Advertisement

'I want to get there before it gets too touristy': How Gen Z is redefining travel

Eli Snyder is a full-time travel content creator on TikTok, a job that didn't exist just seven years ago.
Eli Snyder is a full-time travel content creator on TikTok, a job that didn't exist just seven years ago.

Seven years ago, Eli Snyder’s job didn’t exist, nor would the 25-year-old feel confident about choosing a travel destination.

As a full-time TikTok travel influencer, Snyder is in Laos before spending the next couple of months exploring Vietnam and the Philippines. The Kansas City native then plans to leave Asia and venture into six South American countries, including Argentina and Chile.

To Snyder, travel is all about being “surprised,” and having his “preconceived notions about a place to be turned upside down.” Of course, connecting with the local culture and eating good food is a big part of it too.

“(Before, if you were) going to Mexico, you’re going to do an all-inclusive, but now you’re going to leave the coast and go inland to see the rural towns,” he said.

Snyder is inspired by fellow young content creators who travel to less touristy destinations – places his parents would never dream of going to. “There’s an emphasis on finding your own destination and spots rather than tourist hotspots,” Snyder said.

Younger people have always been scrappy as they seek to travel the world and discover themselves. After all, youth hostels have been around for over a century. “I think some things don’t change through generations: the fundamental appeal of travel is timeless, offering interesting perspectives of the world and hitting that recharge button,” said Will Jones, brand manager at StudentUniverse, a travel platform exclusively for students and youth.

Since most Gen Z members are just starting their careers, they have less disposable income to spend on travel and are usually seeking out the best deals.

“A lot of people in their mid-20s are interested in saving money when they travel, getting the most bang for their buck,” Naomi Schiller, 25, an administrative assistant at the Metropolitan Opera props department, told USA TODAY “I don’t have the money to throw around on awesome accommodations.”

However, Gen Z is finding new ways to travel. Gone are the days of partying until sunrise. “They’re leaning much more into the cultural side of things and away from the party type,” said Jones. The young generation has an increased desire to go off the beaten path and immerse themselves in the culture they’re visiting – and they can do that with the ubiquity of technology and social media.

Here are four Gen Z travel trends:

1. #TravelTikTok

Move over travel guidebooks and TripAdvisor, TikTok is the new place for young people seeking travel inspiration.

“A lot of inspiration comes from social media, like TikTok or Instagram reels,” Greta Redleaf, 20, a student at American University, told USA TODAY. Redleaf is in a study abroad program and said social media has been especially helpful as she explores new destinations on the weekends.

“I’m in Scotland right now, so I follow a lot of European travel accounts, and they sometimes post deals,” she said.

In the 2024 State of Student & Youth Travel Report by StudentUniverse, 89% of the 4,000 surveyed 18- to 25-year-olds – who are in full-time education and either live in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia – said they’ve found new destinations through TikTok, and 70% use TikTok as a trip-planning tool. Over The largest demographic of TikTok users is between the ages of 18 and 24, as of January.

Hailing from Sydney, Issy McDermott, 23, also sources her travel ideas mainly from social media. “When I was younger, I used to watch travel videos on YouTube,” she said. Now she uses TikTok and Instagram.

The vast majority of these Gen Z travelers seek to discover destinations untouched by mass tourism or not easily found. “Right now, I really want to visit Sri Lanka for a mix of the beaches and the more adventurous side,” McDermott said. “It’s kind of building up a hype on social media, so I want to get there before it gets too touristy.”

Snyder said the access and connectivity that social media offers mean “people are willing to go to places older generations would have considered too dangerous.”

2. Sobering up

“Unlike younger generations in the past, Gen Z is steering away from the typical young travel of partying,” Jones said. “They would rather experience a new culture and go sightseeing.” The most popular destinations among Gen Zers were found to be Italy and Japan, which are “more cultural places than the more traditional party places.”

According to the report, 83% of young travelers would consider taking a vacation without any alcohol to avoid unsafe situations. They also “would rather spend money on other things.”

