Future Feature - The Shape of Travel
Darcy, a graphic designer, takes to Instagram to find inspiration for an upcoming trip to Copenhagen and befriends a local artist via chat; Melanie, a tech writer, looks to Tinder to connect over coffee on her vacation in the Caribbean—not in the interest of dating, but to seek out reliable and accessible insider tips; I post a Facebook status to crowdsource a two-week itinerary in Colombia.
TRAVEL EXISTS ALL AROUND US—ON THE APPS AND SERVICES DESIGNED SPECIFICALLY TO HELP STRANGERS CONNECT OVER SHARED INTERESTS, BUT ALSO ON THE SOCIAL PLATFORMS WE DEPLOY IN OUR EVERYDAY LIFE.
Due to the shifting nature of travel and social media's ability to bridge oceans, traditional hospitality brands are responding to these new ways of engaging the world by positioning themselves as lifestyle connoisseurs and proponents of adventure. To succeed in the industry in 2016 and beyond requires infusing every offering with culture and acting as a purveyor of knowledge, food and art. In that, everything from hoteliers to airlines to restaurants are placing increased emphasis on design, wholesome food offerings, local cultural integrations, and most importantly—people.
The Ace Hotel brand does this well, offering a meeting place for sophisticated urbanites to gather in a cool environments. Each of the hotel’s locations sell thoughtful souvenirs that reflect the identity of its respective city, as well as offer a curated events calendar that includes live arts exchanges, speed mentoring and writers talks. Maderas Village does so in a similar vein, while existing on a humble beach in Nicaragua, calling yogis, energy healers, entrepreneurs and designers alike to leave reality for a week (two weeks, a month, indefinitely) to mix and mingle under the stars. When we talk about places like The Ace or Maderas, one does not mention a bed at a hotel—such brands conjure an image of community.
AFTER ALL, IT IS THE PROSPECT OF SOMEPLACE BEAUTIFUL THAT IS SHARED AND LOVED BY OTHER MODERN TRAVELERS THAT FUELS MANY PEOPLE TO BOOK A PLANE TICKET IN THE FIRST PLACE.
These destinations are armed with talented brand directors and digital curators, creating spaces and opportunities for their visitors to pick-and-choose an adventure that touches on all of their interests, from music to surf to design. While said places so 'on trend' are not for me and my personal style of solo travel, I can dig it. I dig their social, their aim to deliver experiences that facilitate deeper human connection, their respective brands that exude style, sophistication and freedom.
Of all the cultural exchanges, dining plays a significant role in how I come to define place. While room service is luxurious and comforting, social dining inspires a sense of intellect and interconnectedness. In the hilltops of Guatemala, one of the greatest charms of the property I visited—and have since recommended to friends and acquaintances alike— were the family-style meals prepared by local-employed Guatemalans. There were always fluid, vibrant conversation while we passed around ceramic bowls filled with salad foraged by any guest who stayed longer than five days. It was participatory. It was fruitful. It was rejuvenating.
Bringing this into more modern settings, hotels can elevate their own dining experience by working with or supporting local farmers, or offering intimate dinner parties that encourage guests to knock knees with other guests.
These moments are special for one simple reason: they invite the traveler to participate and linger and tell a story.
"There are little moments, and the little moments make your memories, and the memories make a life that can’t be taken away from you by anyone or anything,” wrote Joshua Ferris in the New Yorker. It is such consideration of shared travel experiences that leave the visitor feeling warm, whole and satisfied. Perhaps that's why creatives like Darcy and Melanie innately want to capitalize on any opportunities that expose themselves to a new lifestyle, particularly through the eyes of someone who knows it best.
Travel today and beyond is shoppable hotel rooms, robot butlers, double-tap-my-instagram-pic-to-book-my-airbnb. It's everywhere I scroll, click, double tap and 'wow.' But for the traveler, it is also independence. It is escape. It is spontaneity. It is foreign and unfamiliar and awakening. And it is designed for us to create a story of our own. You no longer have to imagine it: you simply have to make the decision to partake.