1. We’re searching for individual experiences.
While I was growing up, my great aunt Mary always entertained me with her travel stories. She was a single woman in the 1970s, visiting Jamaica with her best friend. She went to two days of Woodstock with a much older man. She spent a year cooking for the Rockefellers in New York City. I used to eat these stories up, but after a while they just made me jealous. As a millennial, it wasn’t enough for me to just hear her stories. I needed to have my own.
Millennials are people currently between the ages of about 25 and 32. What sets us apart from other generational groups is that we absolutely require our own individual experiences. When we were little, adults told us we could be whoever we wanted. We never stopped believing that was true.
Whether we’re talking about where we want to work or where we want to travel, we don’t set limits for ourselves. All of those legendary destinations we read about in National Geographic — the Great Wall of China, Mount Kilimanjaro, the temples of Tibet — they’re not just photographs to us. They’re places we plan to see for ourselves.
2. We’ll try anything on the road.
This mentality goes back to that search for an individual experience. We don’t just want to stay in a hotel, hit all the tourist traps, and go home. We’re using resources like WorkAway, WWOOFing. Couchsurfing, and Airbnb to make travel more personal.
We’re okay with sacrificing a bit of comfort or privacy if it means we’ll save a little cash and make some new friends. We’ll harvest some vegetables in Hawaii or sleep on someone’s smelly futon in Prague. We don’t just want to visit. We want to immerse.
3. We’re taking our time settling down.
When my mother was my age, she was already married with a kid. When my grandmother was my age, she was married with four. We respect our parents and grandparents, but we don’t necessarily want to imitate their timelines. Millennials are in no rush to ‘put our degree to use’ or ‘meet the person we want to marry.’ We believe in testing the waters.
If we went to school for accounting — but realized at 22 that we actually hate working in an office — we’re not going to freak out about it. We’re enjoying our youth and the uncertainty that goes along with it.
According to the Pew Research Center, only 26% of millennials are married by age 32, proving that marriage isn’t really our goal. For us it’s more important to define our life’s purpose before we even thinking about bringing anyone else into it.
So maybe we sign up to volunteer with the Peace Corps, maybe we hike the Appalachian Trail or spend a winter training to be a yoga teacher in Costa Rica. Maybe we do all three. Whatever we decide, we’re not going to rush. We’re counting on life being long. And we want to spend it doing something — and with someone — we actually love.
4. Social media connects us to a place even if we’ve never been there.
Nearly four years ago, millennials from all over the world participated in the Egyptian Revolution. Even if we weren’t there on #Jan25 in Tahrir Square, we were staying updated on Twitter and voicing our own opinions.
When we’re interested in a place, we research it across all platforms. Long before we buy a ticket to visit, we’re connecting with the locals through social media and are actually playing a part in their culture. Social media platforms allow us to stay up to date on what’s going on across our borders. We can immerse ourselves in local fashions on Instagram, popular restaurants on Trip Advisor, and local meetups on Couchsurfing.
It only takes finding the right hashtag to get involved in a place, even if it’s oceans away.
5. We’re educated.
Nineteen percent of millennials have a college degree, and 40% are still in school. If we haven’t gone to college, we’ve probably gone into the trades, spent time traveling or volunteering, or signed up for the service.
As a generation, we value education and have a lot of experience in academic settings. The modern classroom setting has taught us the importance of quality discussion. Many of my university classes were arranged in a circle and focused on group work. The emphasis was on developing a well-researched opinion and being able to back it up, all while working with others who might feel differently. Each class I took in college — whether it was in journalism, philosophy, or women’s studies — taught me how to respect and listen to others. And how to recognize the lens that I look through, and respect that it might be different from someone else’s.
6. We’re redefining the meaning of a “successful future.”
Success to us is measured by where we’ve been and what we’ve experienced. We don’t really care what Ivy League school you went to or how much money you’re making at your “stable-income job.” What matters to us is that you’ve ventured out. You’ve combated the status quo.
Being broke and confused in life isn’t a source of embarrassment like it used to be. It’s a source of storytelling. We idolize literary characters like Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise. We’re not looking to be the next Richard Cory.