We’re a complicated bunch, us Millennials. Traveling is no longer a matter of stopping in at your nearest travel agent, flicking through the brochures and making sure you’ve got enough annual leave accrued at the old 9 to 5. Uncomfortable with seeing ourselves as ‘tourists’, the new generation of jetsetters like to think of themselves as travellers; drifters; adventurers. We tend to shy away from tour groups and itineraries, because we want a little bit more from this orbiting emerald globe than pre-packaged postcard experiences.
Growing up with this mindset, it’s hard not to ponder how we continue to aspire to this kind of travel in the New Age of Technology, where every sunset is captured on Snapchat and you can’t walk past the local Maccas without Trip Advisor prompting you for a review. There’s an overwhelming amount of information available to us now, so it’s not hard to understand why people need to consult the occasional Lonely Planet Guide to help them sift through it all. At the same time we crave authenticity, but often find ourselves caught up in the tourist scene, struggling to make the deep connections that we seek because of one very simple, harsh fact. There’s a helluva lot of us, and we all essentially want the same thing. Never before have there been so many young, informed, cashed up adventure-seekers scouring the planet for that life-changing experience. I mean, if we’re relying on the ‘supply and demand’ theory here, then aren’t we all kinda fucked? How many untouched paradises are left that haven’t been exposed by ravenous hoards of bloggers, Instagrammers and Hollywood producers? What exactly constitutes experiential travel and how will the tourism industry keep up with the ever-increasing demands of those who pursue it?
But don’t throw out your trusty Kathmandu backpack just yet (the one that has no functional zippers and has been used as an airport pillow on countless occasions despite the fact that it’s caked with mud and possibly worse). We might be complicated, but we sure are creative when it comes to getting what we want. From scouring global tourism reports to drunkenly sharing travel stories with my vagabond friends, I’ve come across some fascinating global travel trends that might just put a new spin on your next travel itinerary.
Patagonia, not Paris
I can’t be the only one who has stood in line to climb the Eiffel Tower, tutting at the number of tourists ruining the place, only to come to the harsh realisation that perhaps I am no different from the man with the ‘I heart Paris’ cap standing in front of me. While it’s always going to be deeply satisfying to check off the sights that we’ve marvelled at in movies and magazines since we were kids, it seems to me that some of the traditional destinations for ‘sight-seeing’ are losing their appeal. With travel routes emerging all over the world, we now have the opportunity to reach some pretty wild places without breaking the bank (or our necks on rickety motorcycles and dodgy old planes). New roads, airports, boat passages and accommodation options have opened up previously inaccessible natural wonderlands like Patagonia, Mongolia, Iran, Madagascar and Antarctica – all of which are high on the list of the biggest emerging tourism industries. These days, every man and his dog has been to Paris. My dog is over croissants. She wants to go to the farthest corners of the planet where she can make friends with walruses, chase endangered penguins and eat exotic eskimo treats.
Travel trends in Australia are also shifting as remote and regional parts of the country are starting to gain popularity. Grace Richardson from Tourism Western Australia has been observing these changes with great interest for many years. She notes that the new breed of travellers are “valuing individual experiences that are a little off the beaten track. These are people looking for hidden gem destinations, somewhere that their friends and family haven’t been to before, Overall they’re looking for unique, enriching and life enhancing experiences that will last well beyond the span of their trip". Mother Nature in all her glory is making a particularly impressive comeback amongst city slickers who crave a little fresh air and awe-inspiration with their morning coffees. Whether it's exploring underground cave systems, giant tree forests or floating alongside the largest fish in the ocean - Western Australia's unique flora and fauna are reeling in more and more visitors every year. As somebody who is only just realising that these are the kinds of experiences that resonate with me the most, it's encouraging to think that there's now even more of an economic incentive to protect and preserve these natural treasures.
Quantity, not Quality
‘Vacation’ is not a word I often hear being thrown around my circle of friends these days. It implies a fleeting hiatus from our everyday lives where we hastily absorb our annual dose of culture and cocktails, then saunter back to work with sunburnt shoulders and a suitcase full of cheap souvenirs that always do seem like such a good idea at the time.. Nuh-uh-uh. Not us Millennials. If we’re going to fork out two grand on an international flight, then we’re sure as hell gonna make the most of it by resigning from our boring-ass office jobs and illegally subletting our apartments to some trustworthy looking backpackers before we go.
