THE WAY I TRAVELED as an 18-year-old college student is not the same way I travel as a 27-year-old full-time writer. The one aspect my two selves have in common is that we are of the Millennial generation, categorized as people currently between the ages of 16 and 34, or anyone born after 1980.
Our parents were lured in by exotic vacations packaged neatly by travel agents that would accommodate their two-weeks’ paid time off from their jobs. But with an unemployment rate that’s still dogging many of us in the US, Millennials don’t have the income to justify those kinds of experiences. We’ve gotten creative with our lack of funds and non-structured time off. Our needs as travelers have changed as a result.
It may be true that most travelers are looking for some, or all, of the aspects listed below. And not all Millennials fit the mold. But from interacting with new travelers on a daily basis — as well as analyzing my own behaviors abroad — these are the desires I’ve noted when it comes to the next generation of traveler.
1. Constant connection
The #1 request on any Millennial traveler’s wishlist is for the world to offer free wifi, everywhere. We base our choices on how many outlets a hotel has, which airlines have in-flight entertainment, and which attractions are the most Instagram-worthy. We desire to be constantly connected to the outside world, and in real-time. We’ve also managed to maintain long-distance friendships with people we’ve met along the way much more easily than previous generations ever did.
2. Comforts of home
We don’t want to know we’re sleeping in a hotel — we want our accommodations to feel familiar. We like hunkering down at “broken-in” spaces — a la AirBnB and, to a lesser extent, CouchSurfing — where we come “home,” greeted by roommates, or to a quiet space just for us. We don’t want to be bothered by housekeeping knocks at 8am, or inconvenient check-in times. We would rather rent an apartment for a month than stay in a hotel for two weeks. We enjoy feeling like we’re a part of the community, and are more likely to accept a homestay as an option.
3. Authenticity and personal experience
We are driven by the emotional connection of travel. We want to see the Eiffel Tower, but only as a Parisian would see it. We want to eat pasta in Italy, but help make it fresh in the kitchen of a Sicilian grandmother. We choose to sit in trendy cafes for hours, surrounded by locals and unfamiliar languages, rather than pack our trip itineraries with must-see attractions. We are all right with taking a week to drive across the USA, because we know it will result in life-changing personal experiences.
4. Low-cost luxury
This is a given for most types of travelers, but especially for Millennials. We don’t have the income to drop $500 a night on a hotel room, but we still want to feel on top of the world. Our definition of luxury has changed as well. For us, luxury equates to a feeling of ease and low-stress — a taxi ride from the airport instead of using public transportation, or a glass of wine at dinner that isn’t the cheapest on the list. We revel in simple touches that aren’t part of our daily routine: designer bath products, complimentary Fiji water, in-flight amenities kits.
5. Independence and permission to explore
Millennials are plotting their own course in every aspect of life — their travel experiences are no different. The next generation of traveler is not looking for a guided or group-tour experience. We want to see the world our way, free of tour managers, of admission tickets, of guidebook recommendations. We don’t want to be tethered to a large group, be constricted by a detailed itinerary, or sit on a tour bus for half a day. We are renting cars for easy stop-and-go, collecting our meals from local markets, and soliciting suggestions from social media, as we need them.
6. Style, and a connection to the creative world
Part of the hostel appeal is that the spaces are decorated in unique, inviting ways. We look for rooms that have been designed by famous artists, or restaurants with signature dishes featuring locally harvested ingredients. We favor catching a live jazz ensemble we’ve never heard of at an underground club in Prague over an evening at the Moulin Rogue. Our souvenirs include handicrafts, fashion, and utilitarian wares that were designed within the local area.