ARE WE A GENERATION OF TRAVELLERS?
A couple of years ago, when I was about to move from Canada to the Netherlands for a semester abroad, moving halfway across the globe still felt like a big deal even though I'd already done it before. During the pre-departure sessions my university organized for outgoing exchange students one thing that everyone seemed to try to tell us was that we were doing something truly amazing, living up to the whole idea of globalization. I don't think many of us really gave it a thought for a second - we were way too busy going through swings of excitement, fear, anxiety, and complete turmoil. Little did I know that I would stay in Europe for good! My case, however, is apparently just an extreme case of what my peers are doing: we like to travel and we travel a lot. Like, A LOT.
In the past couple of years today's young adults have been receiving quite negative media attention: also referred to as Generation Y and Millennials, people born between 1981 and late 1990s are often described as entitled, delaying transition into adulthood, and lacking commitment. Sounds like a pretty terrible bunch of selfish folks, eh? And this is, mind you, every 6th person on the planet, or so Euromonitor claims. Well, this seems to be only one side of the coin. On the other side, however, these people are keen and seasoned travellers with the world at their fingertips. Sure, you might say, "But hey, these guys have the opportunities that were never even available until now!" and you'd be completely right. With borders much more open today than when these very people were born (e.g., my birth certificate is from the USSR) and with heaps of opportunities to go abroad that will not leave you broke as a church mouse, what matters is that it is actually being taken advantage of. A number of recently published reports already illustrate some noticeable changes, which I put in the infographics below. Too bad there is no statistics indicating which nationalities make the biggest travelers though, but I swear they must be Australians - are there any Aussies actually living in Australia still? Or Germans. Definitely one of these two. Anyways...
These reports capture many trends that I have come across, so I am really curious to see how things will go on. WIth the annual contribution of a mere $180 billion to tourism revenue, this demographical group will most certainly redefine the idea of travel in the near future.
Speaking of planning less and being more spontaneous while on the road, I turned to my social network of well-travelled folks to ask them about their experiences. They agree that planning the entire trip through is not all that necessary, because plans change, your mood changes, and so on. For instance, Jordy, a Canadian friend of mine who went on a 4-month-long tour around Europe, admitted to reconsidering his approach to travelling: "My breaking point was when I spent 3 full days in Paris in famous art museums and I felt like I hadn’t really stopped to appreciate any of it. It was all just overwhelming. After that I decided to focus on doing things that I would actually enjoy, rather than just things people told me I should do. [...] Next time I will be more flexible in my planning because as I went I heard about so many places that sounded cool to visit and met people that I wanted to spend more time with." Meeting people along the way is, indeed, a big influencial factor that every person I have spoken with agrees with, and adjusting your initial plans to these new encounters is common. "New acquintainces will sometimes make up half of the entire experience, and it is worth being more open to such plan changes," said Julia, who is a German backpacker I met last weekend in Ireland.
According to said studies, young travellers are not so interested in just chilling out. They want to be thrilled! This is also confirmed by my respondents (pardon my academic jargon), who name outdoor activities as one of the major things they look for in travelling the world - be it scenery or certain sports. When I went to Asia, I built my Indonesian itenerary around hiking volcanoes (see picture above) and scuba diving. Bas, a Dutch traveller with 2 RTW trips under his belt, follows his passion for surfing and snowboarding, so mountains and the ocean are a must. Another example was provided by Caroline, a Lebanese girl living in Paris, who has a newfound appreciation for rice fields: having spent a year in China and travelled around SE Asia afterwards, she claims those landscapes are the most beautiful thing ever. Their and other stories will be featured in blog posts throughout this month, so stay tuned.
One of the most interesting points in the mentioned reports, in my opinion, concerns the purpose of travel. As you can see, barely half of the respondents (over 30,000 people in 134 countries) who took part in the study conducted by WYSE travel purely for fun and leisure, the rest branching out to develop new skills or to integrate with foreign communities. Whereas taking a gap year and/or backpacking, hypothetically speaking, is possible at any point of your life, interning, volunteering, and studying abroad are options mainly aimed at younger audience, but which, too, provide an opportunity to see the world, just from a different perspective. When I eventually had to come back to Canada for a bit, I got to work for my university's department that is in charge of handling incoming and outgoing exchange - my team was responsible for designing and delivering workshops for outbound students. This was a fun opportunity to get to know the mentality of people who take advantage of such programmes as well as see what they want to make of this experience. Naturally, some wanted to brush up on their foreign language skills, others looked forward to reconnecting with their heritage. As for the majority, what I found out was rather predictable - most exchange goers simply considered this a "reasonable" way to move to another country for an extended period of time so they could travel around - ha, who would have thought! As one student mentioned, he saw studying abroad as a "solid reason" to move to Europe for a year. And he was far not the only one thinking so.
Out of almost 40,000 undergraduate students at my Canadian university, about 1000 go on a exchange every year. If you think it's impressive then that makes at least 2 of us, so I took to Google to see how representative this number is on a global scale (oh gotta love stats!). And here is what I managed to collect:
The numbers have completely skyrocketed over the past decade, and it does not look like it will stop there. What's curious though is how students choose their destination. Americans, for example, tend to go to the UK (12%), Italy (11%), and Spain (9%). I am not entirely sure what their decision-making is based on, but I'd assume it is similar to the motives I came across when working with students in Canada. Looking at Europeans, Erasmus - that is the name of their continent-wide exchange program - has also become very popular. Spaniards, Germans, and Frenchies are the most keen on participating in exchange, with over 33,000 students from each country going abroad just within Europe every year. Their favourite destinations are - surprise, surprise! - Spain, France, Germany, and the UK.
What are the consequences of all these changes? We shall see. Today's youth has already made a huge impact on the travel and tourism industry by introducing and shaping practices never seen before - just think of AirBnB and CouchSurfing and their phenomenal success. Still, this generation is yet to fully embrace not only the very notion of "open borders", but also its outcomes. One insightful study, in the meantime, points out that nearly half of European students with Erasmus experience go on to live and work outside their home country. It might be purely for work-related reasons, but how about those 27% who had met a long-term partner while studying abroad? The study goes on to drop another cheeky fact: "around one million babies are likely to have been born to Erasmus couples". Oh dear. Globalization at its finest? :)
What do you think of today's generation of travellers? Share your thoughts and stories in comments!