20 20 Visions: Where Travel Will Take Us in the Coming Decade

From going off-grid to adorable hotel mascots, here's where travel will take us in 2020.

January 2020

Willow House / Photography by Casey Dunn


West Texas Gets Tony

Unless you’re living under a rock—presumably, somewhere outside of West Texas—you’ve likely heard of Marfa, the improbable arts mecca in the remote Trans-Pecos desert that has acquired a near mythic status. But much of the aesthetic charm and culture that defines Marfa has since bled into neighboring locales. A crop of nearby towns has made dynamic use of the same inspiring landscapes, vast desert skies and cinematic driving routes to attract casual travelers, aesthetes and artists alike. In Terlingua, six miles northwest of stunning Big Bend National Park, the Willow House has opened up a network of minimalist concrete forms that mirror Donald Judd’s famous installation in Marfa. A similarly tony, solar-powered artist’s retreat in Ruidosa is set among 1,000 acres of untouched scrubland that backs up to the Rio Grande.

Courtesy of Salvador Dali Museum

Museums Bring the Past to Life

Museums are one way to preserve the past, but many of today’s museums also offer a glimpse into the future. At the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, visitors can chat and pose for selfies with the eccentric artist, brought to life using an artificial-intelligence-powered video simulation. At the Dallas Holocaust Museum, Shoah survivor Max Glauben shares his harrowing tale with future generations through a state-of-the-art holographic display. At the Louvre in Paris, visitors were recently given the chance to explore the Mona Lisa through a virtual-reality tour. Now that’s one way to skip the crowds.

Artifacts from ancient Egyptian sunken cities. / Photography by Jérôme Delafosse / © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation

Egypt is Everywhere

From mummies to pyramids to Cleopatra, ancient Egypt has intrigued curious travelers for ages, and this year six major exhibitions will illuminate that ancient world. Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will feature statues, jewelry and sarcophagi from Queen Nefertari’s tomb, including her knees—the only mummified remains. At the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, researchers will showcase their work using CT scans to go under wraps and explore the lives of six ancient mummies. At the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, guests can explore the discoveries of two ancient sunken cities that were rediscovered in Egypt in 1996.

JW El Convento Cusco's Panchito. / Rebecca Yale Photography

Hotels Welcome Hooves

Ever since the world was introduced to goat yoga, a friendly dog roaming the lobby doesn’t cut it anymore. In keeping with the trend, resorts are starting to exhibit more unusual animals-in-residence. Gleneagles hotel in Scotland is home to Hettie the Shetland pony, with whom rendezvous can be arranged via the hotel’s Meet the Ponies experience. Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina in Rhode Island has three pygmy goats: Henry, Cooper and Cornelia, who live in their own goat-sized replica of Marble House, Newport’s famous Gilded Age mansion. In Mallorca, Belmond La Residencia has five resident donkeys who accompany guests on tours through the hotel’s 30-acre olive tree grove. In Peru, an alpaca named Panchito visits guests at JW El Convento Cusco.

SLEEEP / Photography by Cola Ren

Deep Sleep Becomes a Coveted Amenity

A comfy bed is no longer good enough—hotels and resorts are integrating some truly unique amenities to help you get a decent night’s sleep. Canyon Ranch Wellness Resort in Tucson, Arizona, offers hypnosis and biofeedback to help you nod off. In New York, The Benjamin hotel supplies a curated pillow menu and lullaby music library, while Equinox Hotel provides melatonin smoothies and soothing IV drips. Rather than a breath mint, Washington Park Hotel in Miami leaves a melatonin capsule alongside a copy of The Most Boring Book Ever Written on your pillow. And on Hong Kong Island, there’s an entire establishment dedicated to shut eye: SLEEEP is a minimalist pod hotel with smart beds, personalized soundtracks and lighting that restores your circadian rhythms, centrally (and strategically) located in one of the world’s most boisterous cities.

Fifty Mils / Photography by Arturo Limon Ramirez

Mayan Pox is Contagious

Tequila was so 2012. Mescal so 2016. People on both sides of the bar are now clamoring for “the next big thing” in Mexican spirits; it was only a matter of time before pox made its way into mainstream drinking culture. No, it’s not a disease or a curse—pox, pronounced posh, is a Mayan liquor made from corn, sugarcane and/or wheat and currently unregulated in its production, meaning there are great variations from producer to producer. Would-be imbibers can find it at Fifty Mils in Mexico City, the Best Girl bar in downtown Los Angeles’ Ace Hotel, and online on San Diego’s Old Town Tequila’s website, which ships domestically in the United States.

Pro-climber Alex Honnold. / Photography by Jimmy Chin / National Geographic Image Collection

Vacations Are Looking Up

With rock climbing making its Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer, and the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo shocking and inspiring audiences around the world, more travelers will seek the mental and physical challenges of ascending stones. It seems like there’s a new rock gym opening in America almost every week and they’re no longer just dingy caves for the hardcore, dirtbagging van dwellers.

