We need a vacation more than ever. Battered and broke, anxious and exhausted, we are desperate for an escape from our day-to- day lives. Yet in this new age of austerity, jet-setting has been jettisoned, private yachts docked and presidential suites left to the presidents. Though even French President Nicolas Sarkozy fielded plenty of grief recently when he and his wife jetted off to Mexico for a two-day holiday as guests of the Mexican president.
The travel industry is bracing for possibly the worst season since 9/11. The U.N. estimates that worldwide tourism will fall by up to 2 percent this year, with the Americas and Europe hardest hit. The number of international tourists going to the United States fell 9 percent during the year ending in January, and the amount they spent fell 7 percent. The number going to Britain fell 2.6 percent in 2008, and the number of Brits traveling abroad fell nearly 9 percent in the last three months of the year. Even France—still the world's top tourist destination—saw a 3 percent drop in visitors, most of it coming at the end of the year as the crisis took hold.
But this doesn't mean the holiday has been forsaken. Studies show vacations are one of the last budget items families will cut, and many cling to time off as practically a basic human right. Instead, they are traveling faster, cheaper and more creatively. In our annual special report on travel, NEWSWEEK investigates such trends as vacationing at home, exploring South America's wilderness, taking the old-fashioned spa cure, seeking out war-torn destinations for affordable five-star accommodations, embracing the all-inclusive paid holiday and discovering the joys of eating pizza all over the globe. Someday soon, we hope, this whole economic nightmare will end. Private jets will return to the skies, penthouse suites will be booked solid, three-star restaurant meals will again become standard fare. Until then, it's great to know we can still enjoy a picnic on a makeshift beach.