The future of adventure travel: four trends to watch for 2020

With travellers passionate about topics such as sustainability and ‘under-touristed’ destinations, we look at some of the biggest adventure trends to watch for 2020.

By Anna Hart, Ben Lerwill
Published 9 Sept 2019, 14:30 BST
View of Edinburgh from Salisbury Crags
View of Edinburgh from Salisbury Crags.
Photograph by Getty Images


‘Adventure’ was once a byword for extreme endurance. We’d be forgiven for thinking that unless we had six months off work and a sherpa, adventure was out of reach. But travellers are now embracing smaller-scale, achievable adventures right here at home or in European destinations. 

British adventurer Alastair Humphreys is credited as the face behind the microadventure, something he describes as ‘an adventure that is short, simple, local and cheap — yet still exciting, challenging and rewarding’, and launched the Year of Microadventure challenge in 2015.

And it’s caught on since. This year also saw the launch of a new outfitter, MakeMyDay, offering adventures in cities such as London, Edinburgh and Amsterdam. 

“Travellers want adventure opportunities in their own backyards,” says founder Nick Boulos. “They want chances to experience their environment in bold new ways.” 

This might be biking through Perthshire, or paddleboarding in Amsterdam, but the promise of a microadventure is that you can still have out-there experiences and make it home in time for tea. AH

Bathsheba Park, Barbados.
Photograph by Getty Images

Travel sustainably

One of the surest signs of progress is that looking back, we find ourselves mildly ashamed by our past travel habits. Adventure travel experiences used to prioritise personal challenges and individual thrills, with little thought of the impact on the surrounding communities and environment. Today, there’s a real thirst for sustainable adventure, bound up with myriad ethical concerns including supporting local businesses, plastic consumption, community outreach and cultural sensitivity.

“Let’s be honest: to be truly sustainable, travellers wouldn’t stray far from home, but that’s just not realistic,” says Juliet Kinsman, founder of, a portfolio of independent, environmentally conscious boutique hotels. “Instead, travellers are thinking about who we’re giving our money to, where it’s going and how our actions and that of our accommodation choices could be kinder to people and places.” 

Responsible travel is no longer about booking a hotel with ‘eco’ in the title and hoping for the best. Modern-day adventurers spot tokenism a mile off, and are instead applying an ever-broadening and evolving definition of sustainable travel to their adventure trips. “Sustainable travel celebrates landscapes, indigenous cultures and histories so that a better world awaits future generations,” says Kinsman. “We’re demanding more from hoteliers and operators on issues like single-use plastic, water bottles and water consumption. I always ask what a property or camp is doing to address water shortages — do they have low-flow showers or low-consumption toilets, and are they using gray water where possible and collecting rainwater?”  AH

Top tips to minimise your impact 

Clean & green 
Ditch the detergent-heavy toiletries and plastic utensils for alternatives such as bamboo toothbrushes and cutlery, biodegradable wipes and eco-friendly shampoo bars — all much kinder to the environment when you’re out in the sticks. 

Keep it local
Wherever you are, try and eat local produce as and when you can. Not only will this help support local farmers, businesses and communities, but you’ll also be keeping food miles to a minimum.

Hands off
Treat nature with the respect it deserves. Designated paths aren’t to be veered off as you’ll risk disturbing the nearby flora and fauna, and although they might make pretty souvenirs, leave shells and fossils on the beach where you found them; they make up part of a delicate ecosystem. 

Bottle it
A given on any adventure, bringing a reusable water bottle on your travels is one of the easiest ways to cut down on waste. A bottle with a filter is a good idea if you’re heading somewhere where water quality is an issue.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland.
Photograph by 4corners

Transformative adventure 

Everyday life can have a numbing effect on our senses. It’s this that’s driven the desire for adventures of a ‘transformative’ nature — eye-opening trips that reinvigorate, jolt us out of a benumbed state and send us home as improved versions of ourselves. 

Luxury adventure travel outfit Black Tomato was an early pioneer in the transformative adventure movement. This year, the company launched a portfolio of seven new trips geared around offering travellers new perspectives on subjects like family relationships, wellbeing and professional development, with immersive itineraries in destinations such as Mongolia, Cuba, Peru and Iceland — the latter offering a chance to learn entrepreneurial lessons from the country’s economy after the 2008 crisis.

“I’ve always seen travel as a vehicle for producing answers to a lot of questions,” says Black Tomato co-founder Tom Marchant. 

“We all face challenges in our daily lives and it’s hard to find a solution when we’re in the thick of it. We wanted to identify those communities and cultures that have really interesting takes on these fundamental human building blocks.”

