When I was travelling in Europe one time (yes, pre-pandemic) I heard a joke among some British friends.
They said when you meet an Australian traveller, you’d better be careful about offhandedly offering them hospitality, or saying they should pop round for a cuppa – cos Aussies overseas will *definitely* take you up on it, and sooner or later you’ll end up with an eager backpacker on your doorstep, wondering which couch they’ll be sleeping on and what’s for dinner.
“That whole backpacking spirit was really a part of Australians’ DNA,” says Chris Zeiher from Lonely Planet.
But now, in the midst of a global pandemic and economic collapse, rowdy Aussie backpackers clogging up airport queues and beer gardens from Amsterdam to Zagreb are a dying breed.
Seeing as overseas trips are off the cards for 2021, and let’s be honest — who knows what they’ll look like after that — what ritual will replace the overseas backpacking dream?
For young people who used to funnel all of their savings into flights and hostels and bus tours, where will they spend their cash? How will young people looking to open their eyes to new cultures experience anything that isn’t on this massive island we call home?
When traveling is your identity
While lots of young Aussies wish they could whip out their passports again, 20-year-old travel vlogger Luke Damant from Sydney is especially devastated by closed international borders and a halt on overseas tourism.
“Travel was my number one passion. It was also my income, my employment and sort of my whole business,” Luke tells Hack.
Luke says travel bans mean young people aren’t just missing out on overseas holidays – they’re missing out on formative cultural experiences.
“For me when I travelled for the first time, I was traveling solo for six months overseas and I learned more during that time than basically school ever taught me. So for me, travel is a huge learning experience: you get to be independent… meet new people, learn and adapt to new cultures – it’s a whole new experience.
“Not being able to travel will definitely impact the younger generation.”
While Luke is hoping to leave Australia and start traveling at some point this year–he has an exemption to leave the country, and says when he departs he won’t return to Australia for a few years– he says young Australians shouldn’t “wait around” to satisfy their hunger for seeing new places.
“Young people do have to adapt to the times and there’s a lot of things we can see in Australia. You can try ‘van life’ and go around all the states as long as the borders stay open. It’s not the most ideal situation because you aren’t going to immerse yourself into a new culture like you would overseas, but you have to adapt to what we do have.”
Travel slowly declining as a priority, while ‘digital nomads’ on the rise
If you ask young triple j listeners what their priorities are for the next five years, traveling is actually still really high on the list. Our What’s Up In Your World survey conducted at the end of 2020 showed that travel is still more important for young Australians than “studying”, “making new friends” and even “falling in love”.
But 2020 was the first year that “traveling” did lose some of its popularity among young people, according to our surveys. In 2020, 80 per cent of triple j listeners told us it was a priority for them; in 2019 it was slightly higher, with 86 per cent of listeners saying travel was one of their highest priorities.
Chris Zeiher isn’t surprised – he thinks that young people will still be among the first out the gate when international travel opens up again.
He also has a theory for how young Australians will deal with their hunger for traveling and having new experiences: the rise of the ‘digital nomad’.
“This is where someone has a job and they’re able to do that job remotely, regardless of where it is. So that traditional model of backpacking, where you kind of picked up work as you went along, that might be replaced with people actually going, you know what, I’m still going to go traveling for six months, but I actually already have a job and I can do that on the road.”
The result, Chris says, is that domestic travel will end up becoming more seamlessly weaved into lots of young people’s lives.
“I do think there will be a narrowing of the overseas backpacker idea, and the digital nomad will become a real trend.”
Chris thinks there’s another major shift will come from COVID putting the brakes on international travel: tourists might think more about quality over quantity when it comes to holiday-planning.
“Before COVID, the industry was out of control. There were issues of over-tourism and places being overrun by travelers….I think this idea of ‘We’ll go on a holiday every year and go here because the flight is cheap’ will completely change. People will be much more considered in terms of where they’re going to go.
“For me, that’s the silver lining. I think that’s incredibly exciting.”