Millennial Travel: How Gen Y Travels

Millennial Travel: How Gen Y Travels
The millennial generation has increased focus on travel experiences Photo Credit: Getty Images

Team OT spills the tea on everything you'd want to know about travel for the millennial generation

OT Staff
October 09 , 2019
11 Min Read
Millennial’ must be one of the most hotly-discussed, colourfully-plastered, and keenly-inserted-into-SEO words in recent times. There’s a deluge of discourse on what is and isn’t a millennial, about their audacity to alter tradition, about strange habits and stranger language. We’d prefer not to add to this string of complaints.
When women began to show their ankles from under gowns, there arose a hue and cry about the death of modesty. When tattoos started becoming commonplace, many couldn’t dissociate them from gang symbolism. When photography gained popularity, critics called it the death of the art world. Change is natural, all-encompassing and inevitable. With the strongest tools in their hands to keep pushing forward, nobody knows this better than a young adult today.
There’s no exact definition on what is a millennial, otherwise known as a member of Generation Y. However, few elements seem to be commonly stated: millennials are those born between 1980 and the late 90s to early 2000s. The Pew Research Centre puts the cutoff date at 1996, while the Oxford Dictionary has chosen a looser definition, of “a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century.” There’s some variation in tangible expressions of millennial identity (fashion, popular culture, food habits), with Asia catching up a little after Europe and North America, but by and large, millennials are those who entered adulthood during the Information Age. They are tech and social media savvy, and apparently show increased tolerance and advocacy for progressive ideas. They are both active and sedentary; they are searching for work-life balance but are also willing to risk it all to reach the top; they are climate-conscious, but still, send much waste to landfills. Nevertheless, the desire for travel unites them all, even bridging generation gaps. We’re a young team at OT, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to piece together the ins and outs of contemporary travel.
It might be easy to accuse millennials of daydreaming. Often concocting bizarre scenarios, they pore through social media, wishing for an adventure of a lifetime. While not to be prone to extravagance, the motto of ‘work hard and party harder’ is one to live up to. If the experience is worth it, many millennials prefer to save up their vacation days and money only to spend it on one grand holiday. A once-in-a-lifetime indulgence, if you may. Be it walking the edge of the CN Tower in Toronto, or spending a night under the magical northern lights in Alaska. Even an ordinary escape to the hills might get elevated if it boasts of a dangerous hike, or perhaps an active volcano or two. We know of individuals who’d part with their life’s savings for shark cage diving in South Africa or a polar plunge in Antarctica. It is all for the rush of life, to get the right adrenaline kick, they argue. Spending days meticulously planning and shortlisting options is something they would gladly do (most would even have a Pinterest board for company!). Moreover, if they could find like-minded people, or convince their friends to come along, well then, wouldn’t that be it?
Work overriding the joys of new experiences and personal relationships just doesn’t make the cut anymore. Occupational stress that leads to burnout and, in many parts of Asia, even death, is a startling reality. The Japanese even have a word for its prevalence: karoshi, or death by overwork. Moving towards a more holistic lifestyle, many young people are trying a three-fold approach to navigate the intersection of career planning and adventure. The first is to take jobs that guarantee travel (think academics presenting papers, or careers in entertainment, air travel, public relations or travel journalism). While visits might be hasty with several experiences sandwiched together, it’s seen as better than an empty plate. The second idea is to consciously apply for careers that one can easily drop to travel. This is something we see famous travel vloggers such as Sorelle Amore doing (and advocating for) internationally, where seasonal or low-stakes careers such as being a lifeguard, barista, or department store employee allow you to save up just enough cash to travel. This definitely isn’t a permanent measure, and can seriously hamper long-term stability, so we assume it’s a youthful, ‘do-it-while-you-can’ exercise for the brave. The third option is to take up brief jobs while travelling. Ask around, and you’ll hear of at least one person who became a part-time Uber or Ola driver while backpacking across India.
A selfie in the infinity pool of Marina Bay Sands, or a picture of the glass bridge in Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon in China; a simple scroll through any traveller’s online accounts would show similar pictures. Travelling is no longer guided by experts or limited to guidebooks, especially when social media deftly bridges gaps between experts and influencers. One could easily be inspired to visit a destination based on a single gripping post, or be motivated to wrap their whole trip around one stunning hotel that offers great photo ops. What goes hand in hand with travel and social media is its value. And that doesn’t seem so terrible. If we were to move beyond the instant judgements on its vanity, this shift of social value from materialistic things to personalised experience is quite favourable. It is no longer about the fancy house or the number of cars, but more about your openness towards experimentation. A summer-long retreat in Paris? Check. A life-changing trek in the Himalaya? Double-check. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter (and if you’re particularly hardcore, Flickr) are our very own, self-curated feeds of postcards and experiences, all visible for the world to see and get inspired.
