The Less-than-great Escape – How New Demands Are Shaping the Way We Unwind

The Less-than-great Escape – How New Demands Are Shaping the Way We Unwind featured image

Photo by Marco Secchi on Getty Images


Then: The staycation.

The staycation – like the Hollywood sign, engagement rings and halitosis – was invented by creative advertisers. Its 1944 beer-selling debut probably evolved from a creative brief that read, “People are stressed both economically and emotionally. They are in need of a vacation but can’t access the war-torn world nor their savings funds. The greatest getaway is in America’s backyards.” Whether advertisers can take credit for “Staycation” making its way into Merriam-Webster can be argued, the staycation still rose in popularity and became an accepted part of our vernacular in the early 2000s. The staycation was a solution to the problems of the times such as rising gas prices and the eventual recession.

Today, we still see the staycation as a trend within the travel industry, but this time it is driven by the economic and environmental factors associated with taking a big trip. For example, the German train Deutsche Bahn found success after it asked its countrymen to visit German doppelgängers of other countries’ main attractions with the hashtag #noneedtofly. The campaign gave comparative prices for the price of a plane and train ticket to the respective locations.

#noneedtofly by Deutsche Bahn

Local, eco-friendly or carbon-neutral lodging is increasing in popularity with 60% of Gen-Zers willing to pay a premium price for the eco-friendly accommodations they desire. Even niche tourism such as Dark Tourism sites urge fellow dark tourists to consider ways they can have the least amount of environmental impact. 

People are beginning to understand the impact their leisure has on the environment, and already 21% of people have reportedly reduced the number of flights they take. Even more impactful, airlines are addressing and embracing the shame regarding flying – urging patrons to take the eco-friendlier train. Royal Dutch Airlines launched a campaign asking travelers to pack lighter, to consider having virtual business meetings and to take the train. It even canceled one of its popular flights and replaced it with high-speed rail travel. The Dutch are not alone. Austrian and German airlines have also teamed up with rail operators.


Now: The microcation

While the staycation is still a prevalent part of our ethos, the trend has shifted and expanded to encompass what we call “microcations,” or small trips lasting no longer than four nights. These trips can go beyond a home radius as people travel to satellite cities or hub cities with ample travel options. Last year, 57% of Americans did not take a trip longer than four days. Microcations are becoming our main form of vacationing.

Unlike the early 2000s, younger generations aren’t restricting travel simply because they are cash strapped. Millennials and Gen Z are surprisingly not afraid to pay premium for experiences, trips, and activities. Instead, it is their ambitious and often over-worked lifestyles that demand smaller vacations.

The World Health Organization and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recognized chronic workplace stress as an occupational health risk. When we are always on, it may be difficult to turn off for a week-long vacation. Anxiety can be associated with taking a vacation, and over a quarter of U.S. employees reported taking no form of vacation. Millennial women are the worst offenders, with 66% not using their full vacation benefits.

Alongside the general stress of our careers, we are increasingly strapped for time. Americans have, on average, 10 days of paid vacation (grossly trailing our European counterparts at a mandatory minimum of 20 *cough *cough). Because vacation days are at a premium, many Americans have opted to simply extend weekend trips. They use fewer vacation days and spread them out throughout the year, giving much-needed bite-sized breaks from their hectic lives.


Companies React:

Bleasure: Microcations are also closing the gap between the question, “business or pleasure?” Business trips make up 20% of all travel, and almost 80% of people say they try to extend a business trip into a few days of leisure. In response, the Hilton family of hotels has announced a new line aimed at the modern businessperson. Signia answers the growing demands for work efficiency through available meeting spaces. It answers the demand for wellness opportunities by offering extensive spa treatments, group fitness classes and in-room workout programs and equipment. Beyond connectivity and wellness, business travelers are rarely opposed to living the tourist lifestyle and attending events or exploring the city, giving the host city ample opportunity to entertain.

Mini experiences: As a response to shorter trip durations, many tour groups are offering three- or four-day expeditions. Even cruise lines are giving 72-hour experiences to accommodate the trend. *See Gilligan’s Island for results. *

Additional experiences are all about where heads hit the pillow, including treehouses, hobbit holes or gamer-themed hotels. The Darren Gallery in Toronto, which can be booked through Airbnb, offers guests the opportunity to spend the night in the art gallery.

Darren Gallery's sleepover experience

Just stopping by: Apps such as Stasher allow day travelers to securely leave their luggage at participating businesses. Megabus and Expedia are just two companies that have partnered with the service. allows you to utilize Stasher directly through its app.

Due to an influx of day-trippers, Venice, Italy, will be charging a tourist tax beginning July 1, 2020. This tax targets roughly 36 million tourists who were just “dropping by” last year. Prior to this new taxation, the tax applied only to those staying overnight in the historic city. Will this lead to tolls in other popular destinations?

While some still champion the traditional vacation – like the U.S. Travel Association, which launched Project: Time Off in response to the waste of vacation days – it is hard not to accept and adapt to the changing travel landscape. Eco-minded, overworked microcationers require innovations that allow them to pack amazing experiences into three-day-sized packages. Business travelers must stay connected to their world, and those who dare take a day away from their desks need to be assured their days of leisure won’t come at a cost for mother nature.