Sorry, Paris, Barcelona, and Rome. The longtime reign of these high-traffic destinations has ended for the time being, ushering in a new era for travel that wanderlusters certainly didn't see coming. Yes, instead of plush (and always packed) hotels and luxe resorts, travelers are seemingly opting for more unique — and secluded — vacation spots that run the gamut from treehouses and geodesic domes to tiny houses and intimate cottages by the beach. Oh, how the times have changed.
And while these unexpected accommodations may seem quaint and simple, they serve a dual purpose in helping individuals feel both safe and like they're still experiencing something special. "I think travelers are seeking out unique accommodations as part of their need to recoup the experiential travel moments they used to get when traveling internationally," explains Tiffany Layne, Owner and Travel Designer at LaVon Travel & Lifestyle, to TZR. "Obscure and unique stays evoke a similar type of emotion and nostalgia that creates a story to share, tell and remember. Also these special places have allowed for families, friends, couples, or even solo travelers to feed their wanderlust, but with the safety and socially distanced comfort which is currently needed."
Chereen Fisher, Founder and Owner of home rental agency Lodgewell says her clients are also looking for properties that serve as one-stop-shops for accommodations and entertainment. "Some of the common criteria has been 'getaway' type places with special, fun things to do on the property, within the destination because people aren’t relying on being able to get out into the city," says Fisher to TZR. "They want places they can go and not need to leave. The common thread seems to be, 'What can I do on the property and how can this property serve me?' versus, 'Where can I drop off my luggage and go explore the city?'"
Ahead, TZR tapped top travel pros to reveal some of the most unique vacations being booked right now.
Unique Vacation Ideas: Geodesic Domes
According to Airbnb's Sept. 1 trend report, "Trending for Fall: Nearby, Unique Stays and Rising Interest in Cities," domes (like the above Joshua Tree listing) are on the rise amongst clients. Made popular in the 1970s amidst the "back to the land" movement in which the New York Times says, people sought "ways to live simply hut well on the land, outside the economic institutions that dominate the United States," these retro huts can still be found everywhere — deserts, forests, mountains, etc.
Domes serve as fun alternatives to classic cabins and shore homes, another thing travelers are asking for amidst the pandemic. "Of those who are seeking out unique accommodations and experiences, I think they crave the new and different," says Mimi Lichtenstein, Founder and Custom Travel Advisor for Truvay Travel Design, to TZR. "They love going places and doing things that others haven’t done. "I’m sure there are some people that love getting the Instagram photo, but there are others who simply enjoy novelty and being different."
Unique Vacation Ideas: Tiny Houses
To be honest, the tiny house rental trend is not exactly a new one. In fact, in a Dec. 2018 article for TZR on the topic, Glamping Hub's Partnerships Manager Jessica Armstrong said the homes with cramped quarters have risen in popularity due to travelers wanting to move "towards a conscious and eco-friendly lifestyle, [and] the cost savings." With the coming of COVID-19, these factors are not only still important, but possibly intensified. Lindsey Maxwell, Co-Founder of alternative-home platform, Where You Make It says renting a tiny house with extravagant amenities can be a great way for vacationers to enjoy a relaxing vacation away from crowded areas. "Its intimate atmosphere can also be beneficial for couples to spend some quality time together," say Maxwell to TZR.
But close quarters don't mean you have to scrimp on luxury. Small but mighty, many of these tiny homes come with high-end furnishings and boast a stunning natural landscape. For instance, Airbnb's "The Micro" property in Lake Placid, New York, includes outdoor dining, a BBQ and firepit, indoor fireplace, full-functioning kitchen, and laptop-friendly workspace.
Unique Vacation Ideas: Treehouses
Layne says the rapidly growing treehouse vacation trend is a favorite of hers this year as they "evoke that childhood nostalgia and dream we all had of one in our backyard." Like tiny houses, treehouses have been steadily rising in the ranks for years, but their remote, among-the-trees placement has pushed them to the top of travel wishlists in recent months, according to Airbnb.
And, it's important to note that the treehouse rentals of today bear no resemblance to the scrappy treehouses of your youth. Many companies like Bolt Farm Treehouse in Charleston, South Carolina have reimagined the concept, and designed luxurious, eco-friendly retreats that not only immerse you in nature, but ensure ultimate comfort. "Most common aspect of unique stays are remote location, style of accommodation, and the services or experiences offered on-site that don’t require leaving the property," says Layne. "[...] I definitely think the trend for more unique travel options will continue."
Unique Vacation Ideas: Caves
If this year has made you want to go into hibernation, you're in luck. Cave-dwelling quarters are on the rise, and more common than you'd think. Cave rentals can be found in everywhere from Arkansas and Montana to Greece and Italy. And these rentals aren't the primitive stone structures of early man. No, modern caves are complete with all the bells and whistles, and are quite spacious. For instance, the nationally known Beckham Cave in Arkansas boasts four bedrooms, four bathrooms, a full gourmet kitchen, large living room with natural rock formation waterfall and lofts and balconies.
Unique Vacation Ideas: Train Travel
While the idea of being in such close quarters with other travelers might make you pause, private sleepers on vacation trains are actually great options for socially distant getaways — which is probably why they're soaring in popularity. "Amtrak Vacations and Rail Travel has always been the sleeping giant," says Frank Marini, President of Amtrak Vacations, to TZR, who explains that Amtrak has made moves to prioritize the safety of its clients. "We've done a great job with enhanced cleaning on board the trains, social distancing in the station and boarding, as well as 90% of our Amtrak Vacations business is in private sleepers so you are in essence in a bubble traveling to your destination."
As it happens, since COVID-19 hit, more than 90% of the company's bookings are new train travelers. "I see this trend continuing as so many customers who may not have thought of us are as we are still running," says Marini. Running, indeed. The executive explains that 70% of Amtrak's business goes to US parks like Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone and Yosemite. "With most leisure travel experiences either closed or not running (cruise lines, Disneyland), people are looking to see what they can do," he says. "Train travel always puts a smile on someone’s face when they hear about it…even if they haven’t been."