Emma Glassman-Hughes considers herself a traveler. A twenty year old student at Emerson College, working towards a customized major entitled “The Political Sociology of Social Change,” Glassman-Hughes has visited South Africa, Qatar, and South Carolina just this past summer. In the past few years, she has spent a semester abroad in the Netherlands, traveling around Europe along the way, and toured the South of France.
Glassman-Hughes is not alone. According to the World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation, in 2020 we’ll see a 47 percent increase in international trips taken by millennial travelers since the 217 million in 2013. The Adventure Travel Trade Association says that millennials take an average of 4.2 trips per year, compared to the 2.9 average of older generations. Statistics from PhoCusWright, a travel market research firm, tell us that 66 percent of millennials consider travel a very important part of their life.
The youngest generation of adults – millennials are defined as the population between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four – is traveling more than any younger generation of the past.
One major draw for millennial travelers is a desire for adventure. Tammy Resor, 58 and the founding owner of Adriatic Kayak Tours, an outdoor adventure service in Dubrovnik, Croatia, says that millennials today are drawn to the sorts of activities she offers. “My experience,” says Resor, “is that they’re more interested in traveling to a place where they can get out and do things. Not cultural, not culinary, but kayaking or hiking or biking or activity to some degree.”
But the biggest difference between millennials and older generations, according to Resor, has more to do with scheduling. She offers two types of package tours: week-long, and day-long. Millennial customers almost always choose the one-day option. “Millennials want to figure out where they’re going, and then once they get there, find what they want to do,” she says. “Millennials are more comfortable drifting. They don’t have to book those hotel reservations three months in advance. This is European travel, where if you need to go from country to country, you don’t want to be on such a schedule.”
Kirsten Salonga, 21, is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, majoring in Biology with a focus on ecology and evolutionary biology and a minor in secondary education. In the past few years, she’s traveled all over South and Central America, and just this summer returned from a backpacking tour of Europe. Salonga is motivated, she says, by the desire to experience other cultures and try new things.
“Even domestically, I’ll try and experience as much as possible,” says Salonga. “I just went mountain biking [for the first time] on Sunday. It was a horrifying experience, and traveling can be the same way. But I just like to experience things, whatever they are.”
Resor says millennials are traveling in ways that other generations never have; she recounts the time she picked up a group of Polish hitch hikers who were participating in a challenge with thousands of others. The goal was to get through ten countries within six weeks, with hitch hiking as the sole means of travel. “They had to rely on people’s generosity,” says Resor. “No fixed schedule because they don’t know how far they’re going to get in a day, depending on who picks them up along the way. They were all backpacking and camping because they didn’t know where they were gonna get dropped off. I thought, that would only appeal to millennials. Somebody my age would not be doing that.”
Sonia Castelar, 22, a travel agent at Allure Quest Travel Experience, a travel agency in Nashville, TN, brings up another potential motivator behind millennial travel.
“I think social media has a lot to do with it, to be honest,” says Castelar. “When you get on Instagram, or you get on Facebook, and you see that someone has checked in to Paris, for example, or they’ve checked in to Antigua, Costa Rica, somewhere exotic, you start to build up these wants and desires to visit these places, because you see other people do it and you see them having so much fun.”
Salonga’s enviable Instagram account is just the kind Castelar is referring to, with frequent and beautifully captured documentation of her travels. A scroll through “adventuresofkirsten” reveals shots of the Széchenyi Thermal Baths in Budapest, the Athens Acropolis, and the famous bridge in Mostar, Bosnia – just to name a few. But Salonga isn’t traveling just for the ‘gram.
“Everyone wants to see the most iconic sights in the place that they’re going to. But it’s funny because the most interesting thing to me now is getting to know the locals, because they’re a part of the culture that you’d never really see if you’re only looking at sights,” says Salonga. She is interested in connecting with the people living in the places she visits, by using services like Airbnb and Couchsurfing, as well as being open and friendly when she’s out in bars and restaurants. She says some of her best travel experiences have resulted. Now that she’s back home, she wants to give that experience to travelers visiting the US; she is currently hosting a visitor from Germany and has had guests from Australia and France in the past.
Fearing the Future
Glassman-Hughes, student traveler, points out the pressures that many millennials feel about their lives and the future. “There’s a lot of financial pressure on us, and so the emphasis is on this very linear track that people are bound to.” Although young people of other generations have felt the weight of impending adulthood spent in a cubicle, Glassman-Hughes says that millennials are feeling it harder and in more ways; she feels that young people today are facing an unprecedented level of job insecurity, and an even more unprecedented level of uncertainty about what the future holds.
