Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Opinion | Wanderlust for millennials is about more than pleasure

Millennials see themselves as travellers in the classical sense, as explorers, rather than mere tourists

It comes as an epiphany, almost, as two factors combine to signal the approach of another dreaded summer in the Indian heartland. One, the strengthening sun and two, the plethora of emails and notifications on various holiday packages that I receive from travel portals. This second factor holds the promise of relief from the ruthlessness of the season ahead. While travel is often defined as a pleasure-seeking activity, for a millennial like me, it presents a whole new world of experiences. If one were to think of an appropriate image, then it is nothing short of a bees’ honeycomb.

Taking a cue from the theologian Augustine of Hippo’s remark that “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page", today’s millennials are rewriting the rules of exploration. Unfettered by inhibitions, they are chalking out itineraries that break the traditional mould of jet-setting.

The pursuit of new lands itself has gone through a seismic shift. While it’s no surprise that Generation X and their parents oft perceived travel as a luxury, for millennials, it has become a necessity. It stems from a desire to connect with the world by acquiring experiences curated to serve as lifelong memories. With this sort of “experiential travel", which codifies a new touring pattern where the destinations are not conventional and the rest breaks are more at bed-and-breakfast inns than luxury hotels, the journey is more important than the destination.

Research indicates that millennials travel more extensively than previous generations. According to a survey report titled The Millennial Travel Survey 2017, conducted by Skyscanner India, 62% of Indian millennials—those between the ages of 18 and 35—vacation two to five times a year. Further, a survey to analyse travel preferences of both Europeans and non-Europeans was conducted by IPSOS (a market research organization) and Europ Assistance in 2018 . The study, titled 18th Holidays Barometer, which featured 14 countries—including India, China, Portugal and Poland for the first time—reveals that in India, the intent to leave for summer holidays among the youth stands at 59%.

So what is fuelling this wanderlust among millennials? Is it an outcome of technology, which previous generations were deprived of but has now equipped millennials with an armchair window on the whole wide world? I believe it goes beyond that. As someone who has travelled widely both domestically and internationally in my late adolescence, I believe the answer lies in travel having been recast as an opportunity. Driven by the desire to live for the moment, and be one’s own trailblazer, travel presents a unique option to explore the world in new ways. From invigorating oneself through cultural immersion in a place through its people, food and customs, to redefining life’s priorities and aspirations, a sojourn to faraway lands opens up vistas one never knew even existed.

At the heart of it are experiences. These range from experiencing the gastronomical delights of a place to giving outdoor activities a try in the spirit of adventure—snorkeling, river rafting and bungee jumping among them. Millennials see themselves as travellers in the classical sense, as explorers, rather than mere tourists. This is a key difference. For it stems not from a need to see what is famous or what others already have, but from an innate desire to refresh one’s senses, surprise oneself and also learn. It is thus an authentic craving.

This need for real-world authenticity is especially high among millennials, given that they have been swept up in a tide of digital disruptions, which only heightens their desire to connect with their “true self". Travel does this better than anything else.

Bearing testimony of the above is one of my fondest experiences, a hot air balloon ride in Bristol, UK, during my postgraduate years. Cruising at an altitude of 1,000ft for close to an hour, with a birds’ eye view of the city that I have called “home" for a considerable period of time, being airborne in a basket gave me the pleasure of true authenticity. Travel for me, then, has never been about calculating the number of places I have visited or am yet to visit, but about standing back and soaking in the heartbeat of a new place and thus making the most of my exploration.

While an online life is partly what millennials are getting away from when they travel, social media undoubtedly also fuels the holiday spirit. It also serves as inspiration. Ideas taken from peers on offbeat places to visit are invaluable, as also those Instagram-worthy pictures of once-unseen sights. That other millennials are so keen to capture every moment of their exploration and archive it online for posterity helps in creating interesting itineraries. A 2017 survey done among millennials by travel website Expedia suggests that around 60% believe that holiday posts by one’s contacts on social media influence their choice of destination.

Another trend that has been found to be associated with the Indian millennial traveller is that of mixing business with pleasure. Increasingly, millennials want professional visits to other places to be enlivened by sweet serendipity, a discovery they can actually treasure from a work trip. In an age where nothing is static or unidimensional anymore, travel is an elixir that helps redefine the meaning of one’s life.

Sreeja Kundu works at Mint Views.

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