Move over, millennials, there’s a new generation on the block. On track to be the largest, most well-educated generation yet, Generation Z is quickly moving toward adulthood. Born loosely between 1995 and 2010, many Gen Zers are barely old enough to vote, while others are finishing college and entering careers. But as the generation faces current and looming global catastrophes like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and historic income inequality, Gen Z has come of age looking toward an uncertain future.

As the founder and operator of the Young Travelers Network Facebook group and blog series, I’ve spoken intimately to this up-and-coming generation about how the world is changing them while also preparing them to change the world. Here’s why travel is so important to this generation.

I am the founder and operator of the Young Travelers Network (YTN) Facebook group and blog series, which bolsters the voices of and provides community for young travelers. We have 19-year-olds who have skipped college to become Arctic photographers, as well as chronic backpackers who hostel hop all over the world. I speak directly to this up-and-coming generation – particularly in what ways the world is changing them, while also preparing them to change the world. Here’s why travel is so important to this generation.

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After college, Rachel says she couldn't settle down for the typical 9-to-5 job © Courtesy of Rachel Taylor

New experiences over traditional expectations

The first truly digitally native generation, Generation Z was born in the midst of the information age. With the internet at their fingertips from their earliest memories, members of the Gen Z cohort have a strong appetite for personal choice – and sometimes that means subverting traditional expectations.

“Growing up in Nebraska, I hadn’t met many avid travelers,” says Rachel Taylor, now a 24-year-old service coordinator. “My first ever trip abroad was to South Korea and Vietnam at 16 after graduating high school early.”

In the following two years, she traveled to South Korea, and Peru while getting her college degree. But when it came time to job search, she just couldn’t settle down.

“Graduating from college at 19, I couldn’t bring myself to start a job with two weeks of vacation per year. So I went to Spain and Portugal, and ultimately I found a job as an au pair in Turkey, and continue on traveling.”

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According to one survey, a strong majority of Gen-Z respondents said that issues like race are important © DisobeyArt / Shutterstock

Empathy, diversity and inclusion

According to my recently published 2020 Gen Z Travel Report, more than 70.8% of Gen Z travelers found diversity and inclusion to be moderately to extremely important to them in areas like race, age, gender, body-type, religion, etc. Many refuse to think in black and white, and instead prefer to celebrate all shades of people and cultures.

Sarah Krieger, who currently works as a nanny, says exploring the world and meeting new people has given her a better understanding of other life experiences and circumstances.

“I recognize it is important to acknowledge every individual’s unique experience and how they are affected by the world around them,” the 25-year-old says. “I am conscious to take a step back and think about how others’ life situations affect their experiences and external interactions.”

“It is my job to continuously work to expand my bubble of awareness to incorporate everyone, everywhere,” she adds.

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The first generation to be true digital natives, Gen Z sees opportunity in doing their own research © Courtesy of Poppy Higgins

They know before they go

“My family will book a trip that has everything included, even if it is more expensive, just for the sake of simplicity,” says Poppy Higgins a 21-year-old student from England.

While Baby Boomers tend to find the seemingly infinite number of booking sites and travel options overwhelming – Gen Z travelers find it exciting. Their digital literacy means they tend to be skeptical of information found on the internet.

Gez Z travelers prefer to do a little more digging to find a truly good deal than accept the more obvious option. Instead of defaulting to a locations most popular hotel or tour package, Poppy says travel has taught her the joys of scrolling through different options like Airbnb or Couchsurfing.

 “I’ve learned that there is always another option,” she says. “I’ve been able to apply this to my everyday life, using critical thinking to look for alternatives... I no longer accept things at face value and in that way, travel has made me a better Gen Z.”

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Christina says travel has given her a new perspective on her home © Courtesy of Christina Presmy

Awareness of racial and ethnic issues

Twenty-year-old student Christina Presmy believes that traveling as a Gen Z-er has given her a different perspective on her home country, the United States.

“Out of all the countries I have visited, I have yet to experience anyone being rude to me when I tried to speak their native language and couldn’t. I wish I could say Americans were the same,” she says.

For any age of traveler, seeing the world can give you a new view of the place you called home for so long. The things you once considered inevitable, no longer seem acceptable. 

The Gen Z traveler thinks: “We don’t have to do things this way.”

By traveling we see alternative ways of life – and seeing these alternatives at such a young age like many Gen Z travelers, can have a profound effect. This new generation has taken hold of the spirit of activism and equality like many young generations do, and in 2020, Sarah feels these vocal critiques are more needed than ever.

“Travel [has shown] me how ‘in my face’ these racial and ethnic issues are in my own home country.” she says. “As I continue to explore the world around me and immerse myself into various cultures, I become more vocal about the need for Americans to change and become more accepting of other cultures and people that vary from their own.”

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Gen Zers prioritize sustainable travel © Frank and Helena / Getty Images

The importance of giving back

A survey of Gen Zers by Booking.com found that more than half of respondents believe the environmental impact traveling has on destinations is a major factor in choosing where to go. And that sentiment extends throughout their travel plans.

“Even with domestic travel, I can think more consciously about my actions to see how the travel industry impacts communities that rely on it,” says Khadijah Williams, a 21-year-old student from Missouri.

On a trip to Rocheport, Missouri, Khadijah visited a 7th-generation business that relied on the local tourism economy. And she saw what a fragile ecosystem that was in the face of events like COVID-19.

“I want to know how my actions and economic resources can help communities that I will travel to while being more conscious of the social-economic aspects of the industry,” she says.

Khadijah is careful to point out that she’s not just doing it for herself.

“My personal growth will lay a foundation to become aware of my impact on the world and those who I share this planet with to make a change for the next generation.”

Whether it's making their positions known in elections, fighting for policy reform in climate activism, Gen Z will change the world. And through travel, young people will carry that message around the globe. 

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This article was first published October 2020 and updated November 2020

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