When people say “go to your happy place,” where does your mind go? Many of us will no doubt picture a beach. Warm soft sand, clear blue water, cocktail in hand, novel in lap. It’s the perfect visual antidote to our busy working lives, to the frequently gloomy winter weather and, dare I say, endless Brexit chat. It evokes a sense of tranquility and calm, pleasure both genteel and hedonistic, of colour and warmth, and for us Brits, has always seemed to be the top dog of holidays. From Victorian piers in Brighton to all-inclusive hen dos in Benidorm, we are a proud nation of bucket and spaders.
But there has been a shift recently; a move away from the sand and towards a different style of holiday. The adventure travel market is firmly on the rise and has grown at an incredible rate in the last few years, with walking and cycling holidays seeing a particular surge. It’s something we’re delighted about!
I suppose the prevalence of Instagram and our newly found compulsion to capture more and more breathtaking and original photos may have something to do with it, as well as the fact that our increasingly sedentary working lives may be nudging us gently towards a more active style of relaxation. Millennials are, by all accounts, leading from the front with a demand for a more dynamic and diverse style of holiday with 86% of those contacted in a recent study stating that ‘experiencing a new culture’ was their top priority. Lying prostrate for a week just doesn’t appeal anymore, nor does being one of many on a generic stretch of sand. Millennials want authenticity and originality. They don’t want to be tourists. They want a unique experience.
But it’s not just millennials who crave adventure. Most of our guests, certainly on private journeys, are empty-nesters; that is, kids have left home and they’ve got time on their hands. I chatted to Tina Over, who along with her husband Paul has travelled with The Slow Cyclist twice over the past couple of years, about what draws her away from the beach and into the saddle.
“To be honest, I have never really liked beach holidays,” she said. “I find it hard to sit still! I like to relax but need to combine it with something else like exercise or exploration. There is so much more to be had from a holiday than sea and sand.”
We talked about her recent cycling holidays to Romania and Rwanda and what she gained from her experiences.
“The chance to see a country from a completely different side is a unique privilege. From the time spent with the locals, to the wonderful food, the history and the culture…for me it’s the perfect break and I can’t wait to do another one.”
‘Adventure’ doesn’t have to mean danger and adrenaline, bungee jumping or white water rafting. The definition is in fact ‘an exciting or unusual experience’, which I think perfectly encapsulates a Slow Cyclist journey. The speed you go has no relation to the quality of the experience. It is the sense of moving that’s important, the opening of your eyes to new places, different cultures, interesting people.
However much we love a beach, isn’t there always that moment, book in one hand, drink in the other, the view of the sea and sky, when your feet start to get a bit itchy? You begin to feel the pull of what lies behind you, not in front. Our natural inclination to wander, to observe and to document is finally leading us to have far richer experiences in places as remote as Transylvania or Zagori. We are never going to give up on beach holidays, however exciting the road less travelled may be. But if we start to think of them as one option of many, I suppose we may just find our happy place.