountains, the ocean, the hills—we’ll take it all. After months of cabin fever, time spent in the wilderness will feel like an antidote to the strain of COVID life. Capturing that feeling in images will help to usher in a new era of travel. 

8. Travel Agents Make a Comeback

Person in Brightly-Colored Car Interior Watching Bison GrazePost-COVID travel will continue to enforce safety precautions. Image via Abigail Marie.

COVID life is confusing already, but for travel, add in increasingly complex restrictions, rules and quarantine policies, and required government forms on top of that. Get-up-and-go travel is a thing of the past, which is why we’ll see the return of travel agents to help us navigate the post-COVID travel industry. Keep in mind, all the same COVID imagery applies—masks, physically distanced interiors, and Zoom calls—just with a travel focus. 

9. Bubble Groups Replace Tour Groups

COVID-19 Friend Bubble Traveling TogetherClose friends taking that much-needed road trip. Image via Rawpixel.com.

We’ve been through a lot with our COVID bubbles this year, so it’s only natural that a vacation with them is on the horizon. As travel opens up, we may look to form small, close-knight groups with our most trusted friends and family members to help to reduce the risk of traveling with strangers. In capturing these images, look to photograph close friends and multi-generational families on vacation together. 

10. A Smaller Footprint

Friends in Silhouette Rafting Across a Calm, Misty LakeTrade in metropolitan life for relaxation in nature. Image via Chanawin Tepprasitsakda.

Similar to live-ish abroad situations, travelers are looking to minimize the number of people they come in contact with, both as a safety concern and a respect for the destinations they’re visiting. Travelers are looking for vacations where they can stay in one place and reduce their overall tourism footprint (bonus: this helps the environment, too). From agritourism packages (staying and working on a local farm) to sailing trips aboard a small yacht, these types of vacations are a healthy alternative to busy hotels and crowded city stays. 

Find these images and more in Shutterstock’s Wild Life Collection.

Here’s more trends you can expect in 2021:

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Cover image via Radu Bercan.

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