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We’re beyond fortunate to live in a time when we really can see and do it all with the simple click of a button.
In a snap, travelers can book a flight to anywhere they wish and see the sight they’ve been dreaming of, sleep in the hotel they’ve lusted after, and take a million photos to share on social media just to prove that they were there. However, most travelers now want more than just the ability to get from point A to point B with ease. They want an experience all their own. And that’s where the help of curated travel experts come in.
“Curated travel has evolved so much over the years,” Leigh Barnes, chief customer officer for Intrepid Travel, a company that focuses on curating some of the coolest adventures around the globe, tells Departures. “While for some it used to conjure images of big bus tours and crowds of 40 tourists following a guide holding a red flag, the reality of curated tours today is much different.”
And the differences don’t stop there.
“We think curated travel is, in part, a push back against the overtourism and huge group tours that have plagued so many parts of the world over the last decades,” Matt Woodworth and Meagan Labunski, the co-founders of Curated Touring, added via email when asked how curated travel has changed since the days of fanny pack-wearing tourists. The company, which specializes in curated luxury European getaways goes the extra mile to make all of their trips—like its brand-new excursion to Alsace, the “culinary capital of France"—as unique as possible. Woodworth and Labunski continued to explain, “few things are as cringe-inducing as seeing that enormous, neon bus pull up and then a guide coming out with a pink umbrella, leading 60 people behind her.”
Still unsure of booking a curated trip? Here’s everything you need to know about today’s curated travel landscape to see if it’s the right choice for you.
How has curated travel changed over the years?
As Woodworth and Labunski explain, curated touring used to look like this: Guests would board a minivan or bus, stop at different sights, listen to canned recordings or someone reading from a memorized script, before being shuffled back on board to hit the next place.
“So many tourists visit places like they’re checking items off a to-do list—it’s not very memorable or meaningful and there is absolutely no authentic interaction with the local culture or people,” they say. However, for them, “curated travel” is about both authenticity and privacy.
“It’s about visiting places in a deep, immersive way that allows genuine connection,” the duo notes. “It’s about going behind-the-scenes, multiple layers beyond what everyone else is doing, whether through privileged access to restricted areas or by using only those resources that we’ve vetted for utmost authenticity and the highest standards.”
The twosome adds, their job is to use their connections and expertise to get their clients into places, venues, and experiences that they would never be able to access on their own.
“That’s what curated travel is for us—and it’s the kind of travel that’s truly memorable and adds something to your life,” they say.
And that ethos of personalization and hard-to-reach access is shared by Intrepid too.
According to Barnes, guests on Intrepid’s trips increasingly want to venture to “more remote and obscure destinations and into local hotspots, away from famous landmarks.” And, Intrepid is there to deliver.
“[Curated trips] also catering to more adventurous and smaller groups, allowing each traveler a really intimate insight into a country,” she says. “They’re also getting more responsible and sustainable, which is a very encouraging sign for the future.”
Who is curated travel really good for?
Woodworth, Labunski, and Barnes all agree, curated travel is for those who are seeking a next-level journey.
“Our clients want a deeper dive,” Woodworth and Labunski say. “They are well-traveled, they are highly educated, and they have discerning tastes. They have cultivated interests—food, wine, architecture, design, etc.—and they believe travel is an important way to explore and broaden their interests.”
But really, Barnes adds, curated travel can be just as good for the novice traveler, too, thanks to the personalized attention from guides.
“With Intrepid, every trip is led by a local tour leader who can offer recommendations outside of what you could find in a guidebook as well as facilitate conversations in the local language,” he says. “A curated trip allows travelers to get the most unique and intimate insight into the true heart of a destination, because the experiences that are set up are put together by locals on the ground who know the destination better than anyone, along with experts who know how to make a trip flow seamlessly.”
What can people get on a curated trip that they can't get otherwise?
With curated trips, our experts say, guests can often gain access to places that may be otherwise off-limits or hard to get into. And, they may potentially get better rates for experiences and accommodations to boot.
“We can’t speak for other companies, but our guests are getting world-class access,” Woodworth and Labunski explain. “Access to art and architecture, to food and wine, to culture and history. They’re getting to see things that they could never be able to visit on their own, to experience things that are entirely new.”
Things like spending time in the Sistine Chapel in utter solitude, visiting the palazzo of a royal family and viewing their private art collection, and even an evening climbing around a nun’s cloister. And, on its aforementioned trip to Alsace, guests will gain access to private vineyard tours, curated tastings, as well as completely private after-hours entries to some of the most “important and historical sites” in the region, including the Unterlinden Museum.
As for Intrepid, Barnes says the sky is the limit as to what guests can see and do on their curated trips. That’s because it hosts hundreds of tours, including 100 new tours launched just for 2020 including Sudan and Scotland.
One thing both companies say is one of the most important reasons to take a curated trip: It gives back to the communities travelers choose to visit.
“We want a reciprocal relationship, in which we (both guests and hosts) are benefiting, in which both sides get something of value,” Woodworth and Labunski add. “It’s the exact opposite of the giant tour bus scenario that we mentioned before.”
Oh, and one more thing. Woodworth and Labunski want you to know your fannypack is still welcome on their tours.
“We predict that belt bags will be much more commonplace among American travelers in 2020,” they say. “Sort of like the crossbody of the new decade. So maybe travelers are still toting fanny packs, but just designer versions.”