“I have described myself in the past as a terrible tourist. I don’t usually travel with a strict, ‘I want to see this, this and this,’ ” Arthur Tisseront, 26, a video game dialogue writer living in Finland, told USA TODAY. “I usually try to find somewhere to stay that is reasonably priced but in a part of the city or town or area I’m in that will let me experience whatever older culture exists there.”

As more research reveals the harmful effects of alcohol, Snyder thinks more young people are going to be traveling sober “big time.”

For Snyder, alcohol is near the bottom of his priorities when it comes to travel. He recently spent a month in the Middle East with a friend and didn’t have a sip of alcohol, nor did he miss it. “Not once did that come across our mind,” he said. Alcohol is legal in some Middle Eastern countries, like Jordan, but not widely accepted. In others, like Yemen, alcohol is prohibited. “Although there wasn’t alcohol to be had, it wasn’t a deterrent.”

3. Embarking on their own

More younger women are also looking to venture out on their own. Over half of the surveyed women said they are interested in solo travel, with 83% of them inspired by female content creators who travel solo. Those who want to jet-set alone say it’s to get out of their comfort, for self-discovery and enjoy a sense of freedom.

An international business student in Syndey, McDermott has been traveling by herself for her summer break for the past two months. She’s spent the last three weeks in India, but she’s currently enjoying the “nice vibes”' in Goa.

McDermott loves to travel on her own, although her parents never did.
McDermott loves to travel on her own, although her parents never did.

“I’ve noticed a lot more people solo travel, and my mom and dad never did anything like that,” she said. “I’m a bit more adventurous when I travel. I like to see the culture and have unique experiences rather than see tourist attractions and prioritize comfort.”

She often connects with fellow young travelers at the hostel and joins them on excursions or doesn’t venture out alone at night, so she rarely feels unsafe, she said.

Not all Gen Zers agree on this, though. Some told USA TODAY they prefer using trips as a way to visit friends and family who live far away.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, "I wanted to be out traveling for work and pleasure, and I ended up stuck at home. I had a roommate move out, so I was by myself, and I want to get out there,” Brendan McPhillips, 24, a construction supply salesperson based in Denver, told USA TODAY. “(Solo travel) can be fun, but I found it kind of isolating, so I kind of looked at where I have friends and saying ‘hey, I want to come visit.’ ”

4. Train takeover

Gen Z travelers are also more interested in alternative modes of transportation, especially trains when they’re available.

“If there’s a train, I’m taking a train, it doesn’t matter if the train is 30 hours,” Snyder said. While the sustainability aspect appeals to him, the main reason is the “intimate connection with the countryside that you miss on a plane and bus because it’s so chaotic.”

“Ideally, for environmental reasons, I would prefer to take the train if I can, but unfortunately, a lot of times the train can be twice as expensive and twice as long as flying,” Emma Quinn, 26, a librarian in New York told USA TODAY. “My roommate and I are going from Chicago to California by train. That’s two days in a sleeper car, and that’s something I’ll pay a premium for because the experience is really good.”

Even so, the appeal of the deal can outweigh other concerns.

“I would love to travel more places locally on Amtrak or rail systems like that, but because of the price point and because of schedules or when they come and go, it usually winds up being by car,” Schiller, the Metropolitan Opera employee said.

McPhillips said that he relies on Frontier Airlines’ all-you-can-fly GoWild pass for a lot of his personal travel, which lets him get very cheap last-minute flights.

“People complain about Frontier and Spirit, but I’m kind of just expecting to get from point A to point B. That’s all I really want,” he said. “I want the cheapest ticket. I see people complaining about everything, and I’m like, ‘yeah, but you’re getting the lowest price.’”

Gen Z travelers also often want to find easy ways to get around once they’re in their destination.

“Renting a car sucks,” Tisseront, the video game dialogue writer, said. “If I can go to a place that will let me travel by bus, by tram, by metro, by train, by walking, however, some way that isn’t a car, that makes trips more justifiable to me.”

Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at kwong@usatoday.com. Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at zwichter@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: TikTok and sober travel: 4 ways Gen Z is redefining travel