Episode 23: Are Millennials Changing the Travel Industry? From Van Life to Airbnb.

Millennials and Van Life

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Alex: In our last episode we briefly mentioned the book, “On the road”. Published in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s novel helped define a generation of post WWII Americans. Americans who were exploring the land they fought to protect. Like their generation, today’s millennials are defined by circumstances out of their control. Circumstance that effect the way they live, work and travel. Hi, I’m Alex Cwalinski, and you’re listening to Go, a podcast about travel, places, and adventure.

Parker: If you’re in your mid 20s or early 30s, you’ve seen enough economic recession to be fearful to be scared.  

Alex: That’s travel writer and photographer, Parker Hilton. He writes a lot of interesting articles about life as a millennial. I spoke to him to learn more about how this generation is doing things differently.

Parker: Just living through 2007/2008, we saw our parents lose money, we saw people lose jobs. We saw things get really scary overnight.

Alex: 2008 saw the worst economic recession since the 1930s.

Alex: The crash caused many people to lose money, when the value of homes, investments, and pension funds plummeted.

Parker: And because of that I’m not about to work my ass off for a paycheck in a market where I know it could disappear.

Alex: This perception of, the market, has changed the work habits of a lot of millennials. They’re basically, not following in their parent’s footsteps.

Parker: Growing up my dad was always working. As much as I envy the drive to do that I don’t want that and it’s a very millennial thing for me to say but my dad literally worked until the week he died.

Alex: My father also worked until the week he passed away. I remember, when I was a kid, he used to take me to work with him and told me to get a good education so that I wouldn’t have work as hard as he did. But even with a college degree, a lot of millennials aren’t better off than their parents, and a lot are in debt.

Hilton: The majority of that debt is either in student loans or mortgages.

Alex: From 1994 to 2014 the average cost of a home went up 46%, after adjusting for inflation, but wages only went up 7 percent in that same time. Meanwhile tuition and fees at Public universities went up almost 300 percent. And that’s changing how millennials are spending their money.

Hilton: Our parents had excess wealth, I mean there was disposable income, and we want that as well, and buying a house is not a way to get it.

Alex: Not owning a home isn’t all that bad. It can have its benefits. Like having greater freedom to travel or move to a new city. Like what Hilton did, when he moved from New Jersey to Montana.

Hilton: Yea, I moved there to study photography and ended up getting sucked into Montana life. I very easily could have spent the rest on my life there but got the idea that I would have been too comfortable.

Alex: Hilton moved again, this time for a job in a bigger city. Where the cost of living was very different than Bozeman.

Hilton: I left Montana to go work in New York. The price difference from Bozeman Mt to Brooklyn was earth shattering. ‘Cause, you go from Montana when it’s $200 a month in a nice apartment with a bunch of your friends to New York where you’re spending 1,000 dollars a month for a closet.

Alex: I briefly lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and found myself paying way more than I wanted for a teeny tiny studio apartment. I met a lot of really good people there, but took the first opportunity to leave. Hilton’s experience was similar.

Hilton: And that was eye opening. I really enjoyed working in NY, I made some great connections and had a great time but. Yea, one of my buddies offered me a job in Hawaii, that was actually when I moved out to Hawaii. I was living out of a van for a little while.

Alex: Van Life or Van Dwelling is basically the act of living and traveling in a van. It first became popular in the 1960s, and has been getting a lot more popular lately. Vice News recently wrote that “Living Out of a Van Is the New American Dream.”

Hilton: There’s this big van culture/shift and a lot of millennials are kind of bailing on the 9 to 5 and living remotely and doing things a little differently…

Alex: With people being able to work remotely today, sometimes all it takes to live this lifestyle, is a van and access to the internet. Technology has permanently changed the way we can live and work.

Hilton: Our generation is kind of utilizing it, we’re starting to see the potential of that.

Alex: Like working remotely while Van Dwelling, or while living overseas as an expat.

Hilton: You can live in Shang Mai, Thai Land, like a lot of people do and live a very comfortable life for much less money.

Alex: Or you can move to an affordable city, where the cost of living is cheaper.

Hilton: You can buy a house in Boise, Idaho or Bozeman, Montana for a lot less than you can in Downtown LA or Lower Manhattan.

Alex: Another trend millennials are getting used to, is the gig economy. An economy based on temporary or freelance jobs. The work isn’t as consistent, but it’s become more common since it provides a lot more time for travel. Like, Hilton who writes and does photography.

Hilton: All summer we shoot weddings, national, international, destination weddings. Based out of New Jersey, but come winter time we’re traveling, photographing.

Alex: But living this lifestyle does require some sacrifices.

Kelly: I think millennials as a group tend to delay rights of passages, they might be marrying later, buy a house later.

Alex: That’s John Kelly, etymologist and writer at Mashed Radish dot com. With all this talk about millennials, I thought it would be important to get a better understanding of the term.

Kelly: Millennial means two things now. It means a person born in the early 80s to the mid 90s, early two thousands. It also means a sort of attitudes, a lifestyle.

Alex: As an etymologist, Kelly studies the origin of words and how they’ve changed throughout history.

Kelly: So around 1626, It first appeared in English, it was this term Millenariaum. This is an attitude that refers to a belief that in the future the second coming if Christ would usher in a 1000-year period of peace. But it also becomes a term for an upcoming moment of big historic, transformative change.

