Challenge yourself with a transformative tour in 2020


We all know the feeling. The cosy Christmas adverts on TV are gone, replaced by huge shouty discounts at your local cut-price furniture outlet. The tree stands drooping in the corner, turning slowly brown amidst a carpet of needles. The recycling bin is full to bursting with bottles, wrapping paper, Amazon delivery boxes... And now the calendar has changed from December to January, and you’re gripped by the unshakeable feeling that this year, something really has to change.


The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is said to date back as far as the time of the ancient Babylonians, and perhaps even further. When the polling company ComRes commissioned a survey of Britain’s most popular resolutions in 2017, the results were unsurprising: ‘exercise more’, ‘lose weight’ and ‘eat more healthily’ were the top three responses. 


Over the last few years, however, the traditional New Year’s resolution has morphed into something a little different, with a proliferation of monthly challenges linked to healthier living. According to YouGov, some 4.1 million people in the UK planned to have a ‘Dry January’ in 2019, giving up booze for the first month of the year. After the overindulgence and overspending of the festive period, going alcohol-free offers the prospect of losing weight, saving money and improving your overall sense of wellbeing. 


If you can’t quite commit to the idea of giving up drinking, how about foregoing meat for a month? Veganuary, which encourages people to try a vegan diet during January, has been going since 2014, but it’s only during the last couple of years that the campaign has really gathered momentum, as concern grows about the environmental impact of eating meat


And the trend for monthly challenges isn’t limited to January. Men have been growing moustaches for Movember since 2004, raising awareness of men’s health issues such as prostate and testicular cancer. Other hair-based initiatives include Armpits for August, where women grow their armpit hair in aid of the polycystic ovary charity Verity, and Decembeard, which raises funds to fight bowel cancer. More conventional challenges include Stoptober, an NHS campaign that encourages people to give up smoking during October.


It’s surely no coincidence that this vogue for personal challenges has exploded in the era of social media. Not only is it easier than ever to raise awareness for good causes and solicit donations from your friends; it’s also much more likely that a trend takes off, with hashtags rippling out all over the globe. Taking part in a big campaign like Veganuary or Movember can make us feel part of a community or movement, and can give us a sense of empowerment in the face of challenging situations, whether it’s the personal challenge of trying to lose some weight, or the global threat posed by climate change.


These trends are inevitably starting to affect the way we travel, and causing us to consider our holiday choices more carefully. Whereas a few years ago we were all talking about hygge, now the Scandinavian lifestyle trend on everyone’s lips is flygskam, the feeling of shame at taking a flight. Campaigners such as Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg have shone a light on the environmental impact of aviation, and many of us are now looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprint when travelling. 


Cutting down on flights opens up other possibilities, however. In parallel with flygskam comes another Scandi trend: tagskryt, or ‘train bragging’. All over Europe, the popularity of long distance train travel is on the up after years of decline, and mothballed sleeper services are being resurrected. Not only are travellers feeling smug about cutting their emissions, they’re also rediscovering the joys of rail travel, and there are plenty of tour operators capitalising on this trend.


Interrailing specialists Euroventure have some fantastic train-based tours around Europe, including an epic 28-night Whole of Europe tour, which takes you from London to Budapest and back, stopping in eight different countries along the way, and all without boarding a single flight. Or for the ultimate overland adventure, how about travelling all the way from London to Vladivostok by train with Great Rail Journeys? You’ll set out from London to Paris by Eurostar, then onward to Moscow via Berlin and Warsaw, before boarding the luxurious Golden Eagle train for an unforgettable Trans-Siberian journey across the unfathomably vast Russian countryside.


The desire to travel more slowly and get off the beaten track has been fuelled in part by the rise of ‘overtourism’, with popular destinations such as Venice and Barcelona becoming increasingly crowded during peak holiday season. Companies such as multi-award-winning small group specialist Back-Roads Touring are tapping into this niche, with tours that unroll at a leisurely pace, avoiding motorways and taking more scenic routes in search of authentic cultural experiences. Their tours cover Europe, Asia and North America, as well as a great selection of UK itineraries that range from Cornwall to the Orkney Islands.


Many holiday companies are also taking wellness seriously, creating new tours that meet the demand for a healthier, more ethical lifestyle. If you’ve been inspired by Veganuary then check out Intrepid’s special Vegan Food Adventures, exploring plant-based cuisine in destinations including Thailand and Italy. These tours are part of a broader trend for food and drink-themed holidays, with an emphasis on eating like the locals at markets or homestays. Food also plays a key role in G Adventures’ specialist Wellness tours, which focus on healthy eating, physical activities such as hiking and biking, and guided yoga and meditation sessions. Their growing roster of wellness destinations includes Iceland, Costa Rica and Nepal.


Whether you’re looking to make a big change this year, or simply dip your toe in the water and try something different, there’s a fantastic array of transformative tours on offer that will change the way you think about travel.

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