With summer just around the corner and tourism bouncing back from the pandemic, many people are gearing up for long-awaited summer travel: A recent survey found that 60 percent of people are keeping leisure travel as a high priority in their budget this summer, with 90 percent already having an average of three trips planned.
However, that doesn’t mean the popular spots will look the same as in summers past. Here are a few destination trends that travel pros are seeing this year — some of which are familiar, and some which might spark inspiration to visit more off-the-beaten path places.
Small towns will be in the spotlight this summer, according to Discovering Hidden Gems travel blogger Eva Keller, who spends more than 100 days road-tripping every year.
She’s seeing a rise in visits to historic destinations like Tombstone, Arizona; Virginia City, Nevada; New Braunfels, Texas; and Solvang, California. Keller says that each of these appeals to outdoorsy types and history buffs alike — as well as people looking to relax away from big crowds. These destinations are known for their outdoor activities, including nearby lakes and rivers for water sports, and are all close to wine-tasting regions.
New Mexico checks a lot of boxes for people who want to have a unique experience without having to travel internationally, says Jason Kraemer, cofounder of Flashpacker Co.
“Americans are rediscovering the natural beauty of the country through road trips and outdoor adventures, helping bring New Mexico into the forefront of domestic travel destinations,” he says. “Taos and Santa Fe provide the other-worldly appeal many travelers have been missing, while remaining easy to access and being affordable destinations.”
These cities, he says, are fantastic bases to explore outdoor adventures, Native American culture and a vibrant food scene without having to necessarily hop on a long flight.
Towns that border national parks
As in 2021, travelers are increasingly choosing outdoor-based vacations, and this trend is expected to continue to 2022, says Sarah Casewit, senior travel curator at Origin.
“The National Park Service as a whole, all 63 National Parks, are on the rise in popularity,” she says. “Americans are realizing the natural gems in their own backyards and are more frequently using a park to pick a region they are going to visit. Then, the towns and cities around that park backfill the trip.”
Casewit suggests the tiny town of Springdale, Utah, near Zion National Park, which offers outdoor vendors, restaurants and cute hotels; Whitefish, Montana, near Glacier National Park, for its scenic views and activities; and Fayetteville, West Virginia, near New River Gorge, which was once voted one of the most charming towns in America.
Seek Out Serenity travel blogger Carly Klein recommends choosing these types of lesser-known destinations over Yellowstone or Yosemite.
“During peak pandemic, the most popular national parks were flooded by visitors,” she explains. “This has proven frustrating for the outdoor adventurers who were consistently traveling to these destinations pre-pandemic and are now faced with the issue of overcrowding.”
Her pick: Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. You’ll get to see stunning views of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains along with the park’s towering yellow sand dunes. You can also sand-sled or sandboard down the dunes if you're feeling adventurous. The park also offers some of the best stargazing in the country.
Beyond the park, Klein says, you can ride a train along the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which was named as a National Historic Landmark in 2012, or raft or kayak down the Rio Grande River.
Beach getaway mainstays
Unsurprisingly, Hawaii is topping many a wish list. “We have seen a significant number of trip requests for Hawaii, especially last month, for this summer,” Casewit says. “People want to travel domestically but they want the feeling of going away somewhere.” Maui is an especially popular option with its white, black and red sand beaches, bamboo forest hikes and five-star resorts — not to mention the chance to take a mini-road trip around the island on the famous Road to Hana and a stay in that cozy town.
California and Florida are also likely to be more popular than ever this summer, Casewit says. Although known for their popular theme parks, both offer plenty of other off-the-beaten-path activities. In California, visit Santa Monica and Malibu's beaches, hike the hilly trails and try to spot celebrities — or opt for something more low-key such as the Big Sur and Monterey area, or the sprawling Central Coast wine region. Florida offers nearly endless beach locales — from glamorous Miami to surf capital Cocoa Beach — as well as kayaking, hot air balloon rides and animal parks.