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Traveling in a COVID World: The Gen Z Perspective

Do you remember traveling? Merriam-Webster defines it as “going to different places instead of staying in one place.” And if you can believe it, it’s something we used to do a lot. But then… you know the rest of the story. 2020 made taking a walk to the corner store feel like an expedition.

Here at JUV, we wanted to know more about Gen Z’s opinions about traveling amid a COVID-19 world. We surveyed The Receipt*, our in-house global research network of over 5,000 young people. We asked them for their opinions on traveling in a COVID-19 world. Here is what we learned…

COVID-19 changed Gen Z’s travel priorities

While the times may have changed, Gen Z’s desire for new experiences has not. 70% of Gen Z respondents canceled 2020 travel plans, leaving behind a strong desire to experience new places whenever possible. However, the pandemic did not change everyone’s perspective on travel; in fact, 6% of respondents had 2020 travel plans that they did not cancel. 

Many Gen Z respondents said that cleanliness has become much more important to them when planning a trip. “I am more conscious about how unsanitary it is to travel on trains and planes. Now, whenever I have to do it, I genuinely fear for my health and safety,” said one 18-year-old respondent from Beachwood, New Jersey. 

Plus, social distancing has had a profound effect on Gen Z’s opinions of different places to go. “If I were to travel right now, I would not leave the country and most likely go to a national park to avoid large crowded areas,” said one 17-year-old respondent from Minot, North Dakota.

Still, 29% of Gen Z have made 2021 travel plans, and another 49% are considering it. Many respondents said that outdoor trips with a focus on nature-related activities are preferred, such as hiking and kayaking. These types of activities can be great to take care of both physical and mental health, which Gen Z prioritizes. The open-air is also much safer than indoor activities.

We also want to see as much of the natural world as we can due to our rising environmental concerns. Some of the most iconic and famous places are at risk of being damaged by climate change and human impact. If Gen Z doesn’t see them soon, we might not get another chance. 

What Gen Z wants to do when traveling

For Gen Z, experiences and activities are prioritized over unstructured free time. 48% of respondents said they prefer their vacations to be primarily structured activities, with some planned free time to rest or wander. The internet makes it incredibly easy for us to do our homework before planning trips. We know exactly what activities we want to do and how to get the best deals on them, without a moment or dollar wasted.

As for destinations, Gen Z wants to visit Asia and Europe the most. The top dream vacation spot is Japan. Why? Japanese media, such as anime and video games, is especially popular with young people. Plus, the technology and futurism in Tokyo and other Japanese cities are incredibly appealing to a tech-native generation. 

Other dream destinations include…

  • Greece – Santorini beaches, anyone?
  • Italy – Food. So much food.
  • France – We want to right Emily in Paris’s wrongs.
  • South Korea – Straight to the source of K-pop.

While traveling, Gen Z is especially eager to try the local cuisine: 29% of respondents decided that trying new food was in their top two favorite activities while traveling. We’re all very tired of home-cooking, so we are also eager to learn about the meals that people enjoy around the world

Honorable mentions include viewing art and architecture (19%), outdoor activities (17%), taking photos (11%), and shopping (10%). Gen Z appreciates learning about the places visited and bringing those memories back home.

 

74% of respondents said that 1-3 weeks is the ideal length of time for a vacation. The duration feels like enough time to enjoy a location as much as possible without getting tired of it. And realistically, we have to take into account how long our workplaces allow us time off. We want a healthy work-life balance — if we can’t get a whole week off, extended weekend vacations are a great way to break up the weekday monotony.

The pandemic has also taught Gen Z the value of closer friendships and family ties: over half of respondents said that they prefer to travel with a small group of close friends. Another 31% prefer family trips. We would rather not travel completely alone, but we also aren’t interested in a huge group. (Think Fyre Festival.) Traveling with only a few close friends or family members is generally safer and more inexpensive than traveling alone, and it makes the trip feel more unique than if it were shared with a larger group.

Social media is Gen Z’s top source of inspiration for travel destinations, probably because we’re always on it (unless we’re on a digital detox). Travel influencers and friends posting on Instagram can guide Gen Z in selecting their dream vacation spots. However, Gen Z isn’t planning trips solely off of Instagram-worthy shots. Young people are also thinking more critically about the other effects of tourism on global communities and ecosystems. 

It’s about more than the experiences

Gen Z is a very conscientious cohort, thinking beyond our own experiences when we’re planning a trip to another place. As the most diverse generation yet,  Gen Z holds a deep respect for the different types of people and life experiences around the world. 31% of Gen Z respondents said that cultural appropriation was something that they thought about when deciding on where to travel. Another 29% consider the economic impact of tourism on the localities they visit. 

Gen Z also thinks about how traveling is a privilege that is not shared by everyone else in the world. “I have understood the value and privilege that comes with traveling as many are unable to do so,” said one 17-year-old from Queens, New York. Recognizing this privilege is integral to traveling as respectfully as possible, and appreciating experiences abroad as much as possible. 

Climate change concerns also fuel Gen Z’s strong awareness of the environmental effects of our travel. 28% of the United States’ energy use goes toward transportation. (Remember Greta Thunberg’s iconic voyage across the Atlantic?) Gen Z is very cognizant of the carbon footprint left behind by different forms of travel.

Environmental impact is not limited only to transportation. 19% of Gen Z respondents considered pollution and land degradation as important factors to consider when planning a trip. Tourism’s detrimental effects on places such as Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, and Stonehenge are not easy to ignore. Gen Z cares about climate change and sustainability because we grew up with the knowledge that our actions have larger effects on the environment.

But what’s travel without a budget? Although Gen Z takes very good care of their finances, our youth means we simply do not have as much money to spend on travel. One 16-year-old respondent from Chino Hills, California said, “I find excessive traveling a waste of money because COVID-19 opened my eyes to local, beautiful areas.” We don’t need to spend as much on flights and hotels when we can day-trip to a local museum or park instead.

The future of traveling

As Gen Z’s role in the workforce and global economy grows, so will our ideas and opinions about travel. Gen Z’s travel priorities will soon shape the industry, especially as social media makes travel inspiration easier to come by. As tech natives, Gen Z wants travel companies (such as hotels, airlines, and tours) to make their services accessible online. 

And if we’ve learned nothing else, Gen Z definitely wants refundable tickets. 


JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at info@juvconsulting.com if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z, or sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Screenshot, to get Gen Z insights straight to your inbox.

*Based on a JUV Receipt survey of 550 respondents, aged 14 to 24 (average age 18 years old), which was conducted online in March 2021. 

Leah Butz is a Copywriter & Content Contributor living in Queens, New York. If you don’t catch her biking around on her 1977 Motobecane, then she’s probably at home baking a new bread recipe. Sometimes she posts on Instagram at @containsham.