You can get started with an intro course at your local gym or REI. For those ready to test themselves against the iconic granite walls that climbing pro Alex Honnold ascends, guiding services such as the Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service will show you the ropes.

Wallpaper design by flavorpaper.com

Wallpaper Makes a Comeback

Forget the outdated florals patterns of your grandmother’s bathroom and welcome carnivorous plant motifs and poppy Warhol references. Wallpaper, now decidedly cool, is becoming the ultimate Instagram-friendly backdrop at new hotels and restaurants. The Catskills’ Urban Cowboy Lodge will forego pastoral scenes for stunning geometric screen-printed patterns when it opens this year, while the Graduate Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska is opting for Cornhusker-friendly visual—oversized and perfectly plump ears of corn.

Fabriken Furillen hotel. / Photography courtesy of Fabriken Furillen

Hotels Disconnect

After gearing up with the speediest Wi-Fi and latest tech, hotels are now wising up to the idea that going off-grid is the ultimate luxury. At Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences, a personal wellness assistant creates a digital detox to help families “emerge from technology,” while the Hilton West Palm Beach offers a “tech detox box” for a phone-free family game night. In Europe, several hotels, such as Spain’s Vincci chain, now encourage the voluntary submission of electronic devices as part of digital detox packages. At the Villa Stéphanie spa resort in Baden-Baden, Germany, a switch next to the bed blocks all wireless internet signals. For the ultimate digital detox, there is always the gorgeous Fabriken Furillen hotel, on a remote peninsula in Gotland, Sweden. Here, the cozy Hermit’s Cabin has no Wi-Fi or electricity. If you need more motivation to stay off your phone, the price decreases the longer you stay.

Chicago's Francois Frankie. / Photography by Peter Ranvestel

Spinning is Winning

Restaurants and bars are putting a fresh, er, spin on Japan’s kaiten-zushi restaurants, where diners grab sushi from rotating conveyor belts. Stateside, two new Las Vegas eateries have given meat a starring role: At Chubby Cattle you can select beef or lamb for self-assembly Mongolian-style hot pots; at Master Kim’s Korean BBQ, you can snag steak, pork, chicken or pancakes. In London, meanwhile, the new Pick & Cheese—“the world’s first cheese conveyor belt restaurant”—is an instant hit. These days, though, it’s not only food doing the rotating. At Chicago’s new Francois Frankie—based on New Orleans’ iconic Carousel Bar—you can eat foie gras on a modified fairground ride, and at the new revolving bar at Whiskey Licker Up Saloon, whatever comes around in Vegas, goes around in Vegas.

Photography by Michael Bergmann

Women’s Suffrage Gets Its Due

It’s a big year for women’s history. This year marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Around the country this milestone of democracy will be marked by female-focused commemorations. Check out a year’s worth of exhibitions by female artists at the Baltimore Museum of Art; join a women’s history walking tour in Washington, D.C., with A Tour of Her Own and, come August, head to New York City to see Central Park’s first statue honoring historical women: a monument depicting women’s rights pioneers Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth.

Kyoto / Getty Images

Plan B is the New Plan A

As the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo draw near, fans are planning their vacations to Japan’s capital city, but prudent travelers might be considering Kyoto instead. Accessible by train, it’s known for its traditional architecture and gardens, and prices are significantly lower than Tokyo. Swapping in a less-traveled city doesn’t mean sacrificing culture: the Gaudí masterpieces of Barcelona are breathtaking, but so is the Royal Alcázar of Seville, while the canals of Utrecht are every bit as charming as those in Amsterdam. With fewer tourists, you won’t have to fight crowds to get the perfect Instagram shot. A stateside jaunt more your thing? Instead of emptying your bank account on a San Francisco vacation, try nearby San Jose, home of the iconic Winchester Mystery House and a short drive from wine country, beaches and the redwoods of Northern California.

Bodega Garzón / Photography by Rodrigo Guillenea

Uruguay’s New Vintages Shine

Before the dawn of Bodega Garzón, a winery opened in Uruguay’s tony Punata del Este area by Argentine billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni in 2016, the country’s wines were overshadowed by those of Chile and Argentina. With only 5 percent of Uruguayan wines exported, few knew it was producing anything quaffable. Now, as Bodega Garzón rakes in international wine awards and growers such as Viña Edén open lovely modernist wineries, there are more excuses for travel. Varietals such as tannat (red) and albariños (white) rival any malbec or chardonnay, and in the capital of Montevideo, contemporary restaurants Autoría and Sometimes Sunday have opened, earning high praise from domestic and international travelers.