Millennials are the generation to move away from vacationing with their family, opting for travels with like-minded groups. These days, most travel companies offer group tours and their popularity may at an all-time high. The group tours are small, intimate, well curated, and specialised to suit your interests and needs. Group travel doesn’t necessarily mean travelling with strangers, as friends with similar interests also make for great company, and the comfort zone remains intact. A rising trend we notice is women-centric travel—see Women on Wanderlust (WOW), Wovoyage and Byond Travel. Many millennials believe that travelling with strangers can be uncomfortable yet liberating at the same time. And picking the right group tour is of utmost importance. While many prefer bigger tour operators, travelling with a travel writer or blogger is also something piquing the interest of many. Like Wandering Earl, or journeys with seasoned travel writer Rick Steves; both their tours are immensely popular, and garner a lot of attention. But interest is what ties it all together; many travel companies offer group tours for offroading or trekking, wine tasting or exploring the history of European countries. These specifics require a certain mindset, and it isn’t for everyone. But they are small and compact (think Wander Beyond Boundaries or Himalaya Trekkers) and certainly more eye-opening than a regular bus tour!
Let’s look at Skiplagged. A lesser-known lifesaver, the website reveals hidden-city flights, where your destination is a layover, making for cheaper tickets. It is so effective, it actually got sued by a US airline...and won. For millennials, staying true to their budget and finding such nifty hacks is important. Less is always more, and hence their preference for minimalism isn’t that surprising. While we don’t support ‘begpackers’ (one often finds westerners in Southeast Asian cities, begging for money to travel. Either they’ve run out of money, didn’t leave home with enough, or are trying out a vaguely-planned ‘social experiment’), minimalism and Couchsurfing have become immensely popular. Minimalist travel is exactly what it sounds like—pack only what is needed. Do we really need 14 pairs of jeggings on the road? Young travellers are consciously choosing to pack light. Easy and affordable are their mantra words. Couchsurfing too, has come up as an attractive option. It’s been informally around for ages, but the platform was officially unveiled in 2004 with the founders sending an email to a group of students in Iceland. The query: were they willing to share their homes with friends they hadn’t met yet, from around the globe? The concept is still this simple. If you have an extra couch (ranging from extra rooms to empty apartments) and are willing to host a traveller for a night, it can lead to a great social exchange.
For most millennials, true fear lies in the never-ending checklists that plague them while travelling; hotel bookings, itineraries, travel documents and permits, or even the number of items needed during a trip. A vacation is one where logistics and planning is not a worrisome concept, and moments just become perfect anecdotes. It may seem like a lot to ask, or even sound lazy. But when has laziness not yielded a smarter way of doing things? In recent years, the boom of apps and websites that organise travel is truly impressive. For instance, Google Trips can book customised tours, collect bookings, and provide recommendations based on location. It also lets travellers store data offline. Apps like TripIt and TripHobo build itineraries and plan your travel, offering directions, recommendations and alternatives if needed. Coming in several variants and price points, Packing Pro and PackIt create a list of essentials based on your trip’s location, length, the local culture, and access to washing machines. They suggest key items for important events, or documents one might need while travelling. Some of these apps might even remind to update one’s passport. With the world and its travel information on their smartphones, there is very little that may stop a millennial from truly enjoying their time out.
With the world seeing an economic and environmental downturn, millennials want transparency. They want active investment in sustainability. And they want immersive experiences without shelling out a fortune. This has led to a wave of socially-conscious capitalism that not only offers authentic experiences, but also shapes communities. Wary of overtourism, many young tourists and families now prefer boarding at homestays, ranches, family farms and community camps. These properties—rustic, comfortable, and entrenched in nature—offer an unfiltered look into local cultures and customs without the greying of gentrification. Making guests join the grind is part of the appeal. You can engage in tilling dry land in Spiti, milk cows and learn to smoke meat at a Konyak retreat in Nagaland, or go plastic fishing on a canal in Amsterdam. As clichéd as it sounds, it’s coming from a desire for transformation without and within. Understandably, this isn’t up everyone’s alley, especially if you can’t resist the allure of breakfast buffets and prefer the glamourous approach—and older hotels are here to deliver. Several heritage properties, such as the newly-renovated Raffles Singapore, or the Troutbeck in sleepy Amenia (New York), now have hotel historians as a permanent fixture to add some narrative flair to your stay. Some interpret this as premium brands digging deeper so as to not seem antithetical to local immersion, but overall, the jury’s still out on intent.
To lounge on the beach with a cocktail and a good book sounds utterly blissful. But for millennials, completely detaching from the world is not an option—and they are mostly happy for it. The urge to combine travel with volunteering is something most millennials would gladly give into, which is why ‘voluntourism’ is on the rise. In simple terms, it is the perfect blend of volunteer work and travelling to exotic destinations. While this may fall in the realm of ecotourism, voluntourism goes beyond just environmental conservation. Always wanted to explore marine life? Volunteer at the Marine Conservation Expedition in Fiji, or at the Sea Turtle Conservation Project in Costa Rica. At Auroville, the doors are always open for volunteers. With activities ranging from filmmaking to gardening to organic farming, working as part of the community is a gratifying experience. In the hills of Dharamsala, a linguist may volunteer with Lha, a charitable trust that works with Tibetan refugees and monks. While the concept gets flak for being superficial and patronising, done with candour, it can be a wonderfully immersive experience.

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