Millennials and travel after COVID-19: The golden age is over, but travel will never be taken for granted again

Pre-COVID, travel in your 20s was a feast: overseas trips backpacking through Asia, bus journeys through Europe, and a confectionery box of working holiday visas around the world to choose from.

For Millennials, travel was more affordable and more accessible than for any other generation. And yet despite it being arguably more visible thanks to social media, it remained a powerfully transformative experience for thousands of young Australians.

Professional surfer and mental health advocate, Cooper Chapman, from Kingscliff, NSW, spent five years travelling the world on the pro circuit. Now 27, he believes travel had a powerful hand in shaping his identity.

"I don't think you can replace the value that you get from experiencing first-hand other cultures, and understanding that there's a lot more in the world than Australia," says Chapman.

The rise of low-cost carriers and increased globalisation meant travel went from being a rite of passage for Generation X to a norm for Millennials. Then in March 2020, Australia shut its borders, restricting its citizens from travelling overseas.

"It's pretty sad, because I know how much travelling has educated, inspired and motivated me to be a better person. And the younger generations are going to miss that," says Chapman, a youth mental health advocate, who initially struggled with not being able to travel due to closed borders.

"But then my mindset changed. It was a big mindset shift from like 'Oh, poor me, I can't travel the world and surf' to 'Lucky me, I've travelled the world and surfed for the last 10 years'".

Psychologist Marny Lishman believes that after the initial shock of the pandemic and restrictions, "many of us are realising we are more adaptable than we think".

"In every way of life, we are in real time figuring out how to still meet our needs, whilst staying closer to home. So in regards to travel, if people still have the strong desire to do so, then they will find a way,' says Dr Lishman.

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However, the barriers to travel for young people will most likely be higher. Several low-cost carriers and budget airlines like Tiger have been shut down; on the ground some of the smaller, budget-friendly accommodation options and tour operators have closed and looking to Europe, countries and airlines are beginning to demand costly COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing or Antigen testing (or both) for all flights.

International travel will eventually return, but will it be affordable to a generation that used to be able to jet off on a whim?

"I do think at least at the start of the world reopening, it might be more expensive," says 26-year-old Holly O'Sullivan from Sydney's northern beaches.

So there may still be travel opportunities, but it might be just fewer options".

Like many young Australians, O'Sullivan has travelled extensively: trips with youth operators Busabout and Contiki, as well as independent trips with friends in Europe and Asia, documenting it on her blog, thatraveller.com

O'Sullivan considers herself lucky: she left Sydney before the current lockdown began in early June and is now working at a hostel in Queenstown, New Zealand.

"I definitely do wish that there were more places that I had seen, but at the same time, I know I wasn't ready," says O'Sullivan. "I think all of those things that I have on my bucket list are still the same ... the only thing that's kind of changed is when it will be possible."

Many operators believe that for now, younger travellers with a strong appetite to travel will look closer to home.

"Millennials have always been hungry for travel and the pandemic hasn't changed this. What it has done is altered the demand," says Brett Mitchell, managing director at Intrepid Travel, which has added several domestic local trips to cater to a growing market.

"While we do anticipate pent-up demand from millennials post-pandemic, we also expect local tourism to continue to be of interest over the next few years with Australians looking to support their own local communities as we begin to recover."

Despite the pandemic still dramatically impacting travel in many counties, Dr Lishman believes that for a younger generation, there will be little hesitation to travel because of safety concerns.

"Most people have a layer of 'being wary', but I don't think this will stop too many people travelling overseas," says Dr Lishman.

"I think that when everything settles, yes there will be always be a portion that will give up on their travel dreams, some will still do but will be more careful, and some will just happily jump on planes – the same as some people would never entertain travel in the first place (even pre-pandemic)."

Despite the disruption brought on by COVID-19, many young people's attitude to travel remains the same: when they can travel, they will.

"I'm a very, very big believer in 'just say yes'-and then work it out, rather than don't do something because you're scared of what might happen," says Chapman, who has just received a wildcard spot to rejoin the World Surf League's professional circuit, and will depart for the US this month.

"We're only on this earth for a certain amount of time,"  he says. Not exploring the world could only be detrimental "to the soul and the body you're given to explore this beautiful place".

See also: My gap year changed my life. Now many Australians will never get one

See also: Will travel insurance cover you for COVID-19? It may depend on the airline you fly

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