Young People Are Getting Off the Couch and Traveling

While most millennials are spending their time, I don't know, ruining the world with their apathy, apparently many others are leaving the U.S. to stretch their wings abroad. (Please queue up "Wide Open Spaces" by The Dixie Chicks while you read this article.)

At The Atlantic, Amanda Machado writes about the growing number of millennials who are traveling outside the country to see things besides the four walls of the bar down the block from them (or whatever else millennials do under the category of "party and bullshit"):

In the United States, the Boston Consulting Group reports, the millennial generation, defined as those between the ages of 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 all international tourists, or nearly 200 million travelers, are young people, and that this demographic generates more than $180 billion in annual tourism revenue, an increase of nearly 30 percent since 2007. The UN attributes that growth both to rising incomes in emerging markets and a commitment by youth in advanced economies to "continue traveling despite economic uncertainty." We are now the fastest-growing age segment in terms of the money we spend on travel, according to American Express Business Insights.

As Machado notes, a lot of young people travel differently than older generations did or do, "spending less time in 'major gateway cities' and instead exploring more remote destinations, staying in hostels instead of hotels, and choosing long-term backpacking trips instead of two-week jaunts." Millennials get overseas in more creative ways, like by teaching English in foreign countries. I also know tons of people who have gotten to remote countries by deciding to WWOOF there – work on a farm in exchange for room and board – and then travel around. A recent Pew Study found that when asked about what kind of inventions they'd like to own in the future, most young people were interested in things that would make it easier for them to get places.

Traveling is one of those things that is super daunting at first but the more you do it, the easier it gets. This has never been more true than the time we live now: while money has and always will be an issue with traveling, the barrier of entry to get somewhere is so much lower than it used to be. Not to make everything about The Internet, but last year I went to Ecuador with my best friend and it required basically no planning. We booked tickets there, she booked us some incredibly cheap flights within the country and through Trip Advisor and recommendations from friends, I found some hostels for us to stay in. I bought a Lonely Planet guide book that I didn't crack open until we were on the plane there. It was great trip.

Conceptions of safety have shifted too. It's far easier for people to feel okay about going to countries that are off the beaten trail. I've got no data for this, but I'd posit that a big part of why the number of millennials who travel has expanded is partially because it's so much more socially acceptable for women to travel (alone or with friends) than it used to be. Travel standards have also relaxed, especially for women. You can jump on a plane or a train wearing leggings and toting a backpack on now. As my very well-traveled grandmother likes to remind me, in her day, they used to have to wear "heels and hose" while traipsing around the world.

Of course, who travels hasn't changed that much: the income brackets millennials who are taking these trips fall into likely run from middle-class to wealthy and a large percentage of Americans still have never left the country. Maybe it's the start of summer and I'm feeling chill and optimistic, but I have this weird hope that if some young people start to travel more, they'll get some necessary perspective on life and those future leaders of tomorrow will bring that wisdom back, resulting positive change in our country and perhaps give others the opportunity to get out into the world.

In many ways, just getting around our own country might be more educational than going anywhere else. One of the best trips I ever took was a drive cross country: If you've lived in cities your entire life, seeing the Grand Canyon makes you feel like you're visiting another planet, except in the middle of looking at it you realize you're the alien. And "alien visiting another planet who didn't know they were an alien until now" is a surprisingly refreshing and necessary feeling to have every once in awhile.

Image via Tea, Two Sugars/Flickr