Alex: The word has certainly changed over time, but it didn’t become popular until recent history.

Kelly: In the 70s, 80s, even 90s, millennial refers to the year 2000 as this transformative moment in culture and it comes with a sense of dread. The Y2K stuff.

Alex: If you don’t remember Y2K, it was a fear that the year 2000 would create major problems with computer systems. Supposedly, computers only used two digits to tell the year. So 99, meant the year 1999, but would the digits 00 mean 1900 or 2000, that uncertainty led to what was called Y2K. Computers now require 4 digits to tell the year, so it won’t be a problem again until the year 10,000. Anyway, back to etymology.

Kelly: Back in the 1980s, there were these two authors. Strauss and Hall

Alex: That’s William Strauss and Neil Howe.

Kelly: They write this book called Generations and they are credited with the first use of the word millennial. This group of kids was defined by the fact that their parents were very over protective, and they saw that as a very defining feature and by the 2010s, millennials became the preferred term for this generation. It beat out the term generation Y.

Alex: Today the term, seems to have warped into a different meaning. Some use it as a way to mock or dismiss the generations lifestyle and choices.

Kelly: The term itself has become quite diluted. You know, in 2017 millennial is almost used as a joke. Oh, millennials aren’t able to buy a house because they’re spending all of their money on Avo-toast.

Alex: Avocado toast. There are actually several articles you can read online trying to link avocado toast or some other spending habit, with people’s inability to afford a home. These are often blamed for hurting an industry like housing market. It’s so common that it’s become a meme on social media sites like twitter.

Kelly: There was a user who made a passing comment about the phrase, ‘millennials are killing dot dot dot.” And she made a collage and she rounded up all the things millennials are killing napkins, they’re killing home ownership.

Alex: The way a lot of generations are perceived, according to Kelly, is how the preceding generation views the younger one.

Kelly: You’re going to see a lot of the older generation trying to define the younger generation. Some of the things that I read in preparation for this interview, called back to the original description of baby boomers. And the language is almost the same: they’re quick with communications, they’re dressing in more liberal ways…

Alex: And although millennials are often blamed for the ‘killing’ of this or that industry, they’re also giving rise to new and innovative ways of doing traditional things. By flocking to new companies like Airbnb, millennials are permanently changing the travel industry.

Hilton: They’re the largest hotel chain in the world and they don’t own a single piece of property. That’s mind blowing. 

Alex: Airbnb lets people rent out a room or even a whole house to someone who’s traveling. The experience can sometimes feel more authentic or local, as opposed to staying in a hotel.

Hilton: It’s a really great thing you get to see the local perspective, in a way that you can’t from a hotel. You’re not eating in a hotel restaurant, you not eating in the hotel bar, you’re walking down the street and eating at a pub. And that’s a very cool thing.

Alex: If you haven’t used Airbnb, checkout our website: gothepodcast.com. There you can find a coupon where you can get $40 off you first Airbnb stay of $75 dollars or more.

Hilton: Airbnb does a brilliant job to not limiting their market. You can rent an RV as an Airbnb, just as quickly as you can rent a boat or a tree house or a house.

Alex: Another growing trend with the way millenials are traveling, are these things called work-stays.

Hilton: People will spend money to go work on a farm in Cambodia or farm agave in Mexico.

Alex: Work-stays are described as alternative or eco-friendly projects, where a farm or organization invites people to do volunteer work. Some work-stays require that you have a bachelors’ degree, like SEEDS in Iceland. Some have less requirements, and depending on where you volunteer they can even provide you with free food and accommodation. Organizations like WWOOF or Workaway, help facilitate work-stays around the world.

Alex: So what is your take on the way that travel is changing, and the generation that’s embracing it? Let us know on our social media accounts by searching for Go the Travel Podcast. Hilton actually shared a story with me about a van trip he took several years ago.

Hilton: I think it was two/three years ago now, me and some kids I went to school with, we packed up a van up in Montana and drove it until it broke down in Ecuador.

Alex: Hilton and his friends wanted to drive it all the way to southern tip of South America.

Hilton: The goal was to get it to Patagonia but the engine block cracked on the border of Colombia and Ecuador, so we kind of smuggled the van into Ecuador, ‘cause you can’t import a broken vehicle. So we kind of snuck it in so it looked like it worked.

Alex: Hilton said him and his friends spent six months on their trip. He couldn’t help but continue to mention the hospitality of the locals.

Hilton: There were so many time where people didn’t have to be nice to us and went so far out of their way to help us out. That was what blew me away about the whole trip.

Alex: Like what kind of things? Do you have any examples?

Hilton: Oh for sure, people giving us meals all over the place, people giving us beds when they didn’t have to. Yea, a couple walked up to us and said, do you guys need a bed? We have two guest rooms and you can cook in our kitchen and gave us a place to stay. In Cartagena we were stranded there, we were waiting on a laptop screen to get shipped out there, and this woman came down and brought us coffee every morning and invited us to shower her house every morning.

Alex: After their van broke down, Hilton spent three weeks in Ecuador before heading back to the states

Hilton: That stretch of the world I was definitely blown away by. I mean Ecuador especially.

Alex: You can find more about Hilton and his work at parkerhilton.com. And make sure to check out John Kelly’s site Mashed Radish. 

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