Climate change is an impending doom that’s becoming progressively more difficult to ignore, and there’s a genuine fear that the world won’t look the same in five or ten years, creating an imperative to travel, and travel now.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Antarctica. That’s always been on my list, mostly because it’s just an obscure place to add to the collection,” says Glassman-Hughes, “But I’m feeling a lot more pressure to visit some of those places, and different cities that are supposedly sinking into the ocean.” She also cites the increased frequency of natural disasters. “So [climate change] definitely has an impact – on where I would want to go, and the urgency.”
“I’m not a huge nature person – not that I don’t like it, but it’s usually not my priority,” says Glassman-Hughes. “I think I’ve felt a newfound intensity and appreciation for seeing natural wonders as they exist now, or seeing different species in the wild before they’ve gone extinct.”
Jon Honea, an ecologist and assistant professor at Emerson College in Boston, MA, confirms that the beauty found in nature is most threatened by climate change. “Kilimanjaro, the snow is disappearing, and that’s pretty iconic as far as climbing that mountain goes,” says Honea. “The same for lots of mountains. There will be lots of names that won’t make sense anymore.” He says that natural wonders, iconic coastal cities, and many animal species will be most obviously affected.
According to Honea, we’re already seeing the concrete effects of climate change. “Hurricane Sandy, the Snowmageddon that we got two years ago, those all clearly have climate fingerprints. The floods that we had on the Mississippi River, the floods that we had in Houston and New Orleans, all of those,” he says. Climate change is already altering our daily lives, as well as our mobility. The destruction we are seeing is scary; we are all seeing the effects at home. So it makes sense that the younger generation, by necessity less experienced and overall less well-travelled, would develop a desire to visit those destinations as yet untouched, or at least not yet destroyed, by climate change.
Near and Far
This generation also tends to value unique experiences. Glassman-Hughes says that from a young age, she had two principal life goals: to visit all fifty states, and to visit every single continent. “I think it’s taken me to grow up to think of traveling as more than just collecting names on a map,” says Glassman-Hughes. “But that is part of it; it’s nice to be able to put up a map and say, “I’ve been here, here, and here.” and feel that you have either made an impact on a bunch of different places, or a bunch of different places have made an impact on you.”
For Glassman-Hughes, travel is all about mindset. “Traveling can really mean anything,” she says. “Just leaving your front door is traveling somewhere, and I think [being a traveler] means that you’re aware of that, and you’re taking a sort of sense of curiosity with you everywhere that you go, even if it’s someplace that would seem mundane or someplace that would seem exotic. You’re treating it all not with an exaggerated curiosity that’s obnoxious, but a curiosity for the little things – paying attention to what makes things different.”
Travel agent Castelar’s clients have similar motivations. She says that in the sixties and seventies, Hawaii was one of the most popular travel destinations, but these days it just doesn’t carry the same “oomph” factor. “There are cooler places, to be honest,” says Castelar. “I think it’s definitely about going places that are unique. It’s different for everyone, but I think that for millennials, it’s about uniqueness.”
But unique experiences don’t have to require a long flight overseas. “Millennials, even those who don’t want to invest and spend that money on flights, for example, they still make their way to travel by car,” says Castelar. “You’ll see more people driving to Florida, or driving up to the Smoky Mountains, just to get away, just to travel. And I think there is an increase in traveling with millennials, but it doesn’t necessarily always have to be out of the country, or somewhere too far away.”
And as ecologist Honea points out, there is plenty to see in your own neck of the woods. “As far as traveling for vacation or tourism, there’s lots of alternatives. You can take the train, ride your bike. There’s lots of cool things that aren’t so far away that you have to fly.” He suggests nearby sights like nature trails or historical landmarks.
But the draw of faraway locations isn’t going to disappear overnight, and there is a legitimate value in traveling to expand your worldview or experience incredible feats of nature that only occur in a specific location. This generation is, in all likelihood, going to continue traveling at higher and higher rates. Honea just has one request: travel with intention.
“People ought to share their experience more,” he says. “And especially share it as: Is what they witnessed – seeing snow on Kilimanjaro, for example, or experiencing Venice – is that worth doing, worth changing our behavior to try to keep for future generations? So I think, rather than just voyeuristically getting to see all these cool things as they’re disappearing, you could actually contribute to helping other people get to see those things.”