It's getting personal

JULIETTA JAMESON
Last updated 13:01 03/12/2013
Whitmuir farm

SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL: Visit the organic Whitmuir farm in Scotland.

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As travellers head overseas in record numbers, and with more and more travel experience under their belts, many are seeking more authenticity and personal encounters.

Touring companies are responding to this and offering innovative inclusions that bring travellers closer than ever before to the local experience and offer something unique and memorable.

Gone are the days when a guided coach tour meant never having to meet a local citizen, let alone get to know one. Now, you might end up dining in a family kitchen or ploughing a community field, sitting next to commuters on a morning train or walking in the footsteps of ancestors - all as an integral part of your tour.

Here, then, is our 10 hot-list touring trends for 2014.

GOING PUBLIC

Peregrine Adventures (peregrineadventures.com) has been putting its clients on public transport in Europe, the Middle East and Asia for years.

The tours incorporate a mix of private and local transport, be it bus, rickshaw or train. Now others are seeing public transport as a way to efficiently move people, and also give them a taste of local life.

High-speed rail is becoming a popular alternative to coach travel by road in some areas and Globus and its sister brands have been increasing the number of itineraries using high-speed rail to conquer distances in Europe and Asia. The Cosmos Asia (cosmostours.com) program for 2014 includes a new tour combining Beijing and Shanghai, travelling for part of the trip on the world's fastest train.

HOMES AWAY FROM HOME

Anyone who has ever dined in a personality-free barn on a city's outskirts during a bus tour will welcome a move by Beyond Travel (beyondtravel.com) and APT (aptouring.com) to include visits to family homes and small family-run restaurants.

New to Beyond Travel in 2014 are wine tastings at family-owned vineyards, such as on the island of Hvar in Croatia, Eger in Hungary, and outside Prague in the Czech Republic. Beyond says these were introduced because of an increased interest in local produce in these countries.

Also new for Beyond are home-cooked meals with local families in their houses in the town of Suzdal in Russia, Lowicz outside Warsaw in Poland, and Arbanassi village in regional Bulgaria.

APPY DAYS

Technology has become a part of everyday life, but in the world of touring it has tended to be restricted to radio-receiving devices for listening to tour guides.

In the UK, On Foot Holidays (onfootholidays.co.uk) has introduced GPS systems to its self-guided walking holidays in Europe. Globus (globus.com) now offers free on-board Wi-Fi on 75 per cent of its coach tours in the US, Canada and Europe (in Europe, the service sometimes depends on the country through which you're travelling).

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In 2014, the company will continue to add in-bus Wi-Fi wherever services are available.

Debuting in 2014, Tauck (traveltheworld.com) is collaborating with BBC Earth on an Earth Journeys series of itineraries in Europe and Antarctica. Earth Journeys includes access to exclusive BBC Earth content, as well as hands-on use of field equipment to see how the BBC's filmmakers work underwater and thermal imaging cameras, microphones and night-vision goggles.

ALL REVVED UP

Blame Ewan McGregor or Top Gear or probably both - motorcycle touring is on the increase. In 2014, Harley-Davidson Authorised Tours (authorizedtours.harley-davidson.com) will launch a program across New Zealand, partnering with Beker's Motorcycle Tours, a 35-year-old family-run motorcycle tour outfit.

The Harley-Davidson Authorised Tours programs cater for new and experienced riders, as well as pillion passengers, with self-ride or guided tour options. The addition of New Zealand means there are now more than 300 Harley-Davidson Authorised Tours across the globe, with an emphasis on "scenic routes, traffic-free roads, thundering straights and suitable accommodation".

Others have an emphasis on the extraordinary. In the coming year, Extreme Bike Tours (extremebiketours.com) will twice take riders - and pillion passengers - to Everest Base Camp as part of expeditions through Nepal and Tibet. There is space for 10 riders a tour, riding a fleet of Royal Enfield 500cc Classic Desert Storm bikes.

DO THE RIGHT THINGS

It doesn't take much digging to find companies offering enriching, meaningful activities.

Inspired by its founder's passion for sustainable travel, Insight Vacations (insightvacations.com) has established the TreadRight Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation designed to encourage travel that treads lightly. In 2014, Insight will include Whitmuir farm in Scotland as a Signature Experience on two Britain itineraries. Whitmuir is famous for its organics, sustainable practices, and support of local farmers. Insight's group will learn about community farming and get close to animals.

