I have been fortunate enough to have many travel experiences over a relatively long period of my life. I love travel for everything that it is: meeting new people, discovering new cultures, see new things, and overcoming the challenges that invariably arise when things don’t go to plan. It was only during the COVID period that I fully appreciated how much travel played a role in my life, and how much of a positive impact it has had over the years.

During the travel bans, I considered how lucky I was to have already had my fair share of international travel experiences - how would I have felt if I was planning my first overseas experience during this period? This was reality for a generation of school and university leavers who had the pause button pressed on the rite of passage affectionately known as ‘the gap year’.

In a world where the cost of living is on everyone’s agenda, we were curious about whether international travel is even still a priority for younger generations. After all, the role that the gap year plays to experience new cultures, overcome various challenges, and return a much stronger and rounded version of themselves, is valuable on many levels.

Verve’s recent research into the attitudes of Gen Z and their travel habits suggests that travel is still very important to them; and they’re willing to sacrifice other things for an opportunity to do so.

So, at least to some degree, the travel and leisure economy will continue to be fueled by the Gen-Z and their search of adventure. And for companies operating in this sector, understanding the evolving preferences of this group is going to be as important as it ever has been.

Understanding Gen Z and their travel plans

Early in our research we realized that a typical approach was unlikely to uncover the information needed to truly understand emerging preferences. Drawing inferences from past pandemics wasn’t possible because COVID was unprecedented, and Gen Z are notoriously difficult to find through traditional focus groups or surveys.

We needed to engage with those who were already travelling despite the difficulties, the tour-guides, the passionate travelers with wonderfully diverse perspectives and those who have had their plans completely upended but got on with it anyway.

So, we utilized The Ignite Collective – our global network of leading-edge cultural creators who are perfectly positioned to comment on the future because they are living a version of it. They are the people others look to for advice and ideas about how they could travel in a world that isn’t making it very easy to do so.

Here’s Neringa’s story, just one of many Igniters who collaborated with us:

Neringa looking out across a bay

Neringa, 22, an economics and politics student from Lithuania, a Gen Z igniter currently on her gap year trip in Hawaii. An ‘education nomad’ who makes the most of online lectures and digital coursework while travelling. As a digital native, working as an online freelancer for marketing and content creation to fund her travel. Using couch surfing, pet sitting and hitch hiking to save travel costs.

“A gap year is not about quitting work or study to travel, but challenging yourself with lifelong learnings and self-growth, an opportunity to learn to manage life on your own in an unfamiliar environment.”

She believes that as a tech savvy generation, Gen Z want the most user-friendly tech to facilitate their travel, whether it’s for accommodation, currency exchange, local tips or interesting ways to make money while traveling. She hopes that in the future, travel brands can offer better tools to help Gen Zers navigate their travel: all-in-one-place solutions where they don’t have to worry about scams!

We found, despite the pressures, many people will make adjustments to lifestyle and cut costs in some areas in order to continue spending on the things and experiences that they look forward to and bring them joy. High on that list is travelling, particularly among younger Gen Zers and Millennials.

What are their motivations for taking a gap year (or several) – and what do they want to see from the travel industry in the future?

What drives Gen Z to take off?

  • Self-discovery and growth: For most this is an opportunity to have their first taste of adult life and learn about themselves outside of the confines of home and school, having the freedom to express themselves, develop new skills and inspire others along the way – as many would be documenting their adventures and sharing them with the world
  • Eagerness to learn: To discover cultures and lifestyles different to their own where a bit of the ‘unknown’ is exciting – not knowing where it will take them next is a good thing!
  • Connecting with others: Gen Z are passionate about meeting new people, exchanging ideas and feeling they are part of a ‘community of travelers and world explorers’
  • Plain old fun: Enjoying new and unique experiences in every destination; from free diving and swimming with dolphins in Hawaii to beautiful sunsets in Darwin.

Whatever their motivation, these travelling Igniters all feel that they are not following the established path by taking a gap year before continuing their studies or starting work. Having gotten a taste of it, many want to pursue studies or careers that will give them space to keep the travel bug alive longer term.

How does Gen Z see the future of the gap year?

Gen Z would like gap year travel to become more accessible and affordable. Ultimately, they’d like to change the perception of the Gap Year, for it to be recognized as a positive rather than a waste of time or an excuse to drop out of university. With more support, from family and university, and opportunities enabling Gen Z to pursue their travels - especially in countries where gap years are a relatively new concept.

Most want their gap year experience to be as sustainable as possible – they’re willing to invest more money in travel brands or products that are better for the planet. They also like the idea of giving back to the communities they are visiting, particularly in less developed countries, e.g., volunteering (orphanages, farms) and buying local.

Some Gen Z advice for brands

According to our Igniters, to engage the Gen Z audience, brands need to focus on creating unique experience content. Supporting companies that they connect to and speak directly with them - a good way of implementing this is involving Gen Zers in the brand’s comms strategy where they can share what the brands have to offer with their audiences, whether they are big or small.

An online presence and positive reputation are key to gain Gen Z’s trust. Reviews play an important role when deciding which service or product to engage with, and social media is how many get their ideas of places to visit and experiences to try. It helps many realize there are different (and affordable) ways to do a gap year. TikTok has had a big impact in the way people travel and in creating content more want to see places they come across on the platform.

For more information on Gen Z’s advice for brands and the brands that they’d like to work with, contact us hello@addverve.com.