The biggest 2011 travel trend is travel itself, which looks to bounce back from a quiet(er) year or two. Meanwhile, here’s 11 more specific trends to watch for in ’11.
Civil War reenactments. Don’t laugh. Yes, they may seem as perfect fodder for a Will Ferrell film, but Civil War reenactors are set to roll up their wool sleeves in 2011, marking the 150th anniversary of the US Civil War. That means four full years of battle reenactments, period-piece balls and lectures by thickly bearded men. Seriously, they’re far more fun than you’d expect. Keep up on offerings from the US national park service’s microsite. My favorite event? The Civil War-era baseball planned at Manassas, aka Bull Run, in Virginia on July 23.
Tech-free travel. Every new gadget has made travel easier and easier - from e-tickets and FlipVideo cams to wi-fi zones and smart phones. Maybe too easy? I think 2011 will be a year where travel takes a bit of a brief nostalgic rest-stop to get its fingernails a bit dirtier. That means incorporating a little tech break into trips: a day with a dusted-off 35mm camera or sketch pad, or lining up in a post office for stamps to send a postcard home.
New York City. Always a winner in tourism, New York City’s 2011 will be more memorable than most years. Coney Island’s makeover is set to be done by summer. Power-to-the-pedestrian trends continue (after Broadway in Times Square was closed to traffic, the elevated parkway High Line extends several more blocks this year). But – most importantly – the World Trade Center site is set to open to the public for the first time since 9/11.
'Communism travel'. The Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago next December and the region has, mostly, spent the decades since rushing into a world it missed. But much remains, for those willing to look. In Best of Travel 2011, we put together a list of 10 Cold War sites to get yourself back. Another option: consider buying a Soviet-era car (you can find a 1970s Moskvich in Bulgaria for $500) and head out on a Cold War roadtrip. Be sure to stay in communist-era hotels across Eastern Europe, which can feel like checking into a room Brezhnev built. The ultimate destination? The still-communist 'republic' Transdneistr.
Space Shuttle’s last launch. Speaking of long-gone Cold Wars, the final launch of the Space Shuttle STS 1-33 from the Kennedy Space Center is expected to come some time after February 3. Tickets for the launch complex – about 10,000 in all – have long been sold out (try eBay), but you can watch from surrounding areas in Cape Canaveral, Coco Bay and Titusville. Head to NASA's launch-update page for the latest.
USA’s Gulf Coast. The BP oil spill in 2010 cruelly coincided with peak tourism season for a region where tourism means everything – and that was just getting back on both feet from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Summer 2010 was a lost cause for travel, but already 'snowbirds' (winter tourists from up north) have started to return – and the number will likely bounce way back in 2011. It should. A highlight is Florida’s undeveloped, powdery white-sand beaches at Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola.
Mexico revisited! After taking a hit from the (unfair) swine flu hysteria and (often exaggerated) drug crime reports, particularly in the US, 2011 could be a nationwide fiesta across a country roughly the size of Western Europe. The national tourism department is spending $25 million in the United States to promote individual destinations – the Cabos, the Puerto Vallartas, the Cancuns – over the country as a whole, but some of Mexico’s more rewarding destinations are off the PR agenda. One secret? From Mexico City, hop about silver towns like Guanajuato, a colonial wonder with mummies and mountains.
Apartment rentals. Hotel prices are set to rise in 2011, which will send more travelers to find accommodations via apartment-rental sites like Airbnb, HomeAway or even Craigslist to set up in places around the world. You'll save money, have more space (particularly key for families) and usually get based in more neighborhoody neighborhoods, where you can feel local for a few days or longer.
Rethinking (and taking!) the bus. Flying has never had more angst – with consumers upset over fees, rising airfares and TSA body screens. A cheap, easy alternative is the bus. Particularly in the East Coast of the US, where Bolt Bus and (newly expanded) Megabus mean direct connections (with wi-fi) between ped-friendly cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, DC – and farther spots like Charlotte, Pittsburgh and Toronto.
Nicaragua. Value seekers – and Survivor watchers (the latest incarnation of the TV reality show was based in Nicaragua) – are starting to wake to the fact that Nicaragua is the great Central American secret, from $25 surfing lessons at San Juan del Sur and the Spanish colonial charms of Granada and León (one of Lonely Planet’s comeback cities for 2011) to volcano climbs at Isla de Ometepe. It’s possible to travel for $20 a day, and opting up for a $25 guesthouse can feel like a splurge.
Canada's national parks. In May, Canada’s launching a year-long celebration of the centennial of the world’s first national park service. Considering it’s a nation that puts animals on its coins, wildlife looms as a big draw. One I plan to see in 2011 is Wooden Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, home to an 850m beaver dam so large yet so remote that it was discovered using Google Earth. The Parks Canada Discovery Pass allows up to seven adults entry to any of the 100-plus national parks or historic sites, including Banff National Park, the country’s oldest.
The new food: music. For years, 'travel' as a topic has melded into food be it Tuscan pasta, New Mexican chiles, roadside diners, Bangkok noodle stands. Everyone’s going to keep eating, but expect a bump up in music taking over the source inspirateur in '11. Not just Austin’s famed South-by-Southwest festival, but using albums and lyrics as 'alternate guidebooks.'