According to a 2017 study by the Adventure Travel Trade Assocation (ATTA), adventure travellers are beginning to put transformative experiences at the top of their list. In fact, ATTA found it to be the main motivating factor when booking travel. Reasons cited for this shift in attitudes include a desire for ‘personal growth and challenge’ and ‘expanded horizons’. 

“We’re living in an age where people are much more open than they ever used to be to embracing opportunities that truly better themselves,” says Marchant. “The role travel plays in helping them along on that journey is only going to grow.”  AH

Trips that transform

Best For…disconnecting 
Do The North offers a five-day, self-guided adventure in Sweden’s pristine Saint Anna archipelago. Don’t expect any creature comforts — you’ll head out to sea with just a burner phone for emergencies, a map and a compass. You’ll return having not glimpsed a screen for days. From SEK6,900 (£590), excluding flights.

Best For… inner adventures
Those seeking true transformation should put The Place Retreats in Bali’s Seminyak right at the top of their wishlist. The lush hideaway promises to leave guests emotionally detoxed and physically recharged. Eight days from £3,100, excluding flights.

Best For… regaining a sense of wonder
Flashpack’s small group tours for solo adventurers in their 30s and 40s have shaken up the group tour market, and their nine-day gorilla-tracking adventure in Rwanda is guaranteed to leave an impression — coming face-to-face with some of our closest animal relations is a life-changing experience. From £3,749, excluding flights. 

Best For…conservation
This summer, Airbnb launched its ‘Adventures’ channel, and for animal lovers, the three-day sea turtle conservation adventure in Costa Rica makes a meaningful addition to an itinerary to the land of ‘pura vida’. From £112, excluding flights. 

Roseberry Topping, near Great Ayton, North Yorkshire.
Photograph by Alamy

Solo adventure

They call it the Yorkshire Matterhorn. I’ve been walking towards the sharp-tipped hill of Roseberry Topping for more than a day, surveying it from afar like Frodo eyeing Mount Doom. Now I’m finally at its summit, looking out across a swathe of Northern England, a view so far-reaching I can pick out different weather systems. At the base of the slope sits the farm where Captain James Cook lived as a boy. His regular ascents of the hill are said to have inspired him to travel. 

I’m three days into a solo week-long hike along the magnificent Cleveland Way, the 109-mile long National Trail which marks its 50th anniversary this year. The first few days skirt the densely atmospheric North York Moors, with a brief diversion to Roseberry Topping, while the second half traces the high cliffs of the North Sea coast. The overall route follows an upturned horseshoe shape, meaning you finish only 30 miles from where you started — but that’s not the point. It’s about where it takes you.

I’m walking this trail at a selfish pace. If I want to spend 20 minutes sitting on a moorland rock trying to spot curlews, that’s my call. If I want to veer off-route to check out a waterfall, I will. And if I want to arrive at my overnight accommodation in time to watch Pointless — hypothetically, you understand — there’s not a soul to stop me. 

I’m not the only one who’s realised the joys of going it alone. A 2019 travel trends report from online booking platform Klook showed the number of solo travellers using its services had grown from 31% to 38% in one year. It doesn’t appear to be a generation-specific trend, either. A May 2018 study by showed that 40% of baby boomers had taken a solo trip in the previous 12 months, while a late 2017 report from US-based Princeton Survey Research Associates International concluded that 58% of millennials enjoy travelling alone.

The appeal of unaccompanied travel is manifold. It brings the freedom to dictate your own plans, for a start. It can also bolster self-confidence in a way that few other solo activities can match — when you successfully negotiate the cloud-snagged passes of the Andes or the remote peaks of the Pyrenees, then your world shifts slightly. The great beyond becomes not just more exciting, but more accessible. 

Solo travel doesn’t have to mean independent adventure, of course. Joining an escorted tour group as a single traveller can be just as rewarding, providing a ready-made set of new acquaintances and serving up a tried-and-tested itinerary. 

Here in Yorkshire, I’m covering between 10 and 22 miles a day. This is my third end-to-end National Trail, all of which have been solo walks. They offer the simple pleasure of following signposts across some of the quietest, shapeliest corners of the UK map, letting your thoughts ramble and your worries loosen. Each year, a reported 80,000 of us complete a National Trail. The Cleveland Way was only the second of these long-distance paths to be founded when it opened in 1969, but there are now 15 official National Trails on the British mainland, linking rural rights of way. 

I spend almost four days crossing the North York Moors. At times it’s a heart-filling expanse of sunshine and skylarks, and at others it’s moody, clouds ghosting across chilly hills. The entire plateau is blanketed in purple heather, a habitat for red grouse. As I’m here in spring, they’re everywhere, the air filled with their ‘go-back! go-back!’ squawks. I disobey, happily striding on.