World Expeditions has launched a different kind of dedicated charity division. "There has been strong growth in travellers looking to use their travel to benefit charities," says chief executive Sue Badyari.

The Huma Charity Challenge offers itineraries through which teams of people can mount a sponsored challenge while taking in some of the world's most amazing sites.

In 2014, expect fund-raising ventures climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, trekking to Everest Base Camp, or walking the trails of the Grand Canyon.

DIGGING DEEP

Immersion is a tourism buzz word - the idea of steeping in culture rather than just passing through, of doing things the local way. Time is often the issue preventing true immersion.

Bentours has added new touring options for 2014 that cut directly to the chase.

Its Across the Wilderness package takes travellers by modified mountain truck to the uninhabited highlands of Iceland, while its Spitsbergen Discovery tour gives participants a taste of life as an Arctic explorer in four quick days.

The small group tour is land-based, starting at Longyearbyen, the remote main settlement of Svalbard, Norway, and includes a night at Basecamp Isfjord Radio, an old radio station 90 kilometres from town that's been comfortably done up, but still gives the sense of isolation Arctic explorers would have felt.

STAY RIGHT THERE

While Tauck continues to wow its guests with top-notch five-star hotels always in the centre of town, Globus is now offering home stays on some trips. Guests stay overnight with a local family and enjoy a meal with them.

Bentours (bentours.com), citing its observation of a trend in travelling for unique accommodation, rather than purely for the destination, has introduced destination lodgings for 2014

. The options next year include The Absolutely Ice Deluxe, which includes unique accommodation in Sweden such as Icehotel, the world's first hotel built out of ice-and-snow 200 kilometres inside the Arctic Circle (and which must be rebuilt each year due to melting).

Treehotel is a collection of amazing tree houses in the forest outside Harads in Sweden.

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

Anyone who has gazed out a coach window passing beautiful, serene Czech Republic villages, only to arrive in a teeming, fraught Prague in summer, will understand how underutilised the beaten track is - everyone passes the same stuff and stops at the same place.

In 2014, companies such as Beyond Travel are introducing regional town visits in places such as hot spot Poland, exploring Wroclaw and Swidnica, as well as the better-known cities.

The same goes for their tours in Russia and other eastern European countries.

In a similar vein, in 2014 Peregrine's Voyage from Greenland to Churchill will include several new destinations, such as the remote and seldom-visited Sandwich Islands.

WADI YOU KNOW?

As other hot-list destinations become inundated in 2014-2015 for events (Brazil for the World Cup, Turkey for World War I remembrances), Jordan, although increasing in popularity, will appeal to those seeking to truly get away.

Jordan Tourism is promoting the trek to Petra, the ruins of a once-thriving metropolis on the Arabian trade route.

Several tour companies, including G Adventures (gadventures.com) and Exodus Travel (exodus.co.uk), run trips through which participants experience Jordan as the Bedouins would have.

This includes having a Bedouin guide and sleeping in a tent at Wadi Rum. Exodus describes one such journey as taking its people "... from the incredible Romanesque city of Jerash and a dip in the Dead Sea, to the hidden rock city of Petra and the magnificent rock formations of Wadi Rum, the "Valley of the Moon". This trip in three words?

"Timeless, transcendent, tremendous."

PRIVATE LIVES

World Expeditions (worldexpeditions.com) says private departures are a growing trend for 2014. The company runs an increasing number of tours solely for the likes of groups of friends celebrating a birthday or a multi-generational family wanting to travel exclusively.

Some seek something more. Due to popular demand, Abercrombie & Kent's (abercrombiekent.com) private jet tours will be back in 2014, including one in Australia. Starting at a mind-boggling US$79,995 a person ($87,000) for 19 days, these tours represent a good deal more.

Julian H. Robertson, the owner of New Zealand's The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers and Matakauri Lodge near Queenstown, is planning two of his "Tiger Tours" for 2014 (kauricliffs.com/tiger-tour).

The tours include stunning golf courses, quad biking, horse riding, jet boating, sailing and a behind-the-scenes winery tour.

To top it all, new in 2014, there'll be private heli-golfing with guests flying into the mountains to drive biodegradable golf balls from the glaciers above Queenstown.

- FFX Aus

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