My son is now at college. Has backpacking remained popular with students, since my college days in the 80s?

Back in the day taking a gap year or going backpacking was a rite of passage for most young people. It was the thing to do. In recent years, there has been less of an overall urge to travel, but it has been picking up and millennials are now hitting the road in droves. According to recent research, young people are travelling more, staying away for longer periods and spending more money.

The United Nations estimates that 20% of all international tourists are young people. This demographic, which is around 200 million people, generates more than $180 billion in annual tourism revenue, an increase of nearly 30% in the last decade. American Express Business Insights claims that millennials are now the fastest-growing age segment in terms of the money they spend on backpacking and travel.

The World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation has been conducting its own extensive research which it claims is the largest and most comprehensive survey ever undertaken for the youth travel sector. The group surveyed more than 34,000 young travelers from 137 countries over a five-year period.

The WYSET group concluded that young travelers today want to, more than ever, enrich themselves with cultural experiences, meet local people and improve their employability when they return home. Students and young travelers are now shunning the traditional sun, sea and sand holidays in order to improve their resumes. The report claimed that 22% of young travelers wanted to learn a language, 15% wanted to gain work experience, and 15% travel to study – all significantly up from the previous decade.

Technology has played a crucial role in the way people travel and research. Back when you went travelling, you had a battered guide book and word-of-mouth to get you around. Today’s generation has iPads and online travel portals. Students are now carrying connected devices and are constantly in touch with family and friends when backpacking. They can literally scope a place out searching for student discounts on travel, accommodations, shopping and restaurants before setting foot anywhere near them.

Despite the global economic climate a decade ago, students are spending more when travelling, since doing things the hard way on a shoestring is no longer necessary for many. Spending has increased by 40% since 2007 and young travelers are spending longer periods of time abroad. The number of trips lasting more than two months has increased over the last five years.

Student travel is not all about budget dorms and hitchhiking any longer. There has been a significant growth in travelers classifying themselves as more up-scale ‘flashpackers’ or ‘glampackers’ referring to backpackers who travel with laptops, smartphones, GoPros, and other high-tech gear.

More are choosing to live local and get immersed in the culture when they are abroad and a significant number are staying overseas to live and work for extended periods. Backpacking has definitely made a comeback for the youth of today, but it is not as we knew it.

The best education I have ever received was through travel…

Lisa Ling.

Written by Martin J. Young, former correspondent of Asia Times.

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