The other thing about solo travel is that you often find yourself chatting with total strangers — passing walkers, bar staff, other travellers. Solo adventure lets you be as inquisitive and garrulous as the mood takes you. And on those days when all you want to do is order a drink and stick your nose in a book, that’s your prerogative too.

Janice Waugh, author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook, once wrote: ‘I’ve got lots of people I could travel with. But there’s something special about going by yourself. There are things that happen that just don’t happen when you’re travelling with other people.’

I spend the second half of the trail following a coastal big dipper of crests and bays. My path rises and dips through smugglers’ villages and penny-arcade towns, but when I reach Whitby, with its famous gothic abbey, I somehow walk a mile in the wrong direction in search of my B&B. If I’d had a travelling companion, that might not have happened. Call it character-building.  BL

Macs Adventure has a number of self-guided walking holidays suitable for solo travellers, including the Cleveland Way itself. The nine-day, eight-night trip itinerary throughout the summer season (April to October) and covers 110 miles with baggage transfer included from £635. Accommodation can be added for an extra fee.

Three to try: unaccompanied adventures

Just You’s eight-day Undiscovered Georgia trip includes a walking tour of the capital Tbilisi, a cooking class in Kakheti, a walk in the Greater Caucasus, trips to four medieval monasteries and the Prometheus Cave Natural Monument, and a day of activities in the Martvili Canyon. From £1,949 per person, which includes flights, four-star accommodation, most meals and the services of a tour manager. 

UK-based Girls on Travel specialises in trips for solo women travellers, in group sizes of between four and 12. The New Year’s Eve Iceland break includes a Northern Lights tour and a soak in the Blue Lagoon. From £1,240 per person, which includes accommodation in twin shared rooms, B&B, a New Year’s Eve dinner, and all transport, tours and activities. Excludes international flights. 

Riviera Travel has an eight-day Walking in the Tuscan Hills for Solo Travellers group itinerary, which includes guided walks as well as the chance to visit some of the region’s cultural highlights, including time in Siena and Perugia. From £1,329 per person, which includes flights, accommodation, half-board meals and the services of a tour manager. 

Mount Mulanje, Malawi.
Photograph by Getty Images


From Amsterdam to Angkor Wat, destinations have been grappling with ever-growing hordes of visitors, and are also having to consider crowd control like never before. Tourism can be a force for economic good, but factors like Instagram-led mass travel, cruises and cheap package deals have ushered armies of tourists into delicate destinations. Downbeat headlines about the social and environmental consequences of overtourism in destinations like Barcelona, Venice, Dubrovnik and even Mount Everest has made travellers think long and hard about where and when we place our tourism footprint.

This growing awareness of overtourism is good news for global adventurers, however, who look for under-the-radar destinations where our tourism dollar and presence will be appreciated. Travellers seek places where we feel like part of an economic solution rather than part of an environmental and sociological problem. Intrepid Travel recently published a Not Hot List for 2019 highlighting Asian itineraries and beyond-the-obvious destinations, including Sumatra and Bukhara.

The concept of undertourism means considering destinations that might have been knocked off the travel map after economic issues or natural disasters; or unsung corners of the world that offer a peaceful, but exciting alternative to congested streets and hiking trails elsewhere. It also means thinking about when we travel, and looking at shoulder seasons or low season travel, which not only keeps the costs of travel down, but also helps build a more stable year-round economy in the local community.  AH

Go now: off-piste destinations

Remote castaway islands, crowd-free safari parks and a brilliant music festival in the shape of Lake of Stars, Malawi is one of East Africa’s most rewarding, unspoilt destinations. Faraway’s small-group tours take in waterfalls and plateaus, and even a luxury safari. Prices start at £2,950 for an 11-day adventure, including flights.

The Caribbean’s best-kept secret was dealt a cruel blow by Hurricane Maria, but the island has rallied, and today offers rich rewards. Hiking to boiling lakes and mangrove swamps on rugged coastline await intrepid travellers. Secret Bay eco-resort offers a scuba/snorkel package, plus accommodation, for £2,200 for three nights, excluding flights.

Scaling Everest and hiking Nepalese trails is one of travel’s ultimate adventures, but recent images of mountainside crowds have challenged perceptions. A less-trodden route, taking in the scenery of the Indian Himalayas, is through Ladakh. Intrepid’s 11-day Hike, Bike & Raft trip starts at £1,003, excluding flights. 

Want to really veer off piste? Board a Zodiac expedition from the northerly shores of Canada’s Baffin Island along the Western shores of Greenland. Drift among icebergs and whale-spot, in this remote, wildlife-dense corner of the globe. Exodus’s 20-day Best of the Western Arctic expedition starts at £9,300, excluding flights. 

Published in the Adventure 2019 supplement distributed with National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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