8 of the top travel trends for 2016

Selfie sticks. Dwindling leg room for economy class seats. Some travel trends should be avoided at all costs.

We skipped those and turned our sights on the hottest destinations, most interesting ideas and coolest concepts set to make their mark on the 2016 travel scene. Prepare to see these eight travel trends all over your Instagram feed starting Jan. 1.

Going to the Arctic

A guest gets up-close shots of a polar bear from the safety of National Geographic Explorer as it cruises the Svalbard Archipelago. Photo: National Geographic Expeditions
A guest gets up-close shots of a polar bear from the safety of National Geographic Explorer as it cruises the Svalbard Archipelago. Photo: National Geographic Expeditions
The polar-bear capital of the world, the Arctic Circle, has always been embedded in the imagination as a place where only intrepid explorers go.

Not this year. We expect to see more variations in polar travel this year, from Norway’s fjord-filled coastline to cruises near the Northwest Passage.

Camping on private land

Hipcamp is helping campers crack the code and find the perfect place to pitch their tents. Photo: Myles Tan for Hipcamp
Hipcamp is helping campers crack the code and find the perfect place to pitch their tents. Photo: Myles Tan for Hipcamp
So long, barely functioning, government-run camping websites! Hipcamp blew onto the scene last year as the definitive resource for campsite information and reservations. Think of it as the Airbnb for tent dwellers.

In addition to helping us filter campgrounds by location, amenities, activities and features, Hipcamp is also working with landowners to open up formerly off-limit areas to campers, from private farms to vineyards to land preserves, and is constantly expanding.

Taking a trip to Cuba

Cuba's colorful Havana capital. Photo: Cuba Travel
Cuba’s colorful Havana capital. Photo: Cuba Travel
Thanks to loosened restrictions on American travel to Cuba, it’s going to be a race to experience the country while it’s somewhat “untouched” by tourism.

With pictures of Old Havana promising charming colonial buildings and old-school cars, Cuba is bracing itself for as many as 10 million American tourists per year, the International Monetary Fund estimates.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service

Half Dome rises above the Merced River on the floor of Yosemite Valley in California in a first look at “National Parks Adventure." Photo: Dmitri Fomin
Half Dome rises above the Merced River on the floor of Yosemite Valley in California in a first look at “National Parks Adventure.” Photo: Dmitri Fomin
On Aug. 25, 2016, the National Park Service turns 100, so we predict tourists will flood the parks to help celebrate the centennial.

Bolstered by the Find Your Park social media movement launched last year and the planned 3-D IMAX film that follows Conrad Anker and Max Lowe on an adventure through some of the lesser-known national parks, we think park attendance will be at an all-time high.

Swimming with whale sharks in Mexico

A snorkeler swims next to a Whale shark in Baja. Photo: Baja Jones Adventure
A snorkeler swims next to a Whale shark in Baja. Photo: Baja Jones Adventure
There’s a reason swimming with whale sharks is on everyone’s list this year: With boat charters out of Bahia De Los Angeles in Mexico starting at just $200, it’s the easiest way to swim with an animal as big as a bus (without fear of being swallowed whole).

Opt for a low-key hotel or campground and hire a local fisherman to take you out on a day trip to scout these gentle giants, even telling you exactly when to jump in the warm tropical water.

Participating in a culture of sharing and borrowing

Colin_McCarthy_GOS15_04
GetOutfitted.com ships your complete backcountry camping package via FedEx to your final destination for free. Photo: Colin McCarthy for GetOutfitted.com
Avoiding that checked-bag fee at the airport has never been easier thanks to a boom in the “sharing economy.”

A slew of companies has sprouted up to help you share, rent and borrow everything from a backpack to a surfboard to a car while you’re traveling. GetOutfitted, The Quiver, GearCommons and Spinlister all offer rentable adventure gear, while Turo lets you borrow a stranger’s car, and Boatbound can help you score a boat for the day.

Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland

 The Northern Lights in full display over Iceland. Photo: Iceland Air
The Northern Lights in full display over Iceland. Photo: Iceland Air
Due to an 11-year solar cycle, the Northern Lights are expected to show up less frequently over the next decade, so expect travelers to flock to viewing points before that happens.

You need a few things to make that happen, namely a dark sky in an aurora hot spot like Norway or Iceland. Iceland Air is even offering special viewing packages that include nonstop flights, lodging, geothermal bath visits and a nighttime boat tour.

Taking a surf or dive trip to Sri Lanka

An island right off the coast of Sri Lanka. Photo: Sri Lanka Travel
An island right off the coast of Sri Lanka. Photo: Sri Lanka Travel
For a true rough-around-the-edges adventure, look no further than Sri Lanka. Skip the luxury resorts for a trip filled with crowded train travel, excellent surfing, beautiful ruins, hundreds of elephants and unbelievably spicy food.

It’s a world-class dive spot to boot, but you have to time it just right or risk running into periodic closures meant to protect the delicate aquatic ecosystems.

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