Categories Opinion Column

Nostalgia for Places We’ve Never Been

A Foreword about Connecting Past and Present

To describe our work as “tents” isn’t entirely accurate. Luxury Frontiers’ designs accommodate travelers who desire to experience the outdoors—sustainably, but in comfort, with a lovely bathroom and high thread-count linens on a well-positioned bed. And since we are talking comfort, let’s add an outdoor shower, a shaded deck, genuine conservation initiatives, custom furnishings, and design methodologies that keep guests cool in the summer and warm during colder months.

However, we have found that true magic happens when the memory of time spent outdoors manifests in the type of barefoot architecture that connects travelers with what psychologists call “personal nostalgia”: the kind of reminiscing that connects individuals to their past. Memories can be tricky. Sometimes, they are more glorious than the lives we’ve actually lived. But who cares? They are ours to keep and may drive some of our decisions. Read on to follow our Principal, Jesús Parrilla, on an exploration of the role nostalgia plays in COVID-19 travel decisions.

 – Luca Franco, CEO & Founder, Luxury Frontiers

Nostalgia for Places We’ve Never Been


Written By: Jesús Parrilla, Principal, Luxury Frontiers

Feeling nostalgic for travel yet? At a time when, for many still, the front yard is the farthest reaches of the world, nostalgia has become a collective ache—a “twinge in your heart,” as the character Don Draper on Mad Men once described it—to get out and go places again.

Nostalgia can feel like a powerful surge: Not only for places we long to return to, but also for places we have never experienced. To me, it’s almost like homesickness: An unexplainable passion to “go home” to places and times never known and embrace genuine things not yet experienced but to which there are profound emotional connections. Understanding and tapping into the psychology of nostalgia will enable travel brands to satisfy the yearning that travelers have and that will only be accentuated in the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown.

When discussions arise about ecotourism and tourism development in remote areas, there is a common question as to “why” people travel to places so far off the beaten track. What makes them choose remote areas for travel experiences? After years of study and first-hand knowledge about what drives the behaviors of travelers, I believe I can pinpoint the one feeling that subconsciously motivates them: nostalgia for a simpler world.

From the mid to late 2000s, my job as the Commercial VP of explora, a Chilean travel innovator, was to entice high-net-worth individuals to travel to remote places in Latin America. I was obsessed with understanding why remote areas attracted a well-heeled target audience. We conducted extensive research, including demographic and behavioral studies, data mining, and interviews with those I hosted from around the world. I even accompanied some guests on their journeys to observe and interact with them in a non-intrusive way. Most insightful were one-on-one conversations with people who were cultured, well traveled, and widely read—that is, our guests—on what drove them to travel. The two findings I drew from countless conversations were that travel is a primal human desire and travelers long for new unadulterated experiences.

I have spent years running hospitality and travel companies. Together with various teams, I evolved, improved, redeveloped, and executed travel concepts when I realized the oft-described “longing to experience new things” is, at heart, an interplay of existentialism and nostalgia. The relationship between the two is an emotional bond that defines nothing less than the meaning of life. We quench our longing for that which we do not know through a journey in which we turn inward, and couple it with the longing for simplicity, authenticity, and familiarity. This nostalgia was incontestably heightened by the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, as well as by the ubiquitous role of technology in our everyday lives.

Nostalgia, for me, is the conduit to interact with local people and places freely. It’s our curiosity to embrace new experiences and cultures with all of the senses, and all the while ease our cravings for unknown yet familiar feelings of a less complex past.

Understanding some values and traditions of the past are vital elements in crafting travel experiences. A deeper cultural learning opens our hearts to a simpler life and a time when people still lived in small communities. These experiences can take different forms, such as living off-grid, cooking over an open fire, embracing seasonal eating, or learning about food preservation techniques that are free of harmful chemicals and preservatives.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic trenches, we may be insecure and humbled, but for darn sure we’ll be hungry for new experiences. Hospitality and travel brands will be well served to move forward faster and firmer by simply looking back. Understanding the intricacies that nostalgia plays in why people travel will give companies a clear path to designing experiences that strike a chord with those longing for the bygone.