Ever since the 1960s, young people have chosen to explore the world by putting a few belongings into a backpack and heading off, travelling independently and experiencing new cultures and countries with like-minded people they meet along the way.
And today, backpacking-style travel is more popular than ever before. The United Nations has estimated that nearly 200 million travellers – that’s 20% of all international tourists, are young people. The same report shows that the international tourism revenue generated by youth travel is in excess of US$ 185 billion per annum, showing that a determination to explore still persists despite the current economic crisis. So how does today’s traveller differ from those original free-spirited youngsters, who spread their wings back in the sixties?
Part of the thrill of going off backpacking in pre-internet days was the fact that communication with your family and friends would be completely put on hold during your travels, save for the odd long-distance phone call or collecting mail from a poste restante along the way. Today, unless you make a really conscious decision to sever communications, you remain in touch wherever you are, especially with all the wifi spots available and the possibility to buy cheap local SIM cards.
So what else has changed for the new backpackers? While budget travellers of previous generations might have expected the accommodation they could afford to be a bit rough and ready, today’s backpackers generally seem to have higher expectations. This makes sense as lodging standards get ever better, thanks to the competition fuelled by review sites such as TripAdvisor.
The traditional place for a young traveller to stay has always been a hostel, and this still seems to hold true. According to The Global Hostel Marketplace 2014-2018 reports, over 70% of today’s hostel guests are millennials and 86% of those surveyed for the report said, “I plan to travel as much of the world as I can in my lifetime.”
Hostels are still great for solo travellers who want to hook up with other people to explore the city. Looking at a place like the Melbourne Central Hostel, it’s easy to see the appeal as the management team puts on social events like quiz nights, table tennis competitions and pub crawls. Add a central location close to Melbourne’s hidden laneways and a rooftop terrace with a BBQ area and you’ll understand why millennials still favour hostel holidays.
And keeping Melbourne as an example, there are also lots of accommodation alternatives that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. For instance, former jail Pentridge Prison B Division is being converted into hotel accommodation, and is set to be completed by 2020. Travellers will be able to stay the night in historic converted prison cells, and the former prison chapel will be hired out for events such as weddings. If you can’t wait that long, you can get a taste of what life was like in a Melbourne prison by doing the spooky Night Tour at the Old Melbourne Gaol.
And if you can’t get enough of camping even when in the city, there’s a pop-up hotel on the rooftop of the Melbourne Central shopping precinct which offers guests an inner-city glamping experience. The tents have beds and heaters, but in proper camping style, you have to walk a little way to the communal shower and loo block. Animal lovers might fancy trying out Roar & Snore, a night sleeping out in the Historic Elephant Exhibit at Melbourne Zoo. Dinner is served in the Elephant House and then guests have time to explore the zoo before settling down for the night, ready to be woken by the animal calls in the morning. Breakfast is followed with a behind-the-scenes tour with the keepers.
While millennial travellers might no longer be able to achieve that freedom of being totally off-grid like their parents might have done, they certainly have a much better deal – and more varied choice – in where they get to lay their heads at night!