Getty Images

Young’uns Are the New Grandmas

You don’t need senior-citizen discounts to lure Millennials and Gen Z to take up birdwatching and shuffleboard. These digital natives are foregoing screen time to take up hobbies associated with their grandparents. St. Petersburg, Florida’s nearly century-old Shuffleboard Club courts ’80s and ’90s kids with the St. Pete Shuffle, an outdoor event featuring live music and food trucks. In Miami, the Magic City Casino, an old-school jai alai joint, attracts a hip demographic with The Jai, a bi-weekly shindig with club lighting and VIP treatment. For the outdoorsy set, birdwatching checklist apps, such as eBird, gamify citizen science—young birders travel to add to their “life lists” while building data for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Photography courtesy of Ristorante Bartolotta

Milwaukee is Brewing

With nicknames like Brew City and Beertown, Milwaukee has long embraced its fermented past. Named one of the best places to travel in 2020 by both The Wall Street Journal and Airbnb, the Wisconsin city is ready for its close-up when the Democratic National Convention comes to town in July, boasting hip restaurants (including five of last year’s James Beard Award semifinalists) and urban revival projects such as pedestrian-friendly streets and a new RiverWalk.

Mars Base 1 Camp in China's Gobi Desert. / Alamy

Space Comes to Earth

Those looking for a 48-hour immersive experience within the Star Wars universe are counting the days until the Galactic Starcruiser opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. Each Starcruiser cabin will have “views” into space, and onboard activities include lightsaber battles, pilot training and themed dinners. The Starcruiser is not the only space-themed vacation destination in the pipeline. Rapidly taking shape in China’s Gobi Desert is the Mars Base 1 Camp, a “colony” that imagines life on the red planet. The camp already has several interconnected modules, a mock decompression chamber and spacesuits and rovers for “surface explorations.” The desert site—which resembles the Star Wars planet Tatooine—is set to expand to 26 square miles, in anticipation of the two million visitors expected within a decade. For something more luxurious, the Space Suite at the five-star Kameha Grand Zürich hotel is fastidiously designed to make guests feel like they’re living inside a space station—albeit one with 24-hour room service.

Currencies Get Current

Whether you’re an international jet-setter or only occasionally travel abroad, you’ve almost certainly been nickel-and-dimed through currency exchange. Options for tourists were once limited—either change cash for local currency at an inflated rate or pay with a card and hope your bank doesn’t stick you with fees—but a London-based startup called Revolut has set out to change that by giving customers a fee-free way to exchange their currency in foreign countries. Through its app, users can link their domestic accounts and convert deposited funds into different currencies. Bypassing traditional banks, Revolut claims to have saved users over $160 million. Less time worrying about money abroad means more time trying to decipher public transit maps.

Photography courtesy of Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi

Art Comes Off the Wall

The line between hotel and gallery space is rapidly blurring. 21c Museum Hotels, which will open its ninth property in Chicago in February, has amassed more than 3,000 artworks, with exhibits open to the public 24/7. Lobby talking points—such as Timothy Paul Myers’ tableau of ordinary objects wrapped in red felt, or a Chinese teahouse made from 999 sticks of pine and bamboo—tour the chain’s properties like museum exhibits. Travelers at Las Vegas’ Cosmopolitan Hotel can now buy art from six Art-o-mat machines—themselves artworks by Clark Whittington. Even more meta is the coral regeneration project-cum-gallery at the Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi. The “Coralarium” is an artificial reef which imitates coral colonies. Marine biologists give snorkeling tours of the gallery space.

Photography courtesy Kimpton Monaco

Hotels Mind Your Mindfulness

Reiki healing, full-moon rituals, candle-making (with sustainable soy wax, of course)—these aren’t the activities of a dedicated wellness retreat, but a sample of the mindfulness-centered offerings at the Arlo Hotels in SoHo and Miami, as more hotels go beyond lobby happy hour and give guests the chance to slow down. The Kimpton Monaco in Pittsburgh recently offered a love-letter writing station complete with poetry books for added inspiration, and London’s Charlotte Street Hotel has started flower-arranging workshops hosted by some of the city’s top florists. Check in and enjoy your namaste.

Belgrade, Serbia / Getty Images

Mad for Nomads

Inexpensive flights and the ubiquity of the internet have created a new class of digital nomads, and a host of far-flung destinations are making it less lonely for unmoored freelancers.

Bali, Indonesia: Long associated with yogis and spiritual types, Bali is now attracting remote workers thanks to a glut of new coworking spaces and low-cost of living.

Lisbon, Portugal: A gateway to Europe, this coastal capital city is a hub for transatlantic flights. The picturesque pastel-colored architecture and ocean breeze is a plus.

Belgrade, Serbia: Often recognized for its rich history and archaeology, this Balkan city’s café culture and coworking spaces have attracted a new type of traveler.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: The former Vietnamese capital boasts good Wi-Fi connectivity, a low cost of living and one of the world’s best food cultures.


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