By Jess Goulart
Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Tanya Silverman.
What is a Millennial?
On Urban Dictionary, we’re defined as “special little snowflakes” with a tendency to constantly disabuse ourselves. The Millennial Legacy says we are an “indulged generation” who grew up pampered and were then shocked to find reality full of crisis and disappointment. The Atlantic asserts simply that we are “the worst.”
Ok, fine. But we are also entrepreneurial. We are the highest educated generation. Because of social media, we are the most globally connected. We hold the most liberal opinions to date on sexual orientation, civil rights, and smoking weed.
Even if we did have a charmed childhood (for shame!), we faced the Recession just as high school/college ended. Far from rosey, our post-grad world-view was colored by a murky job market over-saturated with BA’s until it sank. We are the generation of job hopping and student loan debt.
It’s really no wonder that we notoriously turn up our noses to stability because where would we have learned it from? We watched Generation Xers get fired with no warning from positions they’d held for 30 years.
Marriage? We’re part of the “hook up culture.” Kids? Maybe in our thirties. Career? What for, we can freelance from our laptops on a beach in the Bahamas.
Maybe we are all narcissists. Maybe we are all optimists. For now, it appears the epitomic stigma with which history will remember us by is uncertain. What is certain is that across the board, Millennials excel in one obvious way–we want to see the world.
To do it, we’re willing to forgo all manner of acquisitions our parents held dear: health care, home-owning, family, social security, job benefits–oh who are we kidding, a job at all.
“When I graduated from college, I traveled all around California, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, then to Oregon, Mexico, taught English in South Korea, then traveled all around Southeast Asia,” Tanya Silverman, Co-Editorial Director at BTR says.
Tanya Silverman in South Korea. Photo courtesy of Tanya Silverman.
“I thought it was a good idea to become a little more well-rounded before starting to think about permanent lifestyle choices.”
Silverman’s not alone, Boston Consulting Group reports the Millennial generation (between 16 and 34) is more interested than older generations in traveling abroad as much as possible by a 23-percentage-point margin. The United Nations estimates that 20 percent of travelers are young people, and NPR reports that Millennials are waiting almost a decade longer than their parents did to get married.
Our passion for travel is changing the industry drastically. First, we’re still a long way off from back pain and needing a solid eight hours of sleep at night, so we don’t mind crashing on couches, bed bunks, floors, or park benches with strangers (I’ve done all of that). When the sharing economy first cropped up we wholeheartedly embraced it, quickly fanning what were already hot embers.
Today, that fire is so big it may yet eclipse corporate travel altogether. A recent expose in The Guardian claiming AirBnB facilitates rip-offs was met with outraged reader comments on the hotel industry paying for that kind of publicity to try and stem the mass “migration” of its customers to sharing companies. Dozens of other big-name media platforms are abuzz with controversy over whether or not home-sharing is legal, good for the economy, good for travelers, etc.
Good or not, with Millennials as its core consumers, Forbes predicts that AirBnB is now, for better or worse, an “unstoppable” force and the sharing economy has spread to rides, meals, tours, even clothes.
Second, due in part to sharing, we are masters of cost-efficiency and nomadic freelance work, which has been made even more possible with the expanding and globalization of the internet. That, of course, results in more of us traveling, which in turn lowers prices even further.
For example, The Sun Sentinel predicts that the major travel trend of 2015 will be cheap European airfare. Why? Because of a huge influx of flying Millennials.
“To fund my travels I saved up, but I also did freelance work, so I just had to have a laptop. There’s a fluidity to freelance, which allowed me to work and travel at the same time,” Silverman says.
As for me, I lived on nothing but baguettes, spaghetti sauce, and 99 cent bottles of cooking wine for a month in Paris and managed a company’s Facebook page for cash. It was awesome.
Jess Goulart in Italy. Photo courtesy of Jess Goulart.
Third, thanks to being raised on social media, we are more intimately familiar with other cultures than any generation before and we value immersion over “vacation.”
A survey of 34,000 people from 137 countries by The World Youth Student and Educational (WYSE) Travel Confederation, reported young travelers are uninterested in “the traditional sun, sea, and sand holidays,” spend less time in “major gateway cities,” and opt for remote destinations, hostels instead of hotels, and long-term backpacking trips rather than quick tours. On average, a single trip for a Millennial lasts 58 days.
“With social media you’re able to communicate where you travel more and post pictures of these exotic foreign places, which encourages your friends to do it too,” Silverman concludes. “We also get a lot more information about the world these days, which is influential.”
We are lucky enough to have learned about the world not through still images in textbooks, but digital interactions with the living, breathing people who inhabit it. I still keep in touch via Facebook with friends I met all over the world, who in turn connect me with their friends, and so on. Suddenly, disparate cultures seem less mysterious and more easily accessible.
So, yes, perhaps being a Millennial means not starting our own families, climbing corporate ladders, building empires, or signing mortgages, but under the weight of our combined curiosity, the travel industry is shifting and the world’s borders collapsing.
I think that’s as good a legacy as any to leave behind.