The Young and the Charitable: Millennials Make More of Travel Experiences
Volunteering and Cultural Interactions Turn Trips Into Learning Experiences
Millennial travelers would rather chat with locals, go deep-sea diving or volunteer than lie on a beach and sip tiki drinks, according to a survey released by the Marriott Rewards Credit Card from Chase.
The survey found that 32 percent of millennials — those who are 18 to 34 years old — are interested in taking a charitable trip, compared with 18 percent of Generation X (34-54 year olds).
Fran Luke was backpacking in Vietnam when she was offered the chance to teach English. Standing in front of 30 unruly schoolchildren, “I was completely out of my depth—but loved every minute of it," she says. “It was the first time on my trip that I felt a real connection with local people." She now runs Culture Go Go, which helps travelers find free room and board in exchange for practicing English with their hosts.
Social Networking in Person
Brought up on social networks and the sharing economy, millennials expect to meet people wherever they go. Volunteering or teaching English abroad are organic — and often affordable — ways to build friendships in far-flung corners of the world. According to the survey, 44 percent of millennials consider the local culture when choosing where to travel, seeking to get off the beaten path and see places that other visitors miss.
Jill Golding, CEO of Volunteer Vacations, organizes a trip to Swaziland during which young people coach rugby and deliver presentations on HIV and AIDS. “Traveling down remote tracks, they get to see parts of this beautiful country that the average tourist would never find and become aware of just how many children are HIV/AIDS orphans," she says. Working with Swazi coaches, they make friends with locals and discover neighborhood bars. They leave with a real understanding of the country.
"It's always been human instinct to help others," says Steve Gwenin, CEO of Global Vision International, which has organized volunteer trips since 1997. What has changed is that “millennials are more connected to the world around them than ever before, and travel is more accessible than ever before." His customers might teach or run art programs with Save the Children in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, or help conserve coral reefs in the South Pacific.
The survey also found 63 percent of millennials interested in working with animals. At the Marriott Phuket in Thailand, for instance, guests can volunteer at the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, which provides a safe nesting ground for leatherback and other sea turtles. WWOOFing — World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms — offers the chance to volunteers work up to six hours a day doing jobs like weeding, harvesting or milking cows in exchange for food and accommodations.
While volunteers make a real impact on communities, they get a great deal in return, including cultural fluency and practical experience. “Service tourism is not just a donation of time and resources," says Gwenin. “It's about self-improvement as well as improving the world."
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images | Rebecca Dalzell is a journalist and historian. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, New York magazine, Travel + Leisure, TimeOut and other publications.