New hotspots, new styles of travel, new ways to get value for money – how we holiday is changing. Travel expert Simon Calder pinpoints the smartest ways to go, including one heavenly experience only available in April
On New Year’s Day 2020, I predicted that the ’20s would prove the best of all decades for the traveller, offering new destinations and experiences combined with outstanding value.
The past few years did not entirely align with that prophecy. First the Covid pandemic put the brakes on all travel, then a cost-of-living crisis took hold. Meanwhile, concern about climate change has risen along with the temperature in some of our favourite holiday locations. Yet I am more optimistic than ever about the prospects for 2024. Travellers are still determined to make up for lost sunshine, adventures and city breaks. We are, though, more appreciative of the freedom to travel, and more aware of the impact of our wanderlust.
So this year, smart travellers will be gentler on ourselves and the planet. We can forgo the crowded hotspots and seek out quieter corners. We can travel overland more, or via sea, to avoid aviation’s stress and footprint. We can slow down and make time to connect with local culture. And we can seek out those truly unique experiences that make travel so life-affirming. Here are my suggestions…
Don’t forget, wherever you choose to go, you can save with Boundless travel partners. With Barrhead Travel, for example, you can save up to 10%* on your 2024 holiday or 5%* off ABTA tour operator holidays and selected cruises.
Cooler climes: Swap the Med for… the Baltic
The hot, dry summer on the Greek island of Rhodes led to wildfires sweeping across some resorts in 2023, triggering an emergency evacuation of 20,000 holidaymakers. Portugal, Italy and other southern European destinations also endured extreme heat, with Rome reaching a sweltering 42°C.
Such Mediterranean hotspots remain among the most alluring destinations in Europe – but only when the season is right. Smart travellers will avoid them in high summer. From June to September, I predict a discernible shift towards the Baltic. For art, architecture and the flavours of the north, choose your waterfront capital: Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki or Tallinn. If you want an idyllic beach, Poland boasts some of the finest in Europe (Google ‘Leba beach’ for an eyeful), with family-friendly resorts and pleasingly low prices.
Or head to Denmark’s Jutland peninsula, where you can trundle by train to the northernmost station, Skagen, then cycle on to the point where the Skagerrak and Kattegat seas meet with geometrical perfection. The clear white light, pastel cottages and dreamy landscapes inspired a generation of artists. And, as Skagen is the same latitude as Inverness, you’re unlikely to overheat.
Slower travel: Take the trans-European night train
Travel with your eyes closed” is the slogan from start-up firm European Sleeper, which seeks to reinvent overnight rail travel. A basic Brussels-Amsterdam-Berlin spine launched this year, and from March 2024 will extend to Dresden and Prague. The route connects some of Europe’s greatest cities, and complements the extensive NightJet network that links Vienna with Rome and Amsterdam with Zurich.
Budget flights may be cheaper, but many opt for the reassuring rhythm of the rails and the chance to sleep your way across Europe in a newly romantic era of travel – not to mention the chance of a reduced carbon footprint for the more conscious traveller.
Meanwhile, the UK has preserved the key sleeper routes from London Euston to Scotland’s four main cities – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness – as well as the wild north-west link to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis (click here to read more). And there remains no better way to start a Cornish escape than with the Night Riviera from London Paddington to Penzance.
Cruising for all: Set sail for less
Cruising is growing – more people will set sail in 2024 than ever before – and so are the ships. On 27 January 2024, the latest record-holder, Royal Caribbean’s 7,600 passenger Icon of the Seas, begins her maiden voyage from Miami, boasting the largest water park afloat. If you agree with Jean-Paul Sartre that “hell is other people”, this candy-coloured mega-vessel may not be for you.
But cruising on smaller ships is a different proposition, and can be the ultimate low-stress escape: if you start at a UK port, you avoid all the airport palaver, and once on board you can enjoy unlimited meals and entertainment. Many welcome children, making cruising an increasingly popular all-inclusive family holiday.
If you haven’t cruised before, don’t over-commit. Sign up for a four- or five-day voyage, typically sailing from a Channel port across to France, Belgium or Amsterdam.
A good cruise agent can scout out the best deals. To keep the cost down, book late. On every cruise I’ve been on, I’ve met someone who booked in the week before departure and paid a lot less than me.
Budget breaks: Discover the best of the Balkans
"Wild east!” That was the brisk conclusion in my notebook of Albanian travels, scrawled two decades ago. Things have moved on and today Albania is calm, enthralling and set to be the hub for Europe’s liveliest airfares battle in 2024, as budget airlines compete over routes to the capital, Tirana.
This Balkan backwater, slightly bigger than Wales, is spectacular: the Accursed Mountains provide some of Europe’s most inspiring hiking. In the south, Butrint is an important archaeological site, while the seaside resort of Durres wraps around a Roman amphitheatre.
If Albania’s not offbeat enough for you, luckily it shares Lake Ohrid with North Macedonia, and the 54-mile shoreline makes a superb one-day circuit. The lake forms part of a Unesco World Heritage Site and is roughly the size of Rutland, though rather more scenic. A round trip is punctuated by churches, historic towns and a couple of international frontiers.
The lake takes its name from Ohrid in North Macedonia: part lakeside resort, part Unesco-listed collection of medieval churches. Its narrow, flower-strewn cobbled streets and decent lake beach are getting more popular, with flights from Manchester doubling this summer. Think of it as Lake Como on the cheap.
Once in a lifetime: Experience the ultimate eclipse
Astronomical phenomena are rarely crowd-pleasers. The most recent total solar eclipse spent most of its time darkening the Indian and Pacific Oceans; the momentary black-out before that was experienced mainly by penguins in Antarctica. But on 8 April 2024, a contender for total eclipse of the 21st century will visit North America. The ‘path of totality’ will sweep from the Pacific to the Atlantic during the course of that magical Monday.
Trust me, I have seen a few total eclipses over the years. If you’re somewhere on that line of darkness at the predicted time, with the good fortune of a clear sky, the experience will make a lifelong memory. Texas is an excellent prospect from a weather perspective. Yet I might just take a chance on Niagara Falls. Early April often spells cloudy skies above the iconic waterfall. But if the heavens are smiling, viewing an eclipse in a place of such intense natural beauty could be the ultimate travel experience.
Do more with Boundless
Boundless members get deals on dozens of holidays and travel expenses, plus free entry to top attractions, discounts on restaurants and savings on high-street brands and more. Discover more about Boundless membership here.
*Terms and conditions apply: see here for details.