What it boils down to is time. The only way to ensure that you have authentic, meaningful travel experiences is simply to give yourself the time to exist somewhere without your mind being relentlessly tortured by the maddening echoes of your internal holiday clock, slowly ticking down to a keyboard-punching, fluorescent-buzzing reality. Whether you decide to spend a winter working the chair-lifts of Canada or a month holed up in a tiny beach shack in Sri Lanka, there’s no doubt that you’ll start to get a taste of that elusive authenticity that you crave. Sometimes this will involve creating beautiful friendships with local characters, and sometimes it will expose the ugly underbelly of a community that you could never have imagined when you first stepped off the plane. Either way, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow, and to experience the strangely eery tingling sensation that comes from knowing that a place has left you forever changed.
For some, these extended vacays simply don't cut it. That's why we’re seeing a massive increase in the number of Millennials cracking the cryptic ancient code that opens the doors to a parallel universe full of wonder, mystery and magic. A world where adorable labrador puppies roam the streets handing out fairy floss and some lucky bastards actually get paid to travel. My good friend Emily Hutchinson is one of these other worldly folk. She’s a travel/lifestyle blogger who is away far more often than she is home, and when I asked her how this lifestyle is becoming possible her response made it all sound eloquently simple:
“People don't want to (and don't have to) work 9-5 anymore. With the Internet and social media, people can work from anywhere - and why work in a 5 square metre office in the middle of a bustling CBD when you can do the same job from a villa in Bali? The information is out there now, and people are soaking it up like red wine on carpet.”
And for those of us who don’t want to be permanently on the road, but who need a strong regular dose of experiential travel to keep us sane?
“The tourism industry is becoming forever more accessible and affordable. Holidays are being seen less as a luxury and more as a necessary component to mental wellbeing. The change toward a well-rounded life is only growing in momentum. Travel opens doors in your soul that you didn’t even know were closed. I’m pretty sure when I’m 85 I’ll still be eating Mi Goreng noodles while backpacking through the Himalayas (hips permitting).”
I look forward to seeing the Insta snaps of that trip..
Participation, not Observation
This trend is a little bit harder to pin down. It’s not an observable phenomenon that you’ll find in tourism reports or market analytics. It’s more of a subtle feeling that we’ve all experienced in one way or another. That voice in your head that tells you to put down your phone, worry less about taking photos and more about taking it all in. The one that once ruined the perfect Insta snap when you decided to “live in the moment” or some soppy crap.
Digital detox is rapidly gaining momentum in our everyday lives and amongst a certain breed of traveller. Travel photos are one thing. Being constantly glued to your Smart Phone like a junkie desperately hunting crack is another. Like any addiction, Emily knows firsthand that this one can be painful to kick. “You’re forever searching for your next hit of wifi, but after a week or so you start to notice you can go three whole meals and maybe even a strawberry crepe without taking a single food related photo. It truly is blissful". Now that we’re looking at the world through our eyes not our phone screens, amazing experiences generally start to open to us. Instead of joining the throngs at Trip Advisor’s number one pick, maybe you’ll stumble upon a cool local hangout where a mildly intoxicated but ultra-friendly local called ‘Davo’ will tell you about a secret waterfall where topless babes do yoga whilst chanting ancient mantras that call forth rare and colourful local wildlife. That's the kinda shit that your grandchildren wanna hear about. Grace Richardson from Tourism WA puts it all down to the fact that these kinds of travellers are simply looking for opportunities to connect. They don’t want cookie-cutter experiences, they want something extraordinary that makes them feel like they’ve gained some sort of unique insight into a place. This is why local festivals and cultural events that seem to genuinely capture the spirit of a destination are becoming far more appealing than stock-standard 'tourist traps'. In the same way, standing on the sidelines and observing a new destination won't enrich your soul and ensnare the senses. Talking, exploring, engaging and participating will.
Travel truly is the only thing you can buy that will make you richer. It's the reason why I'm constantly terrified to check my bank balance, why my garage is filled with impractical shit that I will never in a million years either use (or throw out), and why I chose to forego any chances of a high paid career by studying global development and international relations rather than business or law. It's also a landscape that is constantly shifting. With new technologies making travel more accessible to a growing middle class and billions of dollars being pumped into the tourism industry every year, it's easy to feel a little overwhelmed by it all. I've seen once beautiful stretches of paradise completely destroyed by hotel groups; watched on as tourists have illegally climbed all over the fragile remnants of ancient kingdoms; and sat in countless bars where the only interaction that travellers want to have with the local people is asking for the wifi password. At the same time, there's a growing consciousness amongst many of us that travel is a kind of sacred art. Something completely subjective that can be practiced and refined until you get your own uniquely personal formula just right. Whether you're planning a digital detox or searching for that pristine secret beach - it's this constant pursuit that makes